Bunnies and Beavers in the Bushes

We’ve got bunnies in the bushes. Brush rabbits, gray, medium sized, shy. One seems to live here. I have seen it nibbling the dandelions in my back yard and sunning at the edge of the road out front. I watch it from the windows, saying nothing to my dog. To Annie, rabbits are messed-up cats that need to be chased out. But our local rabbit is pretty good at scooting back through the fence to safety, quick as a bunny, you might say.

Bunny
brush rabbit photo from Wikipedia

Sometimes the rabbits are not quick enough to escape the cougars and other predators that live in the area. I have sadly buried dismembered bunny body parts (which look alarmingly like chicken parts from the grocery store), not just because I love rabbits, but because I don’t want Annie to eat them. Since she considers the whole neighborhood her personal smorgasbord, it could happen.

Yesterday, we had just begun our walk, moving slowly because my back is out of whack again, when we came upon a dead rabbit by the neighbor’s mailbox. It was perfectly still, eyes open, no blood. Was it hit by a car?

“Oh no,” I said. “Poor bunny.” Annie approached it slowly, bending to smell its gray-brown fur. Just before her nose touched the rabbit, it jumped up and bolted into the salal and blackberries. Startled, I screamed and burst out laughing while my dog spent the next 10 minutes trying to find the rabbit. It was not dead at all, just “playing possum.” Apparently it didn’t see us coming until it was too late to flee, so it did the next best thing. It sure looked dead. Even Annie believed it.

Although we’re constantly told there’s big wildlife around here—cougars, bears, elk—on our daily walks, we see mostly the smaller things: garter snakes, newts, frogs, beetles and caterpillars. Many are smashed on the road. It’s a tough world out there. If the big cats don’t get you, a Ford 4×4 might do the job.

River otter 520But there are exceptions. There’s a pond around the corner, an offshoot of Thiel Creek. Neighbors with a sense of humor have planted five wooden ducks there. The ducks bob around, couple up, and look pretty real for birds with no feet. One in a while, live birds drop in, including a blue heron. The other day, a river otter stopped by. I’m not sure how it got in or out, but I caught a picture before it took offense at my camera and dove into the water.

Birds—robins, Stellar’s jays, doves, sparrows, juncos, woodpeckers—offer musical accompaniment to our walks. In the spring, blue butterflies fly along beside us. At twilight, mosquitoes join in.

During this time of sheltering in place, Annie and I have continued our daily walks. While I’m fascinated by the wildlife, Annie is drawn to the people. We wave at folks passing in their cars or neighbors mowing their lawns. Children playing in the street rush up to pet the “doggie.” Older people stop to stroke her ears and tell her she’s a “good boy.” Why does everyone get her gender wrong?

A few adults have stood back, afraid they might catch COVID-19 from her fur. I stand at the far end of the six-foot leash, social distancing. Even though I don’t touch anything, I wash my hands like crazy when I get home. It’s sad to be so afraid. As we begin Phase 1 of reopening beaches and businesses on the Oregon coast this week, I hope we don’t see a lot of people getting sick. The tourist spots are already getting crowded. Meanwhile, those of us who live here are as scared as that rabbit that played dead yesterday. I’ll bet it didn’t come back out to the street for a long time.

Maybe a year ago, we had a possum playing dead in the back yard while Annie had a barking fit. Of course it was late at night. Of course I had to go out in the wet grass in my fuzzy slippers. The possum played dead so thoroughly I touched its fur—soft!—and it didn’t move. I dragged the dog in by the collar, gave her a Milk-bone and locked her in. Sure enough, in the morning the possum was gone.

If you’re getting cabin fever, go for a walk. Look around. Even in human isolation, we are not alone.

 

Walking Through the Seasons in South Beach

 I have been walking this road since my late husband Fred and I moved to South Beach in 1998. For the first eight years, I walked it with our dog Sadie and sometimes with Fred. Now I walk it with Annie. This road, officially 98th Street, was once known as Thiel Creek Road. Where the pavement ends, it forks into an upper and lower branch. We adopted Annie on the lower branch from a family that had two litters of puppies. The house is vacant now, but when we walk down there, Annie, who will turn 6 on Feb.16, still pauses to listen and smell and perhaps to remember. There’s something about this place . . .

Although I’ve worn out several pairs of shoes on this road, I’m still not tired of it. There’s always something new to see. Last week it was a new layer of rocks that bruised my feet right through my sturdy shoes. I also saw fresh deer tracks in the mud. The Scotch broom is tall and green now. It will soon sprout flowers so yellow they light up the sky. Wildflowers will follow and then wild blackberries which Annie and I will eat off the vines.

Paths lead off into the trees and shrubs. The ones we took with Sadie are overgrown, and some are blocked with concrete barricades, but a new path carved out by road workers a few years ago parallels the backs of the homes on Cedar Street, turning back around to Cedar at a wide viewpoint overlooking a ravine and the airport beyond. The path is isolated. I study the paw and hoofprints on the ground, seeing many dog prints and tennis shoes but also signs of deer, coyote, and bears. Annie and I both keep our senses alert here, ready to react if another creature appears.

Man leaves his mark, too. Unlike the street, where I can always find hamburger wrappers, empty cigarette packs, and Starbuck’s cups, the paths are usually clear of litter. But I see big yellow Caterpillar tractors parked along the road and muddy scars where they have carved out openings in the trees and brush. When we first moved here, we were told that the property owner–and yes, someone does own this wilderness–had plans to build a housing development and golf course resort. It hasn’t happened. We have also heard that the airport might build a new entrance off 98th Street, which would add a great deal more traffic, but that hasn’t happened either. The tree line has moved farther east, trees ripped off their stumps and carted away for lumber. But new growth sprouted up in their places.

If there is any sun, it shines on this path. Sometimes in late afternoon, we see the moon above the trees. We rarely see any other people or animals, but when we do, I wave and they wave back. The seasons of nature and of our lives change, but we continue to walk this road, rain or shine, and we always notice something new.