A Peaceable Kingdom
“David, let me call you back. We have company.”
It was Super Bowl Sunday, the highest of holy days for football fans, and I was ensconced in the recliner in our family room. Adult beverage on one side table, wonderfully unhealthy fried food on the other, and me, wrapped in total bliss, in the deep center of the chair. A slate gray day blew at the porch windows in the late afternoon gloom. The fireplace danced orange light around the room while my husband chatted on the phone with our youngest.
I had been in heavy contemplation over the unlikelihood of Seattle having any hope of shutting down Tom Brady, when Bob’s sign-off on the phone call snapped me back to the moment. Company? I hadn’t heard the doorbell or the distinctive sound of tires chewing on the gravel in our sloped driveway.
“We have visitors? Who’s here?”
Bob, a man you could not rattle if you hit him with a tire iron, pointed to a spot on the far side of the carpet and calmly said, “Snake.”
In my humble opinion, nothing surrounding the existence of snakes should ever be approached calmly. I am an ardent proponent of screaming, flailing arms, excessive cursing, and pleas to the Almighty for intervention. And speed. All of this must be conducted in a blur of color, indistinguishable to the human eye. Height is good, too, meaning elevation of any sort, by any means. I once hovered above the ground for a solid two minutes while my hiking partner dispatched a reptile. Think it can’t be done? Watch me.
In this particular instance, I had gone from my backside to my feet in one motion and in the next moment was standing, balanced on the now oscillating recliner. (I’ve tripped over lint on the floor, but when a snake is introduced into the picture, I am a flippin’ Wallenda.) From this position, I had a clear view of the snake.
It—no, I didn’t know the gender and you can bet your epinephrine auto-injector I was not about to find out—was lying on the artificial turf of our carpet. To my eyes, it was nine feet long, as big around as a municipal drainage pipe, with fangs that looked like Dracula’s dentist had branched into veterinary work. Bob stood a scant couple of feet away from it and lazily questioned, “Now, how did he get in here?”
How? Who cares how? If you encounter a homicidal maniac twirling an axe you don’t waste time wondering which exit off of I-86 he took to get here! Just do something to remove yourself from the situation!
Bob knew without looking that I was doing my high-wire act on the La-Z-Boy. He moved to the linen closet and returned with a large bath towel. He peered closer at the creature and smiled. “Mags, look how pretty he is.”
I had yet to breathe and when I inhaled it sounded like a choking vacuum cleaner.
“Get it out of here.”
Bob removed the snake without incident. It was another in the seemingly endless encounters we have with the creatures that called this hill home long before we got here.
Some of the episodes are gentle and mutually beneficial, like watching from inside while the deer graze or the birds practice landings on the feeder platform like pilots returning to the aircraft carrier.
Other times, though, the introduction of a critter into our world is a bit more intrusive.
Thanksgiving night, some of our family braved the cold, the crowds, and the cynicism of “Black Thursday” shopping. It was near midnight when our daughter Angie, family friend Brent, and I returned home and began assembling turkey sandwiches. (Which are the whole reason behind Thanksgiving, can I get an Amen?) Brent announced that one of the cats had cornered a mouse in the kitchen. Said cat toted said mouse right down the hallway, intent on presenting her find to her favorite human, my husband. He, having no appetite for crazed shopping sprees, was already asleep.
Brent gave chase, but the mouse had escaped into the closet in the bedroom.
So, at approximately midnight on Thanksgiving night, I nudged my better half awake with the news that there was a mouse on the rampage in the room. By the way, I added, your daughter and Brent are also here, so don’t go flinging those covers off unless you want to foot the bill for extensive therapy in the years to come. It is a credit to Robert’s ability to adapt and overcome that he said nothing, merely rolled over.
A chase ensued that involved both of the young people, both cats, and the frantic mouse. At one point, the rodent sought refuge under a dresser and Brent dropped to his knees before it. I assumed he was triangulating a path of escape and was about to enquire when the mouse, for reasons that remain unknown to this day, rocketed out from the dresser and directly into Brent’s...uh....nether regions.
I now present the second case study that a human being can take flight when properly motivated. Well done, Brent.
The images that followed are a bit graphic for such a fine publication, so let’s leave it with the crowd of us trooping back out of the room with Brent carrying the unconscious creature and a firm conviction to wear an athletic cup when dining late with the Barneses.
All of which brings us to the bear.
Many of the residents of our hill had spoken of seeing a large bear roam the woods. He had been found grocery shopping in some of the finer garage refrigerators and, in one memorable visit, decimated a 50-count box of pudding cups. But he hadn’t been near enough to us to be sighted. Then Scott, resident of the last house on our tiny four-house road, brought down video from the night before. The birdfeeder on their deck stands seven feet tall and the bear was snacking from it like he was leaning on a table in the bar waiting for the hostess to seat his party. Scott had whispered to his wife Peggy, “I’m gonna open the slider so I can get better video of him.” To which Peggy replied, “No, you’re not because I look lousy in black.”
Bob pouted. “Everyone has seen the bear but us!” I, on the other hand, planned to live a long, fabulously fulfilled life minus any bear visits.
So, a week later, while working on our home office, I truly had no idea what I was hearing outside. The bottom half of our house is built into a hillside, so the side windows are at ground level. I had to put both hands to the glass to bring the picture into view. The thought formed, “Why am I looking at the bottom of the recycling bin?”
Because the bear had tipped it over.
He was 450 pounds if he was an ounce, with a head the size of a hubcap and black as night.
I have to say, I was impressed with my own composure. I walked into the family room and simply said, “Robert. You asked about the bear? He’s here.”
We watched the woodland creature sit upright and, with surprising gentleness, pull each of the bags out of the bin and slice them open. He must have thought he’d found a candy store when he came on the tray liner from our recent painting. He was probably anticipating more of that sweet pudding, but when he lifted the liner, he was not impressed with the beige paint that dripped down his nose. He tried to catch some of it on his tongue until his taste buds kicked in. The tray was noisily discarded and I was sure our TripAdvisor rating had just been downgraded. But the next discovery was the bucket of fried chicken remnants and our four-star dining status was restored.
After a brief stay at the toppled bin, he rolled to his feet and ambled up the driveway. I’m sure he saw us at the window and I’m equally confident that he knew there was nothing to fear. If he talked to the local snakes at all, he knew I was a non-issue.
I was ready to check off another on the list of our country adventures and Bob was beaming. Then a cloud passed over his face.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“He didn’t stay long. We need to throw out a better grade of garbage.”
Somebody hand me a tire iron.