We’ve spent most of our lives in big cities - Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Francisco bay area, etc. But we’ve been lucky enough - blessed, really - to have spent almost 30 years in rural settings. To us the rural life is far more serene and memorable.
One difference between living in the country versus the city is the greater chance of interesting encounters with animals. If you’re bored and need a brief escape, here are a few of our more memorable stories.
We once lived in a house on 5 acres in Southlake, Texas. The house was surrounded by maybe a hundred tall pine trees and we had more animal neighbors than human ones. For some reason, even though we’ve never been golfers, we found ourselves with a golf club and some tees and wiffle balls. One day I was about to hit a ball off a tee and my wife said ”Don’t step back.”
Before telling you why she said that I need to add some back story.
One of our neighbors had some guineas which they allowed to roam freely. This small group of birds would occasionally sit in our yard for a while and sun themselves or sit it the shade. After they left we would occasionally find small eggs they had left for us. These were smaller and rounder than hen’s eggs. We never did anything with them and after a day or two they would disappear. We didn’t know who was eating them but it wasn’t us.
After being warned not to back up I looked over my shoulder and saw a tortoise about to slowly walk past my foot. We had seen 2 or 3 of these little guys around the property and didn’t know where they lived. They probably weighed about a pound or so. This one ignored us and walked straight up to the tee and knocked the ball off the tee with its snout. I returned it to the tee and the tortoise reached up and knocked it off again. Then we realized how much the white ball resembled a guinea egg. It was trying to eat it.
In 1997 we bought a house on 16+ acres in central California, just south of Yosemite national park. The drive from the closest “town” to our house is a pleasant one through rolling white-fenced pastures with horses roaming around.
One day I was driving home and went around a small curve in the road and over a hill. In the road ahead a saw three white horses running up toward me. One was in the middle of the lane I was using, one was in the middle of the lane I wasn’t using and the third was running in the middle, along the yellow center line. I had nowhere to go but off the road so I just came to a complete stop and waited for them to get up to me, wondering what they were going to do then.
As they got closer to my car they closed ranks and were all in my lane. Then they stopped just in front of the car and looked down through the windshield at me. After a few seconds I guess they decided I wasn’t very interesting and made a sharp turn to the left and ran up a driveway toward a house. The horses in the pasture up there got all excited because unexpected company was coming.
As I started up again I noticed a small pickup truck at the bottom of the road. The driver was standing outside and had a phone to his ear. I guessed that he was calling someone to bring a horse trailer to get their escapees and bring them back home.
The rest of my trip home was less exciting.
In the fall, for about 6 weeks or so, the local tarantulas start roaming around looking for mates to hook-up with. We have to drive slower on the curving country roads, to avoid running over them.
One day, near sunset, I came across a small brown tarantula being dragged along by a reddish brown wasp. The tarantula wasn’t struggling at all and was just dead weight. I realized it was a Pepsis wasp, and it had just paralyzed the spider. It was dragging it toward a hole, where it would deposit the helpless spider, lay an egg on it, and then cover it up. There, the tarantula would lay helpless for a few weeks until the egg hatched. The larvae would then start eating the still-living spider.
I decided we needed more tarantulas and fewer huge wasps with particularly nasty stingers. So I managed to separate the two, without getting stung myself, and brought the tarantula into the house. I put it in a glass enclosure and kept it for a few weeks until it started moving around normally again.
Every few days I took it out and turned it over on its back so I could get to its mouth. I used a small dropper with water and placed a drop or two on its mouth until it drank it and the drop disappeared. That was about all it could do in its paralyzed state. This kept it hydrated until the venom wore off.
When it started acting normally and exploring its enclosure I dug an artificial burrow outside and released it. After a few days I never saw it again.
One more tarantula story: One day, I was walking up our driveway from the garage to the house. Looking ahead, I saw a larger, darker tarantula also walking uphill toward our house. My stride being much greater than the spider, I knew I would catch up to it within a few paces. Then I noticed a small beetle walking uphill in front of the spider.
We ended up catching up at the same time, and all three of us were lined up, me on the left, the spider in the middle and the beetle on the right. I thought it odd that so very different creatures were all walking up the same incline at the same time and about 2 feet apart.
The spider might have eaten the beetle but wasn’t in a feeding mood. It was probably a male that was looking for a female to mate with. I was huge compared to them and could have crushed both but I had no interest in harming either of them. I’ve always wondered what the beetle was thinking of the potential threats beside it.
As quickly as it began, it was over, and we went our separate ways.
One clear night, before we built our observatory, we set up our telescope and started the process of aligning it on several stars so it would know how to slew to the selected targets we wanted to image. We had a table or two set up with eyepieces, cameras, etc.
We noticed some movement a short distance away, and then became aware of an unpleasant but very recognizable odor. Two skunks were waddling down a slope to where we were set up, and then we realized that their intention was to make some baby skunks.
It was the fastest we ever packed up and got all our equipment safely inside the house. And it was also the shortest imaging session we ever had.
On a different clear night a few years later we were in our observatory setting up for an imaging session. The sun had just set below the western hills and we had opened the 4-foot wide shutter, through which the telescopes would point.
Then a pigeon flew in through the open shutter and came to rest on the base ring. It just looked at us and didn’t seem to want to leave. We noticed a small metal band affixed to one of its ankles and we realized it was probably a homing pigeon on its way home. Maybe the interior of the dome reminded it of its roost. It may have spent much of the day flying and didn’t want to fly at night. But we didn’t really want to share the dome with it either and possibly have droppings on expensive equipment.
So I pushed a button and rotated the dome until the open shutter was directly behind where it was perched. Then I moved toward it and shooed it out the shutter. But it still wanted to roost for the night so it perched on the roof of the house. During the night I checked a few times and it never moved an inch.
At first light, around 6 am, it was still there and a few minutes later it was gone. I suppose that it continued its journey home. I silently wished it well and a safe journey.
This pigeon story has a less happy ending. One afternoon we noticed a pigeon climbing on our screen door. This had never happened before. I went out, expecting that my sudden approach would startle it away. But it didn’t. It just sat there on the deck and looked at me. I sat down in a chair and watched it walk in circles around the deck occasionally getting as close to the door as it could as though it really, really wanted to get into the house.
At one point I went back in and found some seeds I thought it might find appetizing and also a lid filled with water. After a while it sampled both but then continued its rather strange attempts to get inside the house.
The next morning, I discovered a pile of feathers on the deck. Apparently a predator - either an owl, hawk or eagle, perhaps - had designs on the pigeon but was loathe to come up on our deck during daylight. When darkness fell, so did the pigeon. Then I understood, too late, why it wanted to spend the night inside our house.
One afternoon we noticed a small spotted fawn in our front yard. It was standing on thin, shaking legs and making mewing sounds. I stepped outside but didn’t approach it, not wanting to scare it. It watched me for a minute or so and kept making the same sound.
Then a doe walked up a slope near our detached garage about 50 yards away and started calling to the fawn. It trotted over to its mom and they walked down the slope together. Somehow they had gotten separated and lost track of the other’s location.
Another deer story: The computer that helps run our house announced movement on the west side. I was about to step out the front door anyway, so continued out and walked toward that area. As I stepped around the corner, I saw a good-sized buck and a smaller doe standing there about 20-25 feet away, staring at me. Neither seemed concerned about me - more curious than startled. We stood there a few seconds watching each other and then a second doe appeared to my immediate left. I hadn’t even noticed it. It strolled in front of me from left to right, about 5 or 6 feet away, and glanced up at me, as if thinking “Good morning.”
And I turned around and walked away.
One morning I went out to the garage for something and as I approached a corner, a lizard which was about 6-7 inches long, saw me, freaked out, and almost flew around the corner toward a rack of firewood.
But before it had moved more than a foot, a black and yellow king snake, about 2-3 feet long, jumped out of nowhere and grabbed the lizard in the middle, between the fore legs and hind legs. Then the snake saw me and decided, as did the lizard a fraction of a second before, that I was far too big and too close for comfort. It dropped the lizard and flew under the firewood rack.
The lizard dropped to the ground, apparently remembered that I was there, and continued fleeing around the corner - and under the same rack the snake had just hid under.
I don’t know what happened under there, but it probably didn’t go well for the lizard.
One day I was driving into the nearest town and came upon a strange scene. Two women were out in the two-lane road and their pickup truck was parked on the shoulder. They were trying, in vain, to grab about a dozen shih tzu puppies who were running all over the place. The young women seemed genuinely concerned that one or more was going to get run over before they got them all back in their truck. Each of them had an armful of dogs, but when they tried to pick up another dog, one or two others would wriggle out and resume running around. I was trying to drive through very slowly but then had to just stop completely. One dog ran over under the driver side window and looked up at me with a happy look on its face, seeming so say “We’re playing in the road! You want to play with us?”
The traffic was very light and the few cars were all slowing down as I was so I guess all the dogs eventually made it home ok.
We were having a problem with squirrels eating plants near our front door. So I got a small trap and started trapping them. I would drive them a mile or so away and release them, hoping they couldn’t find their way back.
However, one day what I trapped wasn’t a squirrel. It was a small skunk. But now I had a problem. How could I get close enough to release the skunk without being sprayed? But I figured out how to get close enough without being seen. I rigged a hook on a nearby beam and ran monofilament line to a point about 20 feet away. As I started pulling the line to raise the trap door, Pat was watching out a nearby window and using a radio to update me on how things were going, because I couldn’t see from my vantage point. She advised that the trap door was fully raised and the skunk had noticed that it was no longer trapped and was leaving. Then she notified me that the skunk was fully out - but that it was coming toward my position.
Happily, I managed to get away unscathed.
One morning, we were reading our e-books and eating breakfast at a table near the sliding door which opens out to the deck. A small rabbit came up and sat at the door as though watching us eat breakfast. I don’t like them up on the deck because they leave little droppings which we might track into the house. So I got up and opened the door and walked toward the rabbit until it got to the edge of the deck and jumped down to the ground. Then I returned to the table and resumed reading and eating breakfast.
A few minutes later the rabbit was back up at the door watching us eat breakfast.
So I went out and walked it off the deck again. We repeated this about 4 or 5 times. It was almost like the rabbit was wanting to know if I could come out and play some more.
Animals are weird.
Speaking of rabbits, we have one that we’re pretty sure was born under a storage shed beside the garage. It imprinted on our yard and spends most of each day under the edge of a bush in the front yard. When either of us is at the kitchen sink washing dishes or preparing a meal, and we look out the garden window into the front yard, there’s a 60% chance that this rabbit will be sitting or napping under the edge of this bush.
One day I put up a sign so that the other animals would know that this spot belonged to the rabbit and that they should not sit there.
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