By Wilma Young
The writer celebrated her 92nd birthday in November. In the late 1980’s, she served as a volunteer and intern at several national parks, including the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Along with her volunteer duties, she found time to make use of her research and writing talents. This is one of a number of articles and trail guides she wrote. Following a chance meeting with Wild Pony Tales publisher, Robert Boswell, four years ago on the Chincoteague Refuge tour bus, she made this article and others available to the website.
Writhing boa constrictors, ravenous tigers and lethal stone fish have kept theirdistance from me up to this decade of my life. However small critters have intruded into my household and life style with some consistency.
If you choose to live on federal sites in the wilderness as I have and trade your volunteer skills for housing, you may find that you have unusual housemates. My human housemates have been a delight. The small wildlife has been interesting, captivating and in some cases given to intimacies I could have forgone; as for example, the “kissing bug” known also as the assassin bug.
For my first adventure I had chosen the desert. One late October evening I arrived at a national monument in the Southwest where I was assigned a vacant cottage that had not been inhabited for a season. The chief ranger explained that some of the outside critters might have moved inside during the absence of human tenants. “We do not use poisons or pesticides,” he warned me.
As I did not plan to do battle with any of the incumbent residents, I gave this admonition no further thought. Monte Carlo in the carport, duffel bag and suitcases in the room I had chosen for myself, I set about to make myself at home.
A hot shower seemed in order after the long drive across the Sonoran Desert; icy drops across my back were my reward. Ah well, a sponge bath in a gallon of water heated on the kitchen stove would have to do: locate maintenance personnel first thing in the morning.
For a single diner the dining room table was too expansive so I set up my light supper on the coffee table by the patio window. A cheese omelet, fruit and coffee would be enjoyed as I looked across the valley at the Sierra Anchos Mountains now bathed in alpenglow.
SOFT SOUNDS OF SOMEONE chewing caught my attention. Dismissing them as the odd noises of an unfamiliar house, I finished my omelet. No. Definitely this is someone chewing with open mouth. If I must have an intruder, let him have good table manners. Gently I put down my coffee cup. Stealthily I tiptoed to the kitchen door. At the far end of the kitchen I spotted an upright pipe which had evidently been the waste pipe for a washing machine. The top of the pipe was capped with a bit ofheavy plastic, secured by a rubber band. Extending through the plastic was a small head, jaws busily destroying the plastic. Field mouse? Deer mouse? White footed mouse? Though I was unsure of the species here in Arizona, a mouse is only a mouse and no threat.
When the wee rodent discovered me, he ducked out of sight. I retreated a step or two and waited. Soon the tiny face re-appeared and the plastic demolition continued. We executed this advance and retreat dance until I decided to return to my coffee. I have no problem with sharing the house with a mouse. “‘Wee slicket cowerin creature’ and all that Bobby Burns stuff” I mused.
By the time I was enjoying my second cup of coffee, it occurred to me that I was in the desert and had no idea where the other end of that pipe might be nor what other small creatures might use this passage to my domicile.
Putting additional plastic over the pipe was a useless endeavor. A wad of steel wool would do the trick as mice can’t chew through that and I was sure snakes, spiders and scorpions would be equally deterred. Exploration of the cupboards revealed no steel wool and I was 30 miles from the nearest store, which would most likely be closed at this hour.
My Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary lay in the trunk of my car and there, I realized, was my salvation. Balanced carefully on the top of the pipe, it removed the possibility of rodent, reptile or arachnid intrusion. It did produce a lifted eyebrow from the new housemate later that week.
THE HEAD OF MAINTENANCE explained the next day while restoring my hot water supply that he had routinely checked the empty house and had found desiccated corpses of mice. He was puzzled as to the mode of entry and once they were in, why had they not exited by the same route rather than starving to death. So was the mystery of the skinny little corpses solved.
“We never kill any creatures on the site,” the chief ranger had said. Although I had cheerily replied, “no problem,” I was forced, after considered thought, to amend my answer, “unless, of course, you have brown recluse spiders, in which case, I’m putting out a contract on them.”
This negative attitude can be justified. Twenty years ago while living in a garden apartment in the Yorkville section of Manhattan, I had met my first and only brown recluse. During a shower one night I noticed a small red spot on my thigh. The next morning I was unable to cover the inflamed area with my outspread hand. The medical folk failed to identify it immediately and for two weeks I was plagued with disagreeable tests as the wound deepened and the tissue became necrotic. At long last it was identified as the bite of a brown recluse spider. Those miserable weeks left an indelible memory as well as a scar.
The second night in the cottage I was happily involved in a P. D. James mystery when I noticed a slight movement on the davenport beside me. Sure enough…my nemesis! A brown recluse spider with the tell tale mark of a violin on its back. Inoffensive looking…wimpy, in fact. Before my tenure was over I encountered a dozen of these arachnids in my quarters. What happened to them? I wish to assert my Fifth Amendment privilege.
TARANTULAS SEEM TO ME more acceptable housemates. Lying on the floor one coolish spring evening propped up against a pillow, I was enjoying the scent of our juniper wood fire when a tarantula wandered by. When viewed from above, they scarcely seem menacing but in an eye to eye position the view is startling. From this vantage point, the advantage seems to be all on the side of the spider, he seemed to be stalking me on his long hairy legs.
I reminded myself of all that reading I had done. “This creature is not aggressive.” OK. “The bite is painful but not deadly.” OK. “This spider eats other insects which are more threatening to humans than he is,” the ranger had said. OK, Hoping my hairy friend had an appetite for brown recluse spiders I moved myself and my pillow and went off to make my always-consoling cup of coffee. I did leave the screen door open and as far as I know he went out into the desert twilight to share his experience with his chums.
In that same cottage, I was awakened one night by an appalling stench. Something, I was sure, had died in the living room and had reached a state of decay that passed all imagination. Javelinas lived on the site, I’d been told and they were said to emit a noticeable odor. Noticeable, indeed! Rank…fetid…malodorous!
These wild pigs had escaped my notice before. Now was my chance to catch them in full scent, as it were. Barefoot and in the dark, I reached the front window through which I could view a dozen or so pigs scuffling around the garbage can. When I turned on the patio light each porker attempted to go in a different direction. They are said to be near sighted and easily panicked. This rugby scrum surely bore out that theory.
“Hey! This way, guys!” they seemed to be saying.
“No…no…that’s the people place! The desert is this way! I’ve told you and told you and told you…toward the saguaro.”
EVENTUALLY THEY SORTED themselves out and disappeared into the night. Essence of javelina clung to the prickly pear in the morning. The pads of the cactus were scalloped with teeth marks, portions of the pad bitten out. Javelinas devour pad, spines and all.
An early explorer had written home that a pig existed in this part of the world and was unusual in that “its navel is located on its back.” In truth, the scent gland and not the navel is located on its back, a bit above the tail. While a skunk emits scent only as a means of defense, the javelina seems to have an on-going problem with body odor.
I had not wished to appear threatening to any of the indigenous wildlife but my first coffee time on the patio at six a. m., struck terror into the heart of a raven. Or perhaps it was indignation. He had perched on the top of a utility pole, evidently his chosen site for over view of the cafeteria possibilities on the desert floor. For a season no human had infringed on his territory. Now a diminutive white haired creature in flapping ivory colored pajamas was intruding.
After lengthy and nervous inspection of the interloper, he flew off. By the time I’d reached my second cup of coffee, he’d returned with his mate. When I reported the ravens’ apparent concern to a ranger later in the day, I learned that the staff referred to the pair as “Rodney” and “RacqeL” After a few days of morning inspections, the duo accepted my presence and we shared morning meals harmoniously in what I now thought of as “our” territory.
The raven family proved not to be as gracious toward picnickers in front of the visitors’ center. Closing time was five o’clock in the afternoon and it was evident to me that the ravens were operating on an efficient inner clock, as they would do a discreet fly-by at four, assessing the dinner possibilities. Returning to a near by cottonwood tree, they’d supervise each mouthful of hamburger as it disappeared down human gullets. Four thirty would elicit another fly-over, this time at a lower altitude and with a touch of menace. From then on until five, they stomped around the picnic area looking for all the world like impatient diners at your local restaurant. Five o’clock came and all patience was exhausted. The ravens would hop about on the picnic table gobbling up the scraps before picnickers could get their utensils packed into hampers. Perhaps pepperoni and pasta salads are interesting additions to the desert menu.
THE ONLY WOUND I received during that stint was from the assassin bug. This insect looks a bit like a cockroach with a long neck. (Having lived in Manhattan apartments for many years, I have an intimate knowledge of cockroaches in all their variations.)
The assassin attacked in the night, as is his habit. They do like to approach the human head, biting in the hair or near the mouth… hence the sobriquet, “kissing bug.”Having read up on desert wildlife, I knew that the initial bite was not painful. The bite produces a blister and only when the blister is broken does the victim suspect foul play. The fluid within the blister has the effect of a weak acid.
I wakened to find my head damp and burning. My first kissing bug! Not serious unless one is allergic. Like many other insect bites, they give no indication of trouble for about twenty minutes. Checked my watch, made coffee, estimated how long it would take to get help if I began to exhibit symptoms. No reaction except for the burning sensation. “And so, “as Mr. Pepys might have said, “to bed.” A single bite is a mere annoyance but if one were kissed by several, it could be a painful experience.
As spring arrived and the desert came to life, so too did the scorpions. My first encounter was in the bathroom. As I prepared to turn on the hot water tap in the tub, I found myself facing a scorpion.
“D.M.”, I called to my housemate, “if a scorpion is just sitting still in the tub, is it dead?”
Now this is plainly a call for help but my housemate recognized sheer cowardice and responded from the kitchen with only one word, “No.”
OK. Now I try for stupid. “What do I do with it?”
“Hit it with a shoe.”
\No help from that quarter and no recollection of the “Don’t kill.” dictum. I walloped it with a sturdy hiking boot.
A scorpion really looks like a shrimp walking around your house, except that the tail of the scorpion turns up in a threatening position. That’s what he’s going to get you with…that’s where the stinger is located. The sting of the standard run of the mill scorpion is not as likely to produce pain and poisoning as that of the little bark scorpion. This devious rascal is given to lurking at the back of dark shelves or underneath the piece of stove wood you’ve picked up without first examining the area.
IT’S WISE ALSO TO SHAKE OUT your shoes before slipping feet therein and it’s also a good idea to shake out all garments before putting arms, legs or other body parts into aforementioned clothes. I make it a practice to throw back all bed coverings and inspect the landscape of the sheets before entrusting my body to its nightly resting spot.
I found an odd tool on my patio. It appeared to be about the length of a golf club but had a jaw on the nether end, which could be closed by clasping a device on the handle.
“What’s that object on my patio that looks like a golf club?”
“That’s a snake snatcher.”
“Why do I want to snatch a snake?”
“In case he’s gone to sleep on your door sill, you’ll want to move him.” I doubt that seriously. I figure that any individual representative of the four varieties of rattlesnake which call Arizona home will be most thoroughly annoyed at being moved mid-nap. I made it my routine to leave by whichever door (and, thank God, I had two doors) did not have a snake guarding its portal.
A local paper carried the woeful tale of a man who owned a pet rattlesnake. Owner, in an alcohol induced haze, decided to kiss the pet rattler. This in view of Old Buddy whom he expected would be impressed with the close relationship he’d established with the rattler. Rattler took exception to the display of affection and struck…full in the mouth and tongue. (We don’t know, maybe the rattler objected to the aroma of “Jim Beam” or perhaps that just wasn’t his drink of choice.
Stunned at the rejection by his pet, but recalling the theory that a small jolt of electricity will negate the effect of the venom, he instructed Old Buddy to run out to the pick-up truck, get the battery cables, attach one end to the battery and the other to his damaged mouth and start up the truck. He had to go to the hospital anyway.
I know nothing of the efficacy of this treatment, but in the event that I ever have an altercation with a reptile, I have requested a quick trip to my nearest health care provider and I do not want to stop off for treatment with battery chargers or stun guns.
TO GIVE RATTLESNAKES their due, they are normally nonagressive and will not attack unless they consider that their space has been invaded. In my judgement a boozy kiss counts as invasion of space.
The bull snake, another desert dweller, puts on a stunning performance, hissing when annoyed. A membrane at the opening of the windpipe vibrates, exaggerating the small hiss to a hoarse threatening roar. (No, you’d not believe it was a Black Angus bull giving voice, but it is a startling sound coming from a source just in inch in front of your sneakers.) The bull snake isn’t venomous and his appetite for small rodents makes him popular with farmers and ranchers.
Spring brings to the desert not only scorpions and incredible flower displays; it also brings the delightful delicate lizards. These miniature dragons are hide and seek specialists. As I walked the trails, I’d watch the lizard move from the shelter of the teddy bear cholla to the protection of a prickly per cactus. Just once I wanted to hold the darting creature in my hands. Now and then they’d be motionless mid-trail, but at the slightest movement from me, there’d be a bare spot where late I saw a lizard.
Handsomest of the lizard family is the Gila monster. Like the tarantula and rattlesnake, he is not aggressive but if threatened will attack. Indiscriminate playing about with this fellow can bring painful and serious consequences.
A visitor enraged the staff when he was found throwing rocks at a dignified Gila monster making his way slowly and thoughtfully from burrow to outside world, bent on nothing more vicious that seeking out a late lunch.
The visitor defended his action by saying, “I was only throwing stuff at the thing so my wife could see it run.” Excuse unacceptable.
A summer spent in the North woods of Wisconsin brought no new creatures into my life as I am a mid-westerner, though it did afford an opportunity to see some old friends at close range. There was a resident great blue heron who hung out at the foot of our dock in the Elk River and spent his mornings fishing for breakfast. I often took my own breakfast to the dock to share the morning with him and to appreciate his infinite patience.
ONE RATHER COOL DAY I chose to sit inside by the window and was astonished to discover that the light from the window was suddenly extinguished. The lower half of the window was completely covered by the outspread wings of a great blue who was clinging frantically to the narrow windowsill. Looking out the other window, I saw our resident heron stalking this interloper and he was bent on violence. The visitor, caught between an irate peer and a small though questionable example of some alien species, took off with great flapping, never to trespass again.
Those mornings on the dock were sometimes shared by river otters scooting enthusiastically down the bank and into the river. A smaller face peeked at me through the marsh grass one evening and I realized it was a juvenile of some sort. Furry pint-sized guy was as curious as I was so he slipped closer and I knew him to be a baby mink. Mom showed up quickly and supervised the encounter. Baby kept circling me, never closer than four feet but never farther from me than six feet. He hung around till Mom called dinner hour.
Little black bears are not unknown in Eastern Ohio, as young males will often wander over the line from Pennsylvania in search of a suitable mate. The days on the Elk gave me my first chance to watch the fishing prowess of a hungry young bear. My favorite spot on the river was only fifty feet from his fish supply, making it possible for me to observe his skill.
The true gift was the sight of three golden eagles on a dead pine tree snag across the river. At first glance I had believed them to be young bald eagles…too young to have the distinctive white head feathers of an adult. A closer look through glasses convinced me that they were my first golden eagles as the golden head feathers gleamed in the sunlight.
THERE WAS ALSO THE CASE of the Phantom Beaver of the North Woods although I never actually laid eyes on him. The radio and newspaper reports carried the story of a truck driver who had been losing gasoline for miles and had finally pulled into a truck stop miles south of the first spill. His explanation was that he had “run over a great big beaver.” This monstrous beaver had put a hole in the bottom of his gas tank. Sure.
Let’s think about this. I have never actually looked at the bottom of a tanker truck from the vantage point of the road so I’m not sure of the actual clearance. However, given that the largest Wisconsin beaver probably won’t be heavier than fifty pounds and has relatively short legs, I find it a stretch of the imagination to believe that the gas tank was ruptured by a beaver collision.
Of course there is the ancestor of the present day beaver which, if fossil remains do not mislead us, weighed nearly four hundred pounds. We can be sure our trucker didn’t meet him. I drove to the site of the supposed disaster and found no remnant of bone or pelt… no blood.
The Upper Peninsula of Michigan brought me into closer contact with the bear clan. I left my cabin one early dawn and skidded on what I thought to be a rotten apple. Looking more closely, I realized that the apple had gone through the digestive system of a large quadruped. Likely to be a bear. Not to worry, too late in the season for small cubs to need protection so Mom probably wouldn’t be in an irascible mood. Besides, I have better sense than to get between Mom and the kids.
If bear lore is correct, I’m in no danger from the “unexplained bear attack” as old wives’ tales suggest that women who are menstruating have been injured or killed by bear. I’ve been safe from that peril for rather a long time. We had glimpsed the bear helping herself to apples from time to time.
Sandhill cranes had a parade ground near my cabin where they were assembling for the trip south. The rattling and trumpeting cries provided a convincing wake-up call every morning. Sleepers a full mile away must have been roused as well.
Now the barrier islands of the Southeast…there is where my heart lies. Never mind the ticks. I know they’re a nuisance and a threat to health but the islands are so enchanting that I don’t mind the regular night time pre-shower tick check.
TICK SPECIALISTS TELL me that nudists suffer the least from tick attacks. Why? Because there are fewer places to hide. Ticks like the warm coziness under bra straps, panty edges. Musing over this, I realize that the nudists do run risks because the ticks are also fond of the hairy places of the body. So I follow the standard protective measures…long sleeves… long pants tucked into boots…cap…and the protective spray as well. The ticks don’t loiter at the beach which gives the rest of us a break.
The nicest snake I’ve met lives on my island. He’s the hog-nosed snake. His snout is turned up like that of a young pig. The production put on by this reptile is impressive. If molested, he’s capable of puffing up his head and the upper part of his body and hissing. The enemy who doesn’t get the message may find that the snake will now strike. The mouth is usually closed during the strike, not that it matters, as he isn’t venomous.
Enemy unconvinced? Hog nose now flops down, rolls around, open mouthed. “I’m dying…I’m dying…I can’t hurt you,” is the message. After a death scene that Sarah Bernhardt would have envied, he now stretches out on his back dead…dead…dead. Try to call his bluff and pick him up and he’ll do the death scene all over again. That’s my kind of snake. One liked to pop into our library at the refuge. Removed and left under the autumn olive tree, he’d rest a while and then return to the library to further his education.
Just before the refuge closed to the public one evening, a biologist trucked in a seal from the beach. There wasn’t a mark on him but he’d been found in the sand in evident exhaustion. Frequently we’d find dead seals and dolphins with propeller marks on them or entrapped in nets. The biologist was unable to identify the species but said that the creature was too weak to be returned to the water. Decision to keep him over night. I volunteered my bathtub but was reminded that my length… not quite five feet…was somewhat less than the seal’s. He spent the night in the boathouse barking if a human came near.
In the morning he was trucked and ferried to a re-hab facility. The following day a technician from the first aid for sea critters center placed a call to let us know that he was “up and eating on his own” after a few hours of intravenous feeding. The specialists there reported that he was a hooded seal and his neighborhood was Greenland. He should not have been south of Nova Scotia.
Anybody’s guess as to how he got so far from home. Perhaps, as a young male, he had been driven from the pod by the older males. As he wandered he could have been caught in a storm. The nor’easter that hit our shore had probably buffeted him about and tossed him up on our beach. What happened to him? I didn’t check but I have to hope that a fishing vessel headed north might have let him stow away until they got to colder waters. Sometimes it’s better not to ask.
IT WAS A STORM that brought us a European visitor. This was a European Little Egret. He should have crossed the Mediterranean from Africa en route to a nesting site in southern France. My theory is that he made a left at the intersection instead of a right. As none of us was there, we really don’t know. We do know that he arrived on our shores bedraggled and weak after the storm. The news hit the birders’ hot line. (Yes, they really had a hot line prior to the Internet. I’d like to think that the answering machine had been scarlet tanager scarlet or goldfinch yellow, but I never saw it.)
I do know that we had calls from all over the country to confirm the presence of our immigrant. I personally took calls from Florida, California, Michigan and Wisconsin. Each birder, eager to add this egret to his or her life time list was prepared to board the first plane leaving the local airport and come to our site to view the exotic visitor. Some callers wanted to be assured that he would be present when they arrived. As the creature is winged and has perfectly usable legs, one can’t make guarantees.
After days of egret mania, one of the staff and I suggested that we kidnap a snowy egret who resembles the ELE closely, and make a few alterations in appearance. We might add a bit of blue eye shadow on the lores of the snowy, add a much longer plume to the back of the head as the ELE had a spectacular set of feathers there at breeding time. Then, we announced, we could secure the impersonator out in the pool so that every visitor would be assured of a sighting. Our whimsy was overlooked.
I had a notion that we might convince an international airline to return him to his native shore. Great publicity for the airline but nobody picked up the idea.
The ELE was remarkably cooperative and stayed in the same fresh water pool all summer. “Waitin’ at the church” and not even one of his species closer than the Riviera. Never even picked up a casual date with a snowy egret although I, a matchmaker at heart, kept muttering that with a bag over the head of the snowy, neither of them would have known the difference. Reluctantly, I did admit that even if we achieved an inter-egret offspring, it would have been sterile and the breeding would have been for naught. But at least he wouldn’t have been lonely.
WE WERE CONCERNED as winter approached. Obviously the ELE couldn’t survive our cool season. Snowys left for Florida and still the ELE was in our pool. I returned to the Midwest but was heartened to learn that he did leave with the last of the snowy egrets. The next summer there were reports from the beaches to our north that he had returned. I suspect that this was wishful thinking.
Ponies probably don’t qualify as “small wildlife” but the first wild pony foal of the season was born behind my house…the house of the former lighthouse keeper. A winsome, wobbly legged buckskin colt. Great temptation to smuggle him into the back seat of my car so we could escape together. No, no… now that I’m a “professional vagabond,” I don’t have pets. I just enjoy the wild creatures and share the wild places with them.
The smallest of the small wildlife I encountered was on a darkened beach in springtime. Dinoflagellates were rampant! These one-celled creatures produce a cool green light when disturbed. The phosphorescence of the sea. Great rollers came in edged with Fourth of July sparklers. Eerie and lovely. I walked in the sand and looked behind me to see my own footprints glow briefly with an ethereal light. A hand drawn leisurely through the sand left incandescent lines of delicate green.
“Why do they light up?” I asked the biologist. “They’re afraid of the dark,” he said. As mentioned before, sometimes it’s better not to ask.
“E. T.” came to visit. Really he was a red-bellied turtle someone found in the midst of traffic on the island to our west. Good Samaritan brought him over so he wouldn’t be crushed by civilization. We let him loose in the office to wait for a ranger from the national seashore to get off duty and come over to pick him up. We suspect he may have been a pet because he spent most of the afternoon walking from desk to desk, staring at the staff members. He bore a startling resemblance to in the extra-terrestrial of movie fame. He gazed so thoughtfully at the telephones that we expected him to announce at any moment that he wanted to “call home.”
NO SUITOR FOR THE LOVE of a female can be more reckless or dedicated than the woodcock. Not prepossessing in a appearance this small bird has courting rituals that demand respect and admiration. I had heard his pre-flight comments often. He mumbles “peent…peent,” to get his lady’s attention. Oddly enough I never saw the female in the vicinity. Does she hide modestly in the undergrowth?
Although she wasn’t in evidence, I thought his ceremony deserved at least one captivated on-looker so I stayed quietly in attendance. While he emits his plaintive “peent” he walks around on the bare ground. Poor little guy, his legs are so short we probably wouldn’t notice him if he were walking in the grass. His beak is over long for his pudgy body and he’s really rather popeyed.
After he had my attention with the marching about and peenting, he few upward into the night sky. In pale moonlight it was difficult to follow his flight but he seemed to be flying skyward in a spiral, all the while making soft twittering sounds. How high does he go? Out of sight of this observer.
When he reached the peak of his flight I could hear only the sort muted whispers of a call and then when he must have been breathless with the effort, he flung himself earthward. Back in my view he came tumbling, recklessly and all the while making hushed whispering love calls. Heart in mouth, I was certain that he’d be unable to level off, that he would plunge his lovelorn impetuous body directly into the unforgiving earth. Just at the last possible moment, he leveled off and sank to the ground. Brave small soul, and so in love! The object of all this lovemaking^never appeared. I hope she was impressed, I certainly was.
He repeated his celebration of love several more times that evening. I’m told he may do it again in the early hours of the dawn. What does it take to convince a girl?
The highlight of my first season on the island was to be the squirrel census. Romantic setting… moonlight…sea mists tangled in the banches of the loblolly pines…sounds of surf as the Atlantic piles up against our barrier island. It couldn’t be a better night to fulfill my small dream. The Great Squirrel Census.
The Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrels are large members of the squirrel family weighing up to three pounds and nose to tip of tail, sometimes reaching thirty inches in length. They have rounder heads, shorter ears and neck than your average back yard squirrel from Ohio. In general, a sweeter look. Soft grey backs and silver on the underside. They are seriously endangered, now living only in Maryland and Virginia.
WE ARE GOING TO SNEAK UP on these guys while they’re asleep, weigh them, sex them, count the number of family members at home and take blood samples. Vital information as our residents are probably all of one gene pool and an illness could wipe out the entire population.
Six nests and nobody home. Night warm, we think everybody may still be out socializing. At nest seven, I realize that my legs have turned into cooked spaghetti. I’m breathing with difficulty. Cold sweat is soaking my shirt. I’m trembling. It dawns on me that I am an old party and I’m probably dying of a heart attack. There’s no chance to say good bye to my kids, my lover. I’m going to die out here on a sand dune in a maritime forest.
I tell the group leader that I can’t continue Pride prevents me from actually voicing the lines in my mind…lines from old desert adventure movies. “Leave me here…save yourselves…tell them I died bravely.”
Leader suggests I take the truck back to headquarters and the rest of the team can walk back. I can’t see to drive what with the sweat pouring into my eyes and besides I’m shaking too badly to steer.
The biologist offers to take me home. This person is four foot six but I have to admit she’s a game kid. She drives through the night standing up although she swore in the days to follow that her bottom was actually on the seat. I know better.
Raccoons, ‘possums, wild ponies, sikas, skunks, red foxes, every island dweller darted in front of the truck, intent on suicide. The mist closed in, difficult to tell where road ends and sea begins but I don’t care. I’m dying anyway.
Twenty-four hours later I wake up in my bed where once the lighthouse keeper’s wife slept and I’m fine. Now I remember that one of my housemates had suffered a particularly nasty virus. His parting gift before leaving for Vermont had obviously been his own special brand of virus.
The tragedy is that never did I get to have in my hands an infant DPFS (Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel) nor did I get to count even one of our thriving population.