Thursday January 14, 2016
There’s this type of owl called a screech owl that screams every thirty seconds all night long to his friend across the valley. He always makes sure to perch himself perfectly outside whatever window is closest to whatever room I am sleeping in. I’ve tried changing rooms in the middle of the night and somehow he follows me. “Oh owls are so cute people say,” but this little guy is a jerk.
My farm dog Parker randomly digs a hole under the neighbor’s fence to go run with the horses just to piss me off. She swears she cannot possible squeeze back under said hole into our yard when I call for her return. When she’s finished with her adventure, she picks the fence line without a gate in order to give me the lovely workout of jumping the fence and lifting a seventy-two pound dog over all six feet of it. Her timing is impeccable. I swear she waits for my freshly showered, pajama wearing, and first cocktail in hand self to emerge. “Dad looks too relaxed after a day of farming. Time to get him moving”.
The gophers try to drive me to an early grave by pulling down whatever crops and flowers they can get their hands on. The rats love to keep me up at night playing their game of basketball in the ceiling after they have broken through the “umpteenth time” sealed attic. And of course the mice try to kill me by cutting my brake wires in my truck. I think the rabbits are practicing the high jump in their spare time as they continually leap over my ever “growing in height” fence. I must have Olympic contenders this year. Oh, and the lovely ground squirrels, whom I think work for the California Transportation Authority, building their extensive tunnels in my pastures just perfect to break my animals’ ankles. They always stop by my tomato patch at lunch break for just a bite of that ripe tomato, never the whole tomato, but just the tiniest bite to ruin it for me. They must be watching their figures. But my newest animal friend is testing my ethics.
Returning from a weekend away, I stumbled into a scene from a slasher film but in my movie the victims were all plants, actually plant babies. All my fall plantings of seeds and young seedlings were destroyed. Beds overturned, fencing toppled and dirt scattered like blood everywhere peppered the crime scene.
This was no accident. In my mind something had targeted these beds in order to get revenge. A quick pause took place to think if I had returned the neighbors’ borrowed dishes or slept with anyone’s spouse but I was safe. A couple of years of farm experience and many episodes of TV’s CSI had taught me who this monster was, a raccoon. In his search for grubs, this animal ripped up the newly planted beds. The blood in my head started to boil and I realized that my time spent planting the fall’s crops was wasted. I did not care that it was in his nature to do such things. To heck with nature, I wanted this raccoon’s head. I had done battle with these creatures earlier this summer when they decided to treat my peach tree as their own personal juice bar.
I put on my best Elmer Fudd hat, grabbed my air pistol and the hunt began. Of course my farm dog Parker was too busy chewing her 100th shoe to join me in my bloodthirsty quest. I searched every nook and cranny of the farm but alas no masked bandit was found. I’m sure he was perched in some tree dressed in camouflage with a bag of popcorn laughing at my fruitless mission. Plan B was to set a trap baited with the fishiest irresistible cat food and wait. The next morning there he sat locked in the cage. I was so angry. I looked at him, I looked at my ruined beds, I looked at the trashcan that I could so easily fill with water and drop that cage into it. I told him to wipe that smug look off his face but he refused. I pleaded for him to show some type of remorse. He turned his back to me. My anger increased and in a rage I turned on the hose filling the trashcan with water. Did he just laugh at me? The water level rose. I think I saw him put up his paw as to flip me off. My face reddened causing my vision to blur and unknowingly the water started to spill out of the top of the can. I was a maniac as if someone had taken over my body and put me in auto drive. I grabbed the cage and held it directly over the pool of water. I had never killed an animal this big before. I started to lower the cage feeling the weight of it in my grasp. And then it happened.
My mind drifted to images of the wind whipping through the rye filled pastures and our wild quail playing follow the leader in the front yard. I heard silence followed by the lightest melody dancing in the background. Time stopped for the briefest moment and then accelerated in a rush of light, smacking me across the face. I was not that guy. Like a sudden cold shower, I awoke out of my daze, jerked the cage upward and realized the enormity of my action. Those big Antonio Banderas Puss in Boots eyes locked with mine and I melted. Farming was not going to make me a murderer, at least not yet. I convinced myself that that raccoon was only doing what nature taught him. So I did it. I forgave him and released him even after he tried to bite me as I undid the latch. Sorry little guy, I’m bigger than that.
I can’t say if that will change in the future. I know if some predator were trying to kill my livestock I would pull the trigger. But to kill, I’m not so sure. I’ve started practicing a mantra in my head. I cannot be responsible for nature’s actions but I do need to accept them and make the best of it. Or at least put up a good non-lethal fight. For now, I’m just working on raising my tolerance for these a-holey animals and in case of emergency labeled a good bottle of bourbon “Nature’s Cure” to break open whenever these guys push me to my limits.