Feathers and Fur

Posted on: April 3, 2010

by Deborah in the UP

As I look back at my time in the woods, one of the things that I miss most and that brings me the fondest memories are the animals. The list of when and where I saw what animal or bird has long been gone, but not the images. From the first deer, to the raccoons, beaver, fox, Pine Marten and Fishers, the bears, moose and even a big cat (heard it, found it’s paw prints, never saw it), they all have a deep part in my memory, and a special place in my heart.

The birds were ever changing. Last count was over 40 different species, from chickadees to a huge Snowy Owl, from wood peckers to a Sharp shinned hawk. And I enjoyed watching them all. One winter, having the chickadees accustomed to a certain feeding spot, I waited until they had fluttered around at an empty feeder for a short time. Even though the temperature was below freezing, I removed my glove and offered the desired sunflower seeds on my bare hand. I stood stock still for perhaps ten minutes, and as I was close to giving up, a bird landed …on my hand! It took a seed and flew off. Then another landed and another and another, all taking a seed and leaving the sensation on my hand of their weightlessness…. Oh, my.

One of my favorite song birds is the Hermit Thrush, and I would walk in the mornings and the evening just to listen to the crystal like song. It’s one you will never forget if you ever are lucky enough to hear it.

The first summer camping on the property, I heard my first cat. We were sitting around the camp fire and we heard a screech. A cat.. a BIG cat! Pete disagreed, but I’m a cat person and I knew a cat when I heard one. The next morning, a hundred yards or so up the road, were paw prints…clawless paw prints. A cat. I could fit my hand inside the print. A very big kitty! Never saw it, but heard it many times throughout the years.

One snowy fall, two young deer wandered up the front yard, and found the remains of my small salad garden that I kept near the herb beds. The lack of fear being next to a dwelling was astounding, the picture here shows how close they were to my porch.

One Fall the bears were out with their young. It’s often been said to not get between a mother bear and her cubs, but what do you do when those cubs are playing on your front porch? Watch! One of the cubs was exceedingly curious and was trying to peek into the house at the glass door walls. I’m sure the idea of glass escaped it. As I watched from safely inside, it would get closer and closer, then bump it’s nose on the glass and back up, confused. Then it would get close again, only to bump it’s nose once more. It did this a number of times, until it heard me laughing from inside. Bears have very sensitive noses, very poor eyesight and very good hearing!

The last spring I spent in the woods gave me my most memorable bear encounter. My old cat Muffin, loved to bask in the sun as she sat in the herb bed. Being mostly deaf and partially blind, she didn’t go out alone and I would sit with her. One afternoon as I sat on the top step of the porch reading, the long stairway stretching out in front of me, I caught a movement in my peripheral vision . Coming out of the woods into the clearing that was the front yard, was a bear. A BIG bear. Easily 500 pounds, he had a shiny black coat, very healthy looking. Once again I found myself mesmerized by the nature around me. I froze. Muffin was totally oblivious to the drama unfolding. The bear lumbered to the fire pit, but nothing interested him there. Eventually, he came to the herb and flower garden and the first landing of the stairs, not twenty feet from me. I still sat perfectly still. During my seven years in the woods, I learn that most of natures creatures were not aggressive and would do me no harm. The bear sniffed at the flowers and wandered off toward the driveway, crossing Muffins vision. She froze, ears and body suddenly at attention! As the bear rounded the corner, now out of sight, I reached down and scooped her up. Five quick steps put her in the house and I grabbed the camera. I leaned around the corner of the high deck until I could see the bear, whose attention now was on the bird seed. Click. The shutter of the camera hit the sensitive hearing of the bear and he was gone like a shot! But what a memory!

Then there was the fox cubs that came up the ravine behind the house, so cute! And the pine marten that tried to drag off chicken bones I had left for it, only they had frozen together and it was too heavy to carry. The marten dragged it backward across the snow, stopping to rest occasionally, until I couldn’t see it anymore. And the coyotes that would sing to each other all summer long. And, and, and…..

When the snow was all but gone from the woods, the deer would return along their usual paths, one which trailed across just off the front yard. Early in the morning I would go out and put a scoop of sunflower seeds on the bird feeder for our feathery friends, then I would get a scoop of dried corn. As I walked slowly toward the salt block I had set out, I would shake the scoop, my signal to “my” deer. She was always around at that time and we were friends. She would follow me off to one side, and as I sprinkled corn around the area, she would scurry up to get her share. Not too far behind her, was a slightly younger doe and an even younger one: a generational family. With her in the lead, the others came to share the bounty. This doe came year after year. How do I know? All I had to do is shake the corn in the scoop and she would come running to me. A wild animal. Awesome.

The third year of our mutual meetings, I decided I would test how close I could actually get to Sara (of course I had named her by then). One morning after spreading out her breakfast, I backed away and sat down on a log, about 20 feet away. She completely ignored me, but the youngster stomped it’s feet at me in an act of bravado… I think it was a young buck… They do that. The next morning, I did the same, just to get them use to me not leaving. After a week, I backed up only ten feet, and just stood there. I watched, mesmerized as they all ignored me. Again, I repeated that distance until one morning as I stood there, two more deer showed up, then three more… and they started challenging each other for the food. With hoofs hitting and nips at the young ones, I was way too close to the action and backed away. Experiment over.

Part of our agreed routine, was in the late afternoon. Sara would come around alone and stand at the salt block, staring at the house until I noticed her, and went out with another scoop of corn. This gave me another idea. I put only a little corn on the ground, and stood only five feet away, scoop held out. When she finished the small offering on the ground, Sara sniffed the air, and cautiously ventured forward…. And ate out of the scoop. The feeling of hand feeding a wild animal is one that is very unique and hard to describe.

When the house was for sale, and I hadn’t lived there for several months, I had to meet the Realtor there. We stood talking on the front porch, and I glanced up. There was Sara, staring at me from her spot at the almost gone salt block. I had trained her to trust me, and I had left her. Thru the tears, I quickly checked in the basement to see if there was any corn, only to disappoint both of us. It broke my heart. I never went back to the house after that, it was too painful for me to see all I had lost.

3 thoughts on “Feathers and Fur

  1. You need to publish a book with pictures of your friends! I would love to see that type of a children’s book especially!!

  2. Cindy. Yes, leaving Sara was the hardest and it saddened me greatly.

    One of the future stories will cover why that time in my life ended. Let’s just say relationships often don’t work out they we hope.

    All of these stories are chapters for my book, Living in the Woods, and eventually, I do hope to find a publisher for them.

  3. How sad you left poor Sara! I hope in future stories you will tell us why you left. Such wonderful stories, if you haven’t already, you should publish a book.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *