Monday, July 03, 2006

Eagles and Bunnies and Deer, Oh My!

I've never before lived "in the country". I was born in western Washington State, spent several years as a child in Portland, Oregon, and then moved with my family to a small northeastern Oregon town where my dad was the Baptist minister for about ten years. In the 60's, I moved to Colorado, where I lived in cities and suburbs for over 30 years. Then it was back to Portland as a minister, on to Seattle a few years later, and now I live on 8 acres of parklike land a little ways outside a small town.

This kind of idyllic setting is new to me, despite my many years of camping and hiking in the Rockies and Cascades. I've never actually LIVED in a wooded green setting many hundreds of yards from my nearest neighbor. Not only that, I live on an island in Puget Sound, which separates me even more from urban and suburban life. To go to the nearest big box store requires a drive of thirty miles or a ferry ride to the mainland.

I wondered what it would be like to live here, but I craved it with all my heart last winter, living in a shoebox apartment in Seattle, with sirens and traffic drowning out all but the shriek of crows and whine of aircraft overhead. So when I found this house-----three bedrooms, two baths, huge family room, two fireplaces, monster deck, AND eight acres that the landlord takes care of, all for the price of what I was paying in Seattle-----I jumped at the chance and moved in March.

I rattle around in this space, but I am hugely content. My cats, once confined to a teeny little balcony, now have 1800 square feet of house to roam plus the deck, which has been fenced off so that Loosy and Lily can survey the yard and the bunnies from a safe place, without being in much danger of joining the food chain. Because I have seen a coyote in the yard and yesterday found several small piles of coyote scat.

This is one of the realities of living in the country. My household and I are living with wildlife. We are close enough to the water (the shipping lanes of the Strait of Juan de Fuca) to be a flyover route for bald eagles, whose distinctive chattery screeches make me rush occasionally to the deck to make sure the cats are not attacked from above. (There are chilling tales of small dogs being carried aloft by eagles. Not urban legends, certainly!) There is small risk of this, actually, but it does occur. I can see myself, MamaCatlike, defending my "children" from a predator, beating off the Symbol of Our Country as it struggles to lift chunky Loosy or Lily the Tank into the air.

There are risks associated with the Idyllic Pastoral Scene. Not the least of these is (are?) the deer who fling themselves into my path as I drive to and fro. In the middle of one small town last week, in the middle of the day, I nearly hit a deer who chose my car to challenge as she crossed the highway from the ferry dock. Dozens of cars streaming off the ferry and she is in the middle of the road in the middle of the town in the middle of the day.

And the bunnies! On the edges of my domain, there are thickets of blackberry bushes where the bunnies live, and in the mornings when I walk down my long driveway to get the newspaper, they scatter in front of me, Peter Cottontail and his brothers, sisters, and progeny, hustling into the tall grass next to the clover they have been munching. I am no danger to them, and I can almost hear the teenage bunnies thinking "I'm no chicken, I'm going to hold out till the last second, no matter what my mother says, I can outrun this creature, I can take care of myself!" Right, silly rabbit, just don't get picked off by the next coyote down the drive or the next eagle in the air.

The food chain is a visible reality here. I confine the cats so that they will not become a meal. I grow my garden in pots on the deck so that I, not the deer and bunnies, can enjoy my vegetables and flowers. The only species I artificially feed outdoors is the hummingbird, who, like a flying jewel, comes to the feeder regularly.

But there are few sirens, few noisy vehicles, few aircraft. Many mornings, the blessed marine layer keeps the world cool and grey and salty-smelling until the sun gradually burns it away. Even this morning, July 3, I heard the foghorn from the Strait warning ships and ferries about dangerous headlands invisible in the fog.

I love living here. I am a native Northwesterner, bred and born, and the land is in my bones. As beautiful as Colorado is, I always wanted to return to my homeland. There was too little rain in Colorado; the mountains weren't actual mountains, just strings of rocky crags from border to border with no distinctive volcanic peaks; and where was the water? The Platte is not a real river-----the Columbia is a real river!

So I'm home now and inclined to stay.

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