by Ron Shafer
© 1998 Ron Shafer
My father, who grew up on a farm, always wanted to return to the country. He never made it, but I did. Maybe it's genetic. Eighty-seven trees planted and eighteen years later, I'm still here. I'm not sure what the neighbors think of this, but I gave up the House and Garden approach and decided to let most of my five acres grow as it wanted to. Now, in the spring, the entire orchard floor is a sea of blue wild flowers.
I started to say I live here alone, but that's the point--I don't. I have company, a whole community! The other afternoon, I put down a book to go to check the mail. Just above the tasseling corn across the road was a great red-tailed hawk being hassled by four or five noisy crows. With the graceful ease that only a great hawk can do, she banked and began a slow spiral upwards. The sun shone brilliantly through her tail feathers. Higher and higher 'til only one crow persisted. I was so engrossed in watching, I didn't notice anything else. Suddenly, from out of the sun, another, smaller, hawk appeared and rammed the crow, sending it tumbling through the air! I was stunned. I had never seen anything like that before. The two hawks slowly spiraled higher together. I returned to the house with a handful of bills and a grin on my face.
About two weeks before that, late at night, I heard a loud crash outside the back screen door. These days, an unknown sound outside your open back door is not to be taken lightly. Not knowing exactly what I intended to do with it, I picked up a baseball bat and switched on the back flood light. At the bottom of the steps were three baby raccoons, playfully batting shards of what was once a clay pot. Mom watched indulgently from a few feet away. They all looked up at me and went on playing, occasionally swatting each other. Finally, Mom decided to leave. One kid followed, but two others remained to play. A loud shout from Mom and the remaining two wandered off. Later that night, I was awakened by thumps on the roof. What now, aliens? There was a scratching at my bedroom window which is over a small garden storage shed attached to the back of the house. I opened the blind. One of the baby raccoons stared curiously at me. Since then, an evening doesn't go by that my masked buddies don't appear somewhere.
A week before that, once again late at night--late reading is one of the benefits of being "retired"--I decided to call it a night. I flipped on the back flood light and gasped. There near the back steps was a beautiful red fox! An incredible, dark brick-red with a line of near-black fur down its back and the length of its tail, she stood there in the light, ears pointed, black eyes alert. She turned slowly toward the shed and wandered off. Seconds later, I heard her bark. Then came an answering bark from my lower pasture. I felt that I had been given a great gift.
Then there's the charming, little woodchuck who pops up from under the back steps and chats with me, the deer who come up in early morning to eat the windfall apples, the great horned who calls nightly from the woods south of me, the amazingly talented mockingbird who auditions each evening just outside the front room window, and the catbird who has his seat in the dense shrubs of the back yard.
Alone? I don't live alone. I just thought I did. To heck with House and Garden, to heck with the neighbors, I'll take these guys!
copyright 1998 Ron Shafer, all rights reserved
Fox graphic adapted from US Fish & Wildlife Service clip art.