Unwelcome visitors

September 22, 2008

One of the most pleasant changes we’ve enjoyed in Texas is the disarming friendliness of its people. Back North, a trip to the market or the bank was an opportunity for commerce, not conversation. It’s not that folks were unfriendly in the North so much as they were self-contained. And so, finding ourselves in Rome, we are delighted to speak now as Romans. We’re stretching our hospitality chops. And yet, there are times when hospitality is not warranted.

Exhibit A: We present for your consideration Unwelcome Visitor #1, a striped skunk sitting by the walking path at 9 a.m. We’ve never actually seen a skunk before, if you can believe it. We have sensed the presence of this skunk for several months (think smell) but this was the first sighting. The skunk was just 10 feet from the path, in the tall grass. The dogs dutifully investigated. The skunk pawed the ground and lifted its tail. Obeying some deep-seated self-preservation instinct, the dogs wisely decided to move on to other important business in the field.

We circled the pasture to approach the skunk’s zone of influence from behind. Surely he would no longer be there! But a half hour later, there he was, watching us with skunkish curiosity. The dogs, displaying more wisdom than we knew they had, pretended that they didn’t see. But as we went by, to our astonishment, the skunk popped out from the tall grass and followed us for a bit before disappearing into the brush. Rabid? Protecting babies? Or just returning to its den after a long night of carnivorous horrors? Not sure. There have been no further skunk sightings, but lots of skunk scents, even around the run-in shed where we keep the sheep. We’re on high alert, skunk-wise.

Exhibit B: There’s nothing more disconcerting than to be awakened by the shrill, mournful sound of a nearby coyote. Close your eyes as you listen to track 10 on this page and you’ll hear what we mean. Was it a mating call or a warning that Mr. Coyote was about to chomp on one or more of the Gang of Five? Best to investigate. It took all of two seconds for us to leap out of bed and into the pasture. All dogs in the area were in an advanced state of agitation. A quick check revealed no sign of a coyote anywhere. But the sheep were clearly spooked at the site of us skulking in the field, baseball bat and lantern in hand. We probably should have stayed in bed. Wonder if we’ll hear the coyote again tonight. We’re putting running shoes beside the bed.


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