Wild Life Lessons from a Reluctant Homesteader

I was raised in the suburbs where there was relatively little wildlife.  Our house backed up to the bayou so we did see some critters growing up.  Raccoons raiding the cat food bowl and snakes and turtles could be found on exploration of the bayou, an assortment of birds and squirrels, nothing too unusual.  When my husband and I purchased our little half acre of land that backed up to the woods I wasn’t quite prepared for all the wildlife encounters that we would have.

Lesson 1: Sadie vs the Skunk

Within a few months of bringing home a dog, we discovered our area harbored skunks. Our poor dog fell victim to an encounter one dark morning around 6am.  I learned that day that you should always keep Blue Dawn Dish Soap, Baking Soda and Hydrogen Peroxide on hand if you live in the country.  After we layered the mixture on the dog by the evening she smelled tolerable enough to be let back in the house. I will say once you smell skunk up close and personal, skunk never smells the same ever again.

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Lesson 2: There will be Bugs

Since living on our homestead, I have to say I’ve learned a lot more about bugs than I ever wanted to know.  I never encountered such a large array of bugs as I have living on our little piece of country, near the city.  Centipedes, millipedes, beetles, stink bugs, velvet ants, carpenter ants, fire ants, grasshoppers, crickets, cicada’s, flies, praying mantis, worms, silverfish, grubs, mosquitos, ladybugs, bees, spiders, caterpillars, butterflies and a host of other bugs I can’t identify.  I’ve come to terms that for the most part the bugs are harmless.  I let them do their thing and as long as they don’t come in the house or touch me we live a relatively harmonious relationship.  If they do happen to venture inside or decide to land on me they will find they have put their little bug lives in peril.

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Lesson 3: Rapacious Reptiles

Bugs attract a host of other animals that’s diet consists of bugs, especially reptiles.  We’ve seen tons of lizards: Gecko’s, anoles, skinks (these are the ones that look like snakes because they have long bodies and tiny legs), I even spotted a huge salamander.  We see a variety of toads and frogs, including little green tree frogs and leopard frogs.  We’ve also seen a few of my least favorite of the reptiles. . . snakes.  We’ve had visits from one water mocassin and one copperhead and we also have a recurring visitor, a sizeable garter snake.  This one still freaks me out as he likes to make regular appearances, but I remind myself that he is one of the good guys and I stop thinking about making a run for the shovel when he surprises me, the poisonous variety are not as lucky.

Lesson 4: Rodents

When you live near untamed trees you are going to see the usual array of residence that make their homes there.  We have lots of squirrels scampering about and we have pesky moles burrowing holes through the yard.  There are also mice and rats that lurk in the woods nearby.  Luckily we don’t have a mouse or rat problem as the outside cats are avid hunters.  I have yet to see a live mouse or rat that wasn’t specifically brought into the yard by one of the cats and the poor little critters don’t usually last long once they are in the yard.  I’ve also learned from these rodents the appeal of squeaky toys to dogs, as when she discovers that cats have a new “toy” she also wants in on the playtime.

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Lesson 5: Do we have Bats or Birds?

The first year we moved into our house I kept hearing a squeaky sounding critter flying around outside.  I was convinced we had bats, and while we might have bats drifting about I have never encountered one.  Upon further inspection of the squeaky noise I figured out it was coming from Wood Ducks. These ducks nest in trees near water sources (we have a creek just down the road) and make it a habit of flying through our area on a regular basis.  Ducks in trees and balancing on power lines was a new experience for me, but I find myself looking for them whenever I hear the squeaky cries they make. Other birds I’ve seen and heard are cardinals, blue jay’s, doves, pigeons, crows, chimney swifts, woodpeckers, robins, warblers, vultures, hawks, owls, my favorite the hummingbirds, and a host of others that I am unsure of the genus.

Lesson 6: Bunnies, Opossums and Raccoons, Oh My!

While I’ve never seen Raccoons on our property, when we first moved in I frequently saw some huge ones in the neighbors backyard.  I wonder if our outside cats and crazy dog discourage the raccoons from taking up residence or if the family moved on to a different place of residence.  And while we don’t have a resident Opossum that I know about, we have had them make an appearance now and again.  They like to go after that cat food if there happen to be any remnants left in the bowls on the front porch and they take a lot of convincing (usually in the form of a broom) to get off the porch and go away.  My favorite resident who makes frequent appearances are the bunnies.  We must have some tasty grass because they are often make their dusk and dawn appearances despite the presence of the dog (who often fails to notice them until they are on the other side of the fence).

 

I’m sure there are many other untamed creatures we have yet to meet that reside nearby. (I’ve seen deer, armadillo’s and even a coyote while driving a few miles away from the house).  I try to not bother these critters too much as we have moved into their territory as much as they have moved into ours and for the most part I have learned that we can live in harmony amongst each other.  All the little lessons the wildlife teach me just reinforce the reason we moved to our little piece of property.  What better wonderland for a child than to be able to explore a backyard billowing with wildlife.

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I Live with a Serial Killer (or two)

When you live on a 1/2 acre lot that is plentiful in plant life and that backs up to undisturbed wooded lots you cannot be faint of heart.  With all this glorious nature come critters.

We have critters of our own that roam among the splendor.  We have Sadie the Catahoula mix.  We obtained her from a park ranger who had found her abandoned in one of her parks.  After we had her a month I understood why someone might abandoned her.  She is a lively and energetic dog who needs lots of exercise and because of her we have made the dog park one of our favorite places.  Sadie loves her home.  She protects us, all of us, her herd and alerts us to things that are out of place.  She always keeps a watchful eye when she’s not playing.

We have Rocky, the cat that came with the house.  A massive creature that has the heart of a lion.  He is our guard cat. Whenever our gate is open and we are away he makes it his duty to hang out and guard the gate.  He is unafraid of large dogs and before they decided they could tolerate each other he would torture our poor dog.  I clearly remember one incident not long after we had brought Sadie home where Rocky pounced on her and rolled her down the porch steps because in his eyes she was an uninvited guest invading his turf.  In reality, though, he is a large baby of a cat who just wants to come in the house and sleep on big fluffy pillows (he especially likes to displace Sadie from her dog bed).

We have Smudge, a rescue from Texas Litter Control.  My friend Deana who works there knew he was the cat for me and prodded me to come meet him.  I feel in love and brought him home.  I intended for him to be an inside cat, but when he learned there were other cats outside, he was most insistent that he must be let outside to play with them.  Over time he grew to stay outside more than inside.  He is one of the most cat-like cats I have ever owned.  He climbs, chases, hides.  He is fearless and above all, he is a hunter.

The other evening as I called him to come in for bed, he just sat in the yard staring at me. He had been cleaning himself before I called for him, a grooming like that after a meal and I suspected that he may have brought me a present that he wanted me to come acknowledge before he would join us inside.  I went out into the yard to collect him.  It was dark and my eyeglasses were in the house, but even in the dim I could tell there was a dead rodent nearby.  I complimented Smudge on his prowess and brought him inside.

In the morning we got a better look at the kill, it was probably the biggest rats Smudge has ever brought home.   Life with a serial killer can be unpleasant.  What he views as gifts, I find as unpleasant pieces I have to clean up before the child lays eyes upon them.  I can no longer keep track of how many gifts we have been brought by our outside hunters, squirrels, cardinals, a mole, mice, rats, unidentifiable birds, maybe even a snake.

As much as it grosses me out to find the remains of such gifts I understand it is part of the circle of life.  It is part of life on a small homestead.  It is getting to experience nature up close and personal, even if it is not the most pleasant part of nature.  It reminds you of how nature works and when you love nature you do not get to choose to love just the beautiful parts.  You must love and appreciate all nature.