Country critters delight and aggravate

From rabbits to raccoons, creatures add character to rural life

Nothing gets your attention like a dead deer in a ditch (we've had two on the road in front of our home recently) unless it is a whole herd of deer showing up in your headlights on the highway. It's happened to us. And a few weeks ago, when we drove up our driveway, five deer were dining in our yard.

That's one of the most delightful things about country living. You never know what creature you'll see next. For example, husband Ray awakened me early one morning to see a wild turkey in our back yard. Do you know that wild turkeys have purple heads? I didn't.

That turkey sighting was thrilling, especially because he turned out to be a scout. Now we have visitations by several flocks of turkeys (or maybe just one flock, turkeys all look pretty much alike). I kept marveling about how long turkeys' wattles were � until Ray pointed out that what I thought were wattles were actually feathers. Who knew turkeys have a single feather in their chest that almost drags the ground? And furthermore, WHY?

We also have a plethora of possums. Possums, I read, are good critters to have around because they kill snakes. They supposedly are immune to the bite of a venomous snake, but I wouldn't want to test it with any of our possums.

I apparently inherited my respect for possum life from my grandmother, who successfully raised a litter of possums after their mother was hit by a car. Although she was cruelly bitten by the dying mother possum, Grams fed milk from an eyedropper to the orphaned babies until they could survive on their own.

Not all of our visiting critters are wild. One of my favorites is a little gray-and-white dog who lives at the base of our hill. When home with her family � who adopted her after she was abandoned � she is a female named Susie. When the dog is at our place, however, he is a male named Pepper who shakes hands with his left paw (taught to do so by my southpaw husband who also bestowed the name Pepper).

Susie/Pepper and another neighbor's three-legged German shepherd faithfully supervised the construction of our home. I have a photo of the two dogs sitting side-by-side overseeing the excavator who installed our septic system.

My first encounter with the German shepherd wasn't a happy occasion. I was walking down our long drive when he � moving at warp speed � decided to check me out. I was losing the race back up the hill when Ray came to my rescue. He took one look at the dog, then turned to me and observed accusingly, "You ran from a three-legged dog?"

"If you'll notice," I said between gasps, "he has all his teeth!"

One night several years ago, our neighbor who raises exotic pheasants, many of which are on the endangered list, heard a commotion in their pens. Realizing a varmint was after the pheasants, LaDonna grabbed a gun, shot the critter creating mayhem among them and was stunned to learn that she'd bagged an armadillo. It is a sad fact that sometimes you must sacrifice one critter to save another.

For example, Ray is currently battling sparrows by destroying their nests. We like sparrows and don't mind them eating their share of sunflower seeds from the bird feeders, but they keep hijacking the bluebird boxes and Ray is committed to adorning our landscape with bazillions of bluebirds.

One spring, I took a photo of 17 bluebirds gathered at the birdbath. In avian circles, bluebirds appear to be the most fastidious � if not downright compulsive � of clean freaks.

So far, I have prevented Ray from going to war against squirrels and bunny rabbits. I admit those latter critters can be a huge nuisance to a man who prizes flowers and trees. "It's not like they're hungry," Ray complains about the rabbits. "They don't eat it, they just bite it off and leave it!"

Ray's nut trees are too tiny to bear fruit (can "fruit" be the right word?) so I don't see the squirrels as an immediate problem. Maybe their great-times-20-grandchildren will be, but not today's playful bushy-tailed critters for whom I am buying dried ears of corn.

Ray's major nemeses, raccoons, have not yet made their annual attacks on our bird feeders. When they do, I'm confident he'll be ready � dustmop in hand and hopefully clothed � when he flings open the door and sets off the security alarm. Stay tuned for "Raccoons IV"!

� Marsha Henry Goff is a free-lance writer in Lawrence. Her e-mail address is


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