Don’t Feed the Wildlife

1298483681At the airport, my  wife left me with two instructions: take care of the garden and don’t feed the wildlife.

“You got that?” she asked.

I assured her I did.

But she had her doubts.  We had just moved to Southern Minnesota and she was leaving me alone in the country for the first time.

I couldn’t understand why she was so worked up until two days later when something woke me in the dead of night.  Actually, it was nothing that woke me.

There was no breeze, no rhythm of crickets, no hoot of owls. Nothing. Only a silence as empty as the space between here and the stars.

I’m no fool. I know when it seems like nothing in the wild – it isn’t. It means something is out there, something scary enough to make everything else freeze in its tracks.

I grabbed a flashlight and went to the window.

Like most rural places after dark, our yard is bathed in a surreal metallic glow from a light on a pole. It reduces the buildings to short dark blocks and stretches trees painfully across the lawn until they writhe in agony. It is not a vision for people with an over-active imagination. like mine.

It didn’t take long before shadows shifted in the woods and a specter floated across our yard, rustling the leaves at the edge of the garden.

I squeezed off a high powered beam of light.

BAMM! Two eyes burst into green flame.

I had stunned a doe – nailed her in my wife’s flower garden with a mouth full of mums. My point made, I flicked the light off. She sprang into the woods, pin-balling blindly through the trees.

This was big trouble.

I may not be an expert on country living but I understand how things work in the city. If you get robbed on a regular basis – you better start paying protection. So the next day, despite my wife’s warning not to feed the wildlife, I drove to town and filled the back of my car with mums.

Each night for the following week, I placed a sacrificial mum at the edge of the woods and sure enough, each morning the garden lay unmolested. What harm could it do?

It worked for a few days until the crickets paused again.

Something else had moved in the woods and from the sound, it was a lot of something else. Again I produced my trusty flashlight and swept the line of trees at the edge of the woods.

A vast army of sinister eyes glowed back at me.

I reminded myself that these were but gentile woodland creatures. Why should I worry?  I picked up a book to take my mind off what I saw.  It didn’t last. Out in the yard, a wheel barrow clanged onto its side. That ended the reading.

Next a lawn chair scraped across the deck planking and sharp claws scratched at my picture window.

Then the doorbell rang.

Like I said, I’m an inner-city guy. There was no way a couple of furry critters were going to intimidate me. I grabbed a baseball bat and flipped on the porch light and throwing open the door, I stepped into a Disney movie gone horribly wrong.

The doe who started it all was leaning against the garage, striking a tough pose. Her left cheek bulged with a wad of mums. As she caught my eye, she spit a contemptuous stream of foul juice onto the deck, forcing two squirrels to dive for cover.

The squirrels chattered their rage at me, as if I were to blame – but soon settled back to feasting on the seeds they had pilfered from the bird feeder. The birds didn’t mind. They lined the patio, drumming their little claws impatiently against the bricks. They wanted their feeder restocked – Pronto.

But all this was peripheral. It was not difficult to see who was in charge – a raccoon.

He was old and fat, gray around the muzzle with flares of white across his temples, looking like a thuggish, woodland version of Jay Leno. He lay on my lounge chair with rolls of fat cascading down his sides.

We sized each other up, each considering his options. Me with my bat, he with his minions. Then with a sigh, almost in disgust, he rubbed his paws together. There was no mistaking the universal sign of – Grease The Palm.

I nodded okay, figuring, all I had to do was make it until the next Sunday when my wife returned. She’s a no-nonsense country girl and no doubt would make short work of this woodland gang. All I had to do was stall until then.

At daybreak, I drove to town.

I always wondered why our hardware store stocked bird seed, corn and pallet upon pallet of dog food. Now I knew and was seized by the fear that this racket might be endemic to the area.

So I paid up.

I set out dog food. I filled the bird feeders to the brim. I lined the garden with sacrificial mums and piled heaps of golden corn in the yard, but there was no satisfying the mob.

They took everything and demanded more.

Yesterday was the final straw, a large semi with a fork-truck bobbing off the tail-gate turned into my driveway. A nervous little guy lowered the fork-truck onto the gravel and mounted the driver’s seat. He began stacking pallets of feed into my shed.

“What gives?” I asked.

The guy shifted his fork-truck into neutral and fished around for a clip-board containing an invoice.

The paw print on the signature line was unmistakable.

“Welcome to the neighborhood,” he said.

Author: Almost Iowa

39 thoughts on “Don’t Feed the Wildlife”

  1. I don’t know what’s better here, your story or the comments. It’s too tough to call, but this is one of your best! My favorite bit has to be Jay Leno. Honestly, laugh out loud.

  2. Ha ha ha. In the suburbs, we have loads of bunnies – my husband calls it “Watership Down”–some are large and fearsome, raccoons, possums, beavers (truly- saw one in the backyard chewing our grass with a bunny) and skunks.

    1. Actually (which means I am getting serious here), the suburbs often have a greater diversity and density of wildlife than most of the country.. Out here in the rural areas, we are an ecological desert. Most of the year, most of the ground is barren. Only for about five months a year is there any cover.

      On the other hand, because many suburbs have “water-catchment” ordinances to prevent flooding and improve water quality, wild-life habitat has exploded. In Eagan, MN, the suburb were I used to live, we had nesting eagles, turkey’s galore and a black bear, not to mention all the deer and of course, the raccoons.

      1. Really, how interesting. Oh, yes, and we get bear in NJ, but not in our town. I’ve seen hawks too, and of course, deer, but mostly as road kill, hate to say.

    1. To tell the truth, everything in our garden is “sacrificial”. If “the mob” had its way, everything in our pantry and cupboards would be too.

  3. Almost Iowa, your piece is funny, suspenseful, and written like a dream — even as you wrote about a near-nightmare. Those animals need another diversion — perhaps a run for Congress?

  4. OK…I’m not thinking your wife believed every word of it was the gospel truth! It really doesn’t matter…it’s a laugh-out-loud funny story! Loved the ending! You get the award for ending twists every time!

  5. That lawn chair-up-to-the-doorbell bit: I almost cried. (I’ll pretend it wasn’t at how you spelled “scraped”.) Loved the ending, too.

    And all the other bits. But you should listen to your wife, city mouse. And you should listen to your wife, period. (I toyed with a different, very crude, rhyming ending, but wisely refrained, on accounta’ I pretend to be a grownup.)

  6. If only you would have asked me first I could have told you that the country is a beautiful place… from a distance. Like from the front seat of a car.

    1. Aw, c’mon Michael. Living in the country has a wealth of advantages over the city, especially for us old men who have bladders the size of a walnut. You can go just about anywhere.

      1. You’ve just put your p#cker directly on yet ANOTHER reason why I hate snowy climes: How unfair is it that you boys can stay bundled up in your down and Polartec, dashing through the snow, tinkling as you go, while WE need to expose 50% of ourselves–and some mighty delicate %s included in there, might I add–every time WE need to pee?

        Sheesh, those female Scandinavian forebears were some brave women!

        1. Hey, you ought to go ice-fishing with me and the clan sometime. No one stands on ceremony and no one comes home with a frosted derriere. I guess we don’t notice those things when the fish are biting. 🙂

          1. Hah! You think just ’cause I’m the L.A. city-slicker and you’re now the almost-country-boy you can pull the wool hat over my eyes! I’m no rube: I know those huts dragged onto the ice are warm and toasty inside. Pth-th-th!!! (See what a grownup I am?)

            1. Huts? Humph!! That’s not fishing, that’s sitting in a hut. Fishing is when you sit on an upturned plastic bucket in the full force of a blizzard. The fish respect that.

              1. Aha! The gals get those lidded ones, line their buckets with aluminum foil and drop them heater packs in. NOW I get it. Bun-toastin’ porta-potties. Neat.

      1. The bastards are magicians able to conjure ways of getting into our waste bins that defy the laws of physics. Mind you I guess that’s better than being a city boy stumbling across a menagerie in the outback. I was brought up under the Heathrow Airport flight path and when we moved to the rural West Country couldn’t sleep because it was too quiet!

        1. The bastards are magicians able to conjure ways of getting into our waste bins that defy the laws of physics

          I solved that problem by pasting a National Rifle Association (NRA) sticker to my trash can about eye-level to a raccoon. You know, them little guys can read. Of course the sticker caused political problems with the teacher up the road. When she made a point of it, I told her I got it from the jackpine savage who lives north of us. She said she had to think about that.

          For those of you who don’t know what a jackpine savage is, here is the urban dictionary definition:

          “A person descending from northern Minnesota’s iron range that does all things to satisfy their instantaneous desire. They can be found wearing winter boots year round and carrying multiple guns.”

          1. I’m not sure if the ‘iron’ bit has the same connotation in the States as it would in these parts! It would make for a splendidly surreal picture in the mind if it did!
            Good to know evolution has smiled upon the humble raccoon – in fact a well read older raccoon (sporting reading glasses of course) wandering about the iron range really ought to be a cartoon series – you’d make a fortune!

        1. You haven’t gotten a whiff of our garlic. It not only fends off sparklers and bill collectors but because of it, the FAA diverts air traffic heading into the Minneapolis airport to fly clear of us, least the pungent scent of garlic short out the electronics.

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