animals


Adding water to the birdbath, somehow I caught something reeeeally tiny on a rock just as it got washed off. It took some looking but I managed to rescue this littlest of mantises and brought him inside to get the following vid/pix and let it dry off before returning it outdoors.

It’s odd how you can get the biggest sense of accomplishment from the smallest of acts.

mini mantis movie link

No April Foolin’! Susan and I brought Ranger with us and drove all the way out to Wind Wolves Preserve near Bakersfield and enjoyed its magnificence via an eight-mile hike up a canyon and back along a plateau. Here’s a two-frame 360-degree panorama of Ranger and Susan with seemingly the entire park to themselves somewhere between the fourth and third mile markers of the Tule Elk Trail (I’d encourage clicking to embiggify the image):

From the kitchen window I spied this little red-headed bird sippin’ and scratchin’ and shakin’ for a spell in the backyard fountain…

Then here’s Patchy Cat entranced by the same birdy during a replay on my computer…

I read a poem this morning shared by an acquaintance on Facebook. It was written by a woman who explained with regret why she killed a harmless spider that startled her and with some recognition that fear was no excuse. I appreciated that sentiment but not enough to dispel the disappointment at its demise.

I have chosen to be a partner with the creatures that inhabit this world. I am not one so pure; after all, I had bacon for breakfast this morning, and a hamburger for dinner last night. But I am otherwise avowed to coexist as best I can with those to which I come in direct contact. And I default to disdain for those who aren’t. I will go out of my way to pardon a housefly from the window screen prison it finds itself. I will praise the praying mantis, rescue the ant. Relocate the house centipede. Driver 35 miles to get an injured opossum care. Be late to work to free a gull from a certain and horrible death. No cockroach goes stepped on that crosses my path. Spiders are a marvel and an amazement that command my respect. Our perimeter is home to countless brown widows, our garage a haven for their black cousin. When rodents ended up doing several hundred dollars damage chewing up the wiring of my Baybee’s Ford Escape, I didn’t employ inhumane traps or poisons, but instead deployed a spray solution of Peppermint oil and water and one of those electronic sonic devices. And don’t get me started on how much I adore those creatures people proudly love to hate: coyotes, skunks, pigeons, raccoons, rats, snakes, sharks. Any fear of them is based in an ignorance and/or a bias that too many stubborn people seem sadly only too righteous to maintain.

I do have a footnote to that code of coexistence: If you don’t bother me, I won’t bother you. Thus I don’t suffer the mosquito or the tick or the flea attempting to feast off me; or pretty much any parasite or predator regardless of their number of legs — but especially those of two who have this ability to maliciously and intentionally harm. They are the worst.

We all lived in a world this week full of tragedy. The latest in a succession of the them, and the next undoubtedly yet to come. But this one was of police officers killing people and of people killing police officers. It was enough unnecessary and vile death to cut me to the core and its culmination was enough to have my concerned superior exercise caution and order me not to do my job on Friday. We stayed in the office and did paperwork. I understood and respected the decision but my impulse when I got up yesterday morning was to suit up get in the field tall with my head on a swivel because the need for me doesn’t go away just because sanity does.

Which brings me to what happened this morning. A nothing. A trifle. I was in the backyard and dark of mood at Buster the tortoise’s hutch with her breakfast and the requisite spray bottle full of water to moisten the meal and top off the water bowl from which I’ve never seen her drink. The sun bathed the area in light and the air was cool. I did a doublecheck of the cone created by the antlion larvae that’s taken up residence in a corner of Buster’s space and, no I didn’t destroy it. Instead I admired the tiny ambush predator for its diligence in maintaining the delicate structural integrity of the trap and its patience in waiting for a hapless meal to fall in. But that’s another story.

bushie1359

Here’s a low-res still of a bushtit exiting a nest in our backyard from 2010 (click to enlargify).

I was spritzing Buster’s greens with the water bottle when to my left I heard the telltale chirps of a gregarious group of “bushies,” more commonly known as bushtits, that were gathered in the quince tree from my neighbor’s yard whose branches overhang the fence. On an impulse I directed the spray in their direction and within a few moments others were drawn to it and there were at least ten of the little birds chirping and bouncing up a storm around the trees boughs and leaves shimmying and fluffing and rubbing themselves against the leaves where some of the water drops had landed in appreciation at the surprise spritzing to such a degree that the whole tree took on a jolly air in its shaking. If I’d redirect the spray to another part of the tree they’d move to it. Even a hummingbird joined in. And dang if I didn’t stand there cranking out the water in that full bottle until my hand was tired and it was empty. And doubledang it if I didn’t suddenly find water falling out of my eyes because in this latest of a seeming unending series of hells we’re going through I was just struck by the absolute beauty of this interaction and how gloriously blessed I was both to experience it and more important to appreciate these lovely little birds bopping around and literally soaking it all up. I think I’ll make this a habit.

The moral to this belabored ramble? Find beauty wherever you can and be a part of the world, not apart from it.

This morning we made it two successful skunk meetups in a row. Emerging from yesterday’s way-too-close encounter while walking Ranger was a miracle. This morning’s jaw-dropper of a stand off was something even more glorious: proof that Ranger has perhaps finally learned after at least three previous backyard skunkings that those “funny looking cats” (and the subsequent unceremonious deskunking baths involving hydrogen peroxide, baking powder and dish soap that follow) are to be avoided at all costs.

Awake early but way too lazy to go for a walk, I instead let Ranger out in the backyard to do her thang — but not before first conducting the obligatory flashlight enhanced patrol of the area to make sure there were no critters out and about.

Once I’d cleared it, out went Ranger who promptly found a patch of dirt and laid down upon it, looking at me with a forlorn expression. This is not her normal behavior, which is to do her own urgent patrol, and then after much back-and-forthing in the way-back part of the yard find a spot to pee and then another to poop. This self-imposed “I’m just gonna lay down here until I die or Momma comes home” exile is how she acts in protest to Susan (who’s on a weekender to visit old friends and her mom) not being here.

Sigh.

I tried to encourage Ranger to “go peepee!” but she was having none of it so I adjourned inside to make coffee, freshen the water and kibble bowls and advise the imploring cats gathered in the kitchen that breakfast wouldn’t be for awhile yet.

Roughly five minutes later (and in hindsight pleeeeenty of time for any number of creature — rat, squirrel, opossum, raccoon or coyote — to breach the backyard while seated with my cuppa joe in the kitchen, I saw Ranger was no longer prone outside, but was instead upright and facing north with interest. Simultaneously, a couple cats hopped up into the backyard facing windows I’d opened and were staring intently in the direction of the tortoise hutch. So I went outside to see whatever the object of their collective attention was.

My eyes went wide. It was a skunk. About the same size as the one yesterday. Standing atop the short retaining wall beside the hutch, stock still, facing in Ranger’s direction about 20 feet away with tail straight up.

This would typically be when I would yell out a blood-curdling “Noooooo!” and Ranger would ignore that go all territorial and charge, forcing the skunk to execute a 180-degree turn of doom and release its appropriate and terribly effective counter measures. Past episodes Ranger’s been blasted in the chest and the side of the head. She even took a direct hit in the mouth and eyes on one occasion. That one was particularly horrible with her spastically rolling around on the ground, foaming at the mouth and eating dirt like she’d gone instantly Cujo-level rabid. Poor girl.

And after each of those times while scrubbing her down Susan and I would question when or if she’d ever learn.

That question was answered this morning. Not only did she just stand there showing completely no sign of charging, but when I called her, she headed to me immediately and followed along while I hustled us to the back door and back inside the safety of kitchen. Even when the skunk went frantically mobile and started to probe the north fence for an exit, Ranger didn’t waiver.

Inside I hugged her and praised her for five full minutes, before going back outside to ensure the skunk had gone. Then I came back and hugged her some more.

 

 

Miracles DO Happen: On this morning’s walk with Ranger I got an earlier and darker start than usual (owing to Susan being on a weekend trip to Reno to explore her punk rawk past). So we detoured on the back stretch of the walk and came up a block we normally don’t traverse. A few hundred feet in I heard a sharp and short hiss from the curb and I figured we’d passed a cat perturbed by our passing presence.

I couldn’t’ve been more wrong. Looking to my left I found myself realizing that Ranger — for the first time in her life — had chosen to ignore what was a mature skunk standing planted and unmoving less than four feet away from us. Our dog’s entirely uncharacteristic behavior and reaction (she’s been skunked in the backyard at least three times and has showed no signs that she wouldn’t get herself bombed a fourth time given the opportunity) was really valuable given the skunk had its tail in the fully locked-and-loaded position.

The miracle is that I was looking into its eyes and not upon its backside. For whatever reason, probably because Ranger elected not to lunge at it (another miracle — GOOD GIRL!!!), the skunk opted out of nailing us. Despite our arm’s length proximity it deemed us not a threat warranting what coulda/woulda/shoulda been a complete and direct and all enveloping hit. By all rights and laws of urban wildlife, Ranger and I should really be stinking up the place right now.

Suffice it to say I wasted no time giving ground and moving me and Ranger out of range and then simultaneously thanked the skunk and congratulated Ranger for their combined restraint.

What a wonder-full way to start the day.

A lot has rightfully been made of the killing of “Cecil” the lion in Zimbabwe by that Minnesota dentist who paid what to me is an exorbitant amount of money, but to him seems like it might just be a drop in the bucket in his pursuit of something he’s so passionate in practitioning.

A lot has unrightfully been made, as well.

Whether Walter Palmer, as he says, hunted and destroyed the creature personally knowing what he was doing was illegal or not is not for me to decide without all the facts. I tend to want to believe him when he says he was not aware, but that benefit of the doubt is tempered heavily by my inherent disdain for the “sport” of big game hunting and those who go to such lengths to participate in it.

At the same time I have little support for those e-vigilantes who are raging so vehemently and maliciously against him, making him the vilified posterboy of All Things Evil, until the next object of their derision comes along.

Where I stand is simple. I believe in innocence until proven guilty. Period. And I refrain from judging accordingly. And I believe in the sanctity of ALL living things. Period. The only time I will kill any creature is when it violates my “Don’t bother me and I won’t bother you” standard.

Case in point: Tuesday morning I came back from my morning walk with Susan and dog Ranger, and after making coffee and sitting back down at my desk to do my morning surf I felt something crawling on my left ear that I must’ve picked up somehow somewhere in route. Instinctively I swatted at it, and succeeded in knocking it onto my desk.

It was an ant. One, single, solitary ant. When I saw this, I felt a twinge of guilt for my kneejerk reaction, but, in fact, it had bothered me. Fortunately, whatever blow it took from me proved not to have harmed it in any way, and I stopped what I was doing to shepherd it onto a piece of paper where I then walked it out the front door to the porch and deposited it on the railing to go about its way.

Could I have squashed it and gone on with my life? Ultimately, after a period of shame and guilt, sure. But was it infinitely more fulfilling to demonstrate respect? Absolutely, yes.

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