Rural Living

Living with Wild Neighbors


by Margo Oxendine, Contributing Writer

Margo Oxendine

When a city girl moves to the country, she’s got a lot to learn. I moved here an expert in hailing taxis on an urban street; I had outfoxed potential muggers; I knew the difference between sashimi and moo goo gai pan, and knew how to order them delivered to my door.

I am fairly well adjusted to rural living now. I know to drive slowly and keep alert at night because suicidal deer are everywhere. I brake for possums, perhaps the most directionless creatures on earth. I own a spade, a hoe and three different types of snow shovels.

Another purchase was necessary last month. A tribe of raccoons, led by a grandfatherly sort I dubbed Thurston, discovered my garbage can. It was a small, metal can, perfectly suited for a single homeowner. It posed no problem to the crowd of coons. At 4:15 a.m., two mornings in a row, Brownie and I were awakened by the clanging of metal on concrete.

Cleaning up the mess left by raccoons is no swift task. It requires rubber gloves, rubber shoes, and no modicum of steel-gutted resolve. I bought a huge can with a round top. So far, so good.

The next day, Brownie and I were ambling down the driveway and encountered a startling thing: A gargantuan pile of black “doo” that obviously did not come from a dog, a cat, a raccoon or a possum. We examined it closely, with a rather disgusted fascination. We determined it must have come from a bear. The pile became a daily sightseeing stop on walks to get the paper and the mail.

The day after that, I walked through my living room at 6 a.m. and noticed something quite odd plastered up against the picture window. Upon close inspection, a bat I dubbed Bob was revealed to be napping, wedged in the tiny space between the window and the screen.

Imagine my excitement to realize I now had a nightly troupe of raccoons raiding the garbage, a beastly bear we dubbed Bruno lumbering down the driveway, and a sort-of-cute loner of a little bat camping out in the living room window.

Is it any wonder I began to sleep with one eye, and one ear, open?

Wouldn’t it be interesting, I thought, to be able to stay up all night, stationed at my windows, wearing night-vision goggles, and spy on whatever critters were having a heyday in the yard? It is a shame night-vision goggles are not standard issue for reporters, along with, say, a bulletproof briefcase. We’d be unstoppable.

A few mornings later, I looked out the back door to admire the expensive flowers and plants I had laboriously installed there a few days earlier. I have only recently “learned” to garden, something at which my mother was adept. Her prized gardens had become quite shabby, until I finally got it in gear. I was quite proud of what I had accomplished.

Imagine my utter dismay to discover the garden laid to waste. The impatiens had been wholly uprooted, oddly placed in a neat pile beside their pots. The dirt in the pots was no longer there; instead, it was scattered about. It had rained the night before. I faced a muddy, awful mess.

The caladium and the huechera and the pricey but lovely lilies? Torn out by the roots and tossed asunder, the soil scrabbled through and heaped willy-nilly.

What in the world? I finally blamed Bruno the bear. Perhaps he was looking for grubs. Perhaps he was angry that I had no birdseed, and that the garbage is now kept inside. “I’ll show her!” I could picture him muttering. The devastation looked pointedly vengeful.

To make matters worse, this garden sits about five feet from my bedroom windows, which are open during summer evenings.

Could he get in? I wondered, but discarded the idea.

A few days later, I learned of a Hot Springs fellow who walked into his den and discovered a bear had blundered in through the screens to the deck, and was now laying waste to his sofa. Cripes!

At least I don’t live in Highland County, where mountain lions have been sighted skulking about in different far-flung locales. Game wardens advise that, if we encounter them, we should speak softly, tell them how pretty they are, and never, but never, turn our backs.

All things considered, I know I’d stand a better chance outfoxing an urban mugger.


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