Last week, my pal (and writing accountability buddy) Sandra Knight wrote about her encounter with a skunk who found a spot that was a little too cozy on her patio.
You can read all about it here in “Dead or Alive” but her memory got me thinking about the wildlife encounters my husband Bob and I had when we lived in Massachusetts.
Our house sat on almost an acre of land that abutted a forest in the back and halfway down one side. The property was narrow but long and for years half of the “backyard” was an overgrown field. Who knows how many critters lived there or how many Bob displaced when he finally bought a tractor and mowed it down.
Our wildlife encounters began when a stray, skinny black cat we named Samantha started hanging around.
She wouldn’t let us get close, so Bob started putting food out for her in a large bowl in the middle of the yard.
Our first clue that it wasn’t just Samantha dining at the Brown’s Buffet for Wayward Cats should have been the amount of food disappearing each night.
Bob filled the bowl up and come morning, it was empty.
Samantha didn’t seem to be getting any fatter, though.
By this point, Samantha didn’t run when we were around, so Bob’s idea was to move the dish onto the deck.
“We’ll tuck it into the corner,” he said. “Wild animals won’t come that close to the house.”
Right, and I’m James Patterson.
My husband, God love him, could fix any car and build furniture, decks, and gazebos.
He was not, however, an animal expert.
This became quite apparent one night when I came home late from a meeting.
I pulled into the yard, parked the car, and started up the steps.
And stopped dead cold.
Samantha was sprawled out a few feet away, and chowing down at the food bowl was a skunk.
I slowly backed down the stairs and got back in the car. I waited a few minutes, then tried again.
The skunk was still there and this time it glanced over its shoulder at me.
I am pretty sure I read its mind in that look: so what you gonna do now?
The answer to that was simple.
I got back in the car.
And waited some more. That skunk had to be eating the food one kibble piece at a time.
I was sure it was doing it on purpose too.
Finally, Mr. Skunk waddled down the stairs, past the car, and into the darkness.
Bob, of course, didn’t believe me until he had his own wildlife encounter with Mr. Skunk a few nights later.
We moved the food dish to the far end of the patio. It was far enough away from the door so we could – quietly — come and go when Mr. Skunk was dining.
The dish was close enough to entertain my husband who was fascinated with the skunk. He would stand at the back door watching Mr. Skunk’s every move.
Samantha and I were not nearly so impressed. But we were smart enough to know you didn’t argue with a skunk.
Word soon spread that there was good eating at the now renamed Brown’s Buffet for Wayward Animals.
Several weeks after Mr. Skunk started dining with us, we noticed a possum hanging in the shadows. As soon as the skunk left, the possum (whom I creatively named Peter) slunk up to the dish.
I fell in love with Peter. I mean, how could you not love that face? It’s so ugly, it’s cute.
We added a third bowl – one for Samantha, one for Mr. Skunk, and now one for Peter.
Mr. Skunk and Peter were the only critters we saw but I am sure others wandered in once the lights went out.
Early the next spring, Peter arrived with a friend in tow.
“Look, Bob,” I called. “Peter has a girlfriend.”
Well, you know what they say follows love and marriage? Peter and his girlfriend – I named her Pansy – didn’t show up with a baby carriage but they did show up with their family.
One evening, Bob and I were locking up for the night and there were Peter and Pansy, nudging their three babies up to the food dish.
We watched the little possums grow all summer and come fall, it was just Peter who returned to the food dish.
The following spring, Bob bought his tractor and mowed down the back field. We soon rented that land to the nurseryman who owned the adjoining property. Soon, nursery workers were bringing trees in and taking others out. Bob mowed the rows on his big, noisy tractor.
We never saw Mr. Skunk and Peter again.
I like to think that they learned to eat off the land.
Or maybe they just found a better buffet.
Have you had any wildlife encounters at your house? Share them in the comments.