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.

 

Yreka: There’s Real Life Beyond the Motels

IMG_20150526_200231970[1]The Yreka, California chamber of commerce is not going to tell you about this walk. Usually I walk downtown, where everything is closed, except for the bars. I pass historic buildings, intriguing stores, restaurants, and little parks, all very nice, but I have been staying in Yreka on my trips to and from San Jose for 19 years. It’s halfway and the Best Western always has vacancies, although the prices have doubled.

Tuesday night at dusk, I turned left instead of right to see what lay beyond the freeway. Past three freeway entrance/exits, under the bridge, past a lot of litter, and a deserted-looking train station, I found real life. Houses, school buses, a barking dog, warehouses across the street from new apartments, a YMCA with an exercise trail, and a cemetery, dating back to the mid-1800s.

I know this town has a lot of history. It was big in the gold-mining era, and now the miners’ descendants lie here. Many of the names are Portuguese, like my maternal ancestors. Some of the graves are marked with old white stones so weathered I can’t read the names. Some are not marked at all but are surrounded by iron fences. There are new graves, too, decorated with artificial flowers and flags left over from Memorial Day.

I’m poking around the graves when I see three deer a couple rows over. One seems to be standing guard as the others sniff at the flowers. They watch me, but they don’t run as I move closer, snapping pictures. Finally I get too close and they trot away. I look around at the surrounding yellow hills and wonder what I’ll see next as sunset pinks the clouds. I love the openness of this place, so unlike where I live surrounded by trees. Working my way back to the street, aware that it’s getting dark and I ought to get back to the safety of the motel, I smile at a man and woman walking two little dogs, part of real life on the other side of the freeway.

All these years, and I never thought to look. In the morning, before I got back on the freeway, I drove around Yreka a bit. Great Victorian houses, churches, schools, offices. The Best Western Miners Inn is good, but there’s more to see, just as there is at every freeway exit between here and there.