Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Fictional Character Scarlet Wilson and I Love Our Critters!

One of my favorite things about writing books is that I get to share some of the things I love about life. Whether it's talking about sensible practices, like encouraging pollinator programs (bees, butterflies, and birds who make this glorious world bloom), or what to do when you unexpectedly come upon a wild creature in the woods (FYI, coyotes never hunt alone -- if you see one, look for the other), the great outdoors is a passion of mine.

Innkeeper Scarlet Wilson is a character I created with that in mind. She lives in a house that abuts a nature preserve. In real life, there is a house very similar to the Four Acorns Inn on a small mountain that I used to hike. The ponds are lovely, the scenery is delightful, and you can choose between easy trails and challenging ones.

By the way, you can read Miz Scarlet and the Vanishing Visitor for free at your favorite digital retailer!

Apple and other retailers (universal link)
Barnes and Noble

I haven't had much chance lately to go hiking. It's something I miss very much. Ironically, in the past few months, nature has come to me and I am grateful for the backyard adventures of late.

Last week, I gazed out a window in my backyard and spotted a couple of young woodchucks munching on the newly seeded lawn ("Oh, come on! Must you eat that? Hit the clover in the field!")

But just a few feet from the woodchucks was an odd-looking sight. The moment I recognized it, I ran out to snap a photo.

Oh, I know most people would run for the hills, but I'm not most people. Like Scarlet Wilson, I love my critters! In the late spring, the snapping turtles leave their creeks, swamps, and ponds to lay their eggs on dry land. More than once, I've tracked them on their journey, fascinated by the process. When the babies hatch, there is nothing sadder than seeing their little carcasses flattened by tires on the roadside. I admit I root for their survival, especially given that so few of them survive all the predators who eagerly await their births.
At the moment, there are six or seven circular dirt mounds in my backyard, courtesy of the local snappers. I will have to wait three months before those little beings break through their shells and pop out of their nests. Just imagine hundreds of baby turtles crossing my lawn on their way to their ponds, swamps, and creeks. Boy, that will be something to see!
But the snappers aren't the only visitors to my yard. Just the other morning, I heard the crows making a ruckus. Normally, their loud protests are the result of a red-tailed hawk showing up in their territory. They will harass the heck out of the bigger bird. Once in a while, it's the owl who panics them. I love it when the owl sits in the tree outside the dining room window in the early morning.
But this time, much to my surprise, the mob of crows had a different target. It was a beautiful fox trying to flee. The crows were chasing him into the woods, swooping at him as he ran. Talk about drama! I suspect we have a fox den in the nearby woods, and that probably means there are babies tucked safely away.
We also have many rabbits and squirrels this year, in addition to the woodchucks. That's probably what has attracted the predators. It's also probably the reason why all the beautiful flowers I planted in the garden have been nibbled, chewed, and in some cases, completely devoured. The trick to co-existing is to plant more than I need. That and using Wave petunias -- the more that animals chew on the stems, the better they grow.
But the most baffling sight this spring was the possum who hung around the yard during the day. The animal control officer saw her too, crossing the street into my yard. We had a thoroughly delightful conversation about possum habits. I wondered if she was searching for a place to have her babies, but it turns out she carries them in her pouch. Sadly, I found one of the babies later on a walk. I hope the others are thriving. I haven't seen the possum in a few weeks. I expect she has found a good place in the woods to hunker down.
I used to run into a pair of coyotes in my neighborhood during the early evening. They had a path through certain yards that took them back to their den behind the high school. I always err on the side of caution in a case like that and keep a healthy distance from them, especially when they are trying to feed their young. I also make it clear that I am not going to tolerate any nonsense. Like Miz Scarlet, I can be very feisty.
We also welcome the neighborhood cats to our yard. They help keep the mole population down as they hunt. For some reason, they like to sit on my side porch and hang out. That's fine with me. I've always been a cat lover. That's how we came to have a feral cat named Kato. He liked to come into the house to get warm during the cold winter nights. He would eat, take a nap, and then want to go out to the barn. The biggest thrill was the day he hopped up on my dad's chest and purred for the first time. Despite being a skittish cat, he was a real sweet guy.
Like Miz Scarlet, I have a Yorkie I adore. His name is Dino and he is an absolute love. He goes everywhere with us, has a car seat (he likes to ride shotgun), and loves his sun naps. He's a very early riser ("Oh, come on! Do you know what time it is?") He is a big fan of belly rubs, alerts me to sounds I don't hear (alarm clock, telephone, timer), and is constantly on the lookout for anything food-related. I found that out one day when I caught him lapping up milk from a glass beside the arm chair. He's also a survivor. We nearly lost him a few years ago, when his immune system shut down on him.

He weighed little more than three pounds and was all skin and bones. It was terrifying to see what he went through. Thanks to the wonderful vets who treated him, he is now pretty healthy at ten pounds.
My scariest moment in the woods? I was hiking alone several years ago in the fall, climbing a rocky hill trail that was covered in leaves, admiring the fall foliage. A rattling sound captured my attention. Oh, yes. Rattlesnakes love nothing more than a warm rock on a cool day. But where was the sound coming from? All I could see was the leaf-strewn ground. That's when I leapt into action...literally! You'd be amazed at how good I was at high-stepping it out of there as fast as I could scramble. I have a healthy respect for nervous critters.
Which brings me to my favorite all-time critter tale. I was out in the garden one day, wearing my rubber boots, when I heard a weird bird call. I couldn't for the life of me figure out where the visitor was hiding. but like Miz Scarlet, I was more than a little curious. As I stood there studying the trees above, trying to spot a little movement, a crazed woodchuck came flying out of the woods and leaped at me. Oh, yeah. He meant business! I screamed and ran. It turned out the poor little being had been infected by a parasite that affected his brain. He traipsed through the woods for a couple of days, screaming, but we just couldn't locate him.
Oddly enough, I thought I had been the only person on this planet ever attacked by a crazed woodchuck, but I was swapping stories with a motorcycle aficionado one day and found out I was in good company. He told me that he was sitting on his Harley one day, minding his own business on the side of the road, when out of nowhere, a woodchuck came at him and lunged. Picture a big, burly guy (More than six feet tall and 200 pounds) startled by a furry rodent with sharp teeth. It's really funny after the fact, but I can tell you, a wild animal whose looking to get a piece of you can scare the absolute bejesus out of any sane human being. It's amazing how fast we can run when we're being chased.

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