Dancing With Pigs
Living in the foothills is like living in a zoo. Sort of. Up here we live in gated communities, behind patio walls, and in large glass-windowed enclosures. It’s the animals that wander around free.
For the 30 years we’ve lived in our present home Katherine and I have been part of the ‘human habitat display’ for a herd of javelinas. Our visitors climb out of a nearby wash and stroll along a drive behind our patio, trailing their young behind them. Sometimes they will press up against the patio gate, trying to get a better view of the peculiar plants that humans favor, before they move on to another wash.
They have always been amiable visitors, tidy and quiet and their young polite. Occasionally they will choose the odd bit of desert vegetation as a refreshment on their journeys, but there is plenty of that, and anyway they were here long before we were, so we hardly have grounds for complaint.
Coming home late one dark and moonless evening we walked right into the middle of the herd. It was pretty surprising, as we generally see the javelina gang in the early morning. It must have surprised them, too. They looked warily at us… as if we were wild creatures who had somehow escaped from our cage… and backed slowly away to let us pass.
For our part we sauntered home to the habitat with the studied nonchalance of two Daniels wandering in a den of lions.
No harm was done. Well, one curious old boar and two of his pals bullied their way through an unlatched gate and rummaged in some bags of scrap paper for a banana peel I had unwisely left in one of them. A hand clap or two sent them sedately on their way.
On one hot, dry, August morning some years ago our patio quite literally was a lion’s den. It was a year when the monsoons failed and a lot of wildlife had come down from of the mountains looking for water. I was up early, after one of those hot nights when the sheets turn over when you do, and decided no one was around who would catch the act if I did a streak for the Sunday paper. Let’s be clear, here. We’re talking starkers, running in the altogether, giving *everything* some air, the Full Monty. Try not to imagine it, please.
At any rate, I threw open the screen on my front door, took one step into my patio, and realized there was a full grown mountain lioness about ten feet in front of me. Not a big dog, not a bobcat with little tufted ears, but a big golden-furred mountain lion.
I thought, “Wow! Katherine has to see this!” But about all I could get out was a series of sounds that bore no resemblance to speech, “Kuh..Kuh.. Loo..loo!” You get the picture.
The lioness looked me up and down for a moment and then tried to get out of the patio by running through a closed gate. When this didn’t work she turned and left by jumping on a woodpile and over the patio wall.
Did I feel frightened at any time? No. But if you want to feel really naked…..!
Visitors to the human habitat display include some very interesting birds, too. A heron has made our fishpond a regular stop on its migrations. It wades in with a will and reduces the koi population,but it’s a welcome addition to the local cast of famous birds.
A pair of golden eagles have flown down off the front face of the Catalinas to browse the rabbit population here in the foothills. We spotted one not long ago having lunch on a telephone pole. Rabbit, of course. It would toss its head back to let a ribbon of intestine slide down its throat and then delicately flick its head to the side to spit out rabbit fur.
An old mesquite tree shades a narrow garden path that’s the start of a morning walk. A Cooper’s hawk has chosen this for a butcher’s block and sometimes leaves a scattering of dove feathers as evidence of a good breakfast. The hawk family *likes* our neighborhood and has built a nest nearby.
Coyotes are still around of course, although it seems to me we don’t hear them as often as once we did. We occasionally do spot one local pair loping across a quiet street on the way to a sheltering wash.
We have a local dog, too. The dog doesn’t belong to us, but it does belong to someone who is careful to see it collared and tagged. I don’t remember how I learned his name, but Ernie is very much the neighborhood dog. He’s a little brown rascal with a tail like a flag and he’s a great and fearless wanderer. How he has managed to live as long as he has is a puzzlement. Any coyote would find him just exactly morsel-size, and one almost did.
Ernie was running along our driveway one day when a coyote lurched up from the wash and stood quietly eyeing him for a meal. Ernie saw the coyote just in the proverbial nick and put on the brakes, all four legs locked up, and skidded to stop. The dust had not settled before he slammed into reverse and tore off to continue his explorations in the opposite direction.
There is no political message or uplifting moral here except this: You may be getting too old to enjoy the wild life, but you’re never too old to enjoy the wildlife.