Column | Wild-ish Kingdom: Inept Interactions with Backyard Wildlife
As you enjoy the pleasant weather of late summer and early autumn, you are likely to encounter local wildlife. No, I don’t mean the neighbors’ children, but actual non-humanoid, indigenous animals.
What follows are some accounts to assist you in identifying and interacting with some of these creatures that may intrude upon the domestic tranquility of your own yard and cause you to reconsider ever going outside again.
At a recent family gathering in my own backyard, we caught a glimpse of a shaggy mammal that appeared to be failing a field sobriety test along the top of our privacy fence. At first, we couldn’t determine whether it was a morbidly obese rat or a Pomeranian with a serious meth habit. Finally, my middle daughter identified the intruder as the North American opossum.
There has been a recent attempt in the media to rehabilitate the image of the opossum by reminding observers that these fierce-looking creatures are relatively harmless as they often hiss and involuntarily faint, or play dead, when they feel threatened. (My youngest daughter exhibits this same behavior when we try to wake her up for school.) There are even celebrity opossums with their own YouTube channels and Facebook pages. Our opossum visitor, on the other hand, didn’t even have the courtesy to stop for a group selfie.
About a week after the opossum sighting, I chanced upon another hairy nocturnal beast that is often the stuff of nightmares. No, I don’t mean a teenage boy picking up one of my daughters for a date, but a small brown bat. As the girls and I were watering our flowers in a futile attempt to delay their inevitable and untimely doom, we found the animal clinging to the side of a large planter on our patio.
At first, I thought it might be a frog in need of a good waxing, but upon closer inspection, I realized that we were in dangerous proximity to an animal that might very well transform into an animated version of Adam Sandler and speak with a goofy Romanian accent at any minute.
Seriously, though, knowing that bats can carry rabies, I took an extremely scientific approach to removing it. Amid earsplitting squeals (some actually coming from my daughters), I grabbed a large Rubbermaid dustpan and gingerly scooped the bat off the planter. The bat wasn’t moving and may have been dead, but I didn’t feel like taking its vitals to be sure. Instead, I deposited it on top of a fence post at the back of the yard so that it could hang out with the opossum the next time he came by. I then went inside to change my shorts.
My next wild animal encounter took place one evening while I was emptying a skimmer basket on the pool we put in a few years back (because sanity and financial responsibility are overrated). When I clean the baskets in the dark, I always feel like Flash Gordon in the gloriously cheesy 1980 film when he reaches into the hollow stump and tries to avoid being stung by that alien-scorpion-slug thingy–with the Queen soundtrack playing in the background.
Sure enough, the basket contained the ultimate baddie of the animal kingdom–a snake. It was a baby garter snake, but it still had that fiendish look in its eye as if it might tempt me to do something sinful. Being the manly skimmer-basket cleaner that I am, I snatched the serpent by the tail and flung it over into a flowerbed. When I told my wife about my impressively macho reaction to the snake, the ensuing conversation went something like this:
“How big was it?” she asked.
“Hard to say. It was dark.”
“How big, do you THINK it was?
“You know that water hose out back?”
“You mean it was as big as a water hose?!”
“Well, it was the same general shape.”
I then quickly changed the subject.
At any rate, I hope that these mostly true anecdotes will help you enjoy the diversity of nature that you can experience right in your own yard. And if wild animals creep you out, you can always stay inside and re-watch “Flash Gordon.”