A few years back my wife Connie and I had to cancel a trip to Yellowstone. They were having a lot of fires and we were advised to not go. But as it turned out, we didn’t need to go to Yellowstone to see an abundance of wildlife, it came to us, just outside our front door.
“There’s a little snake in the playhouse,” Kerry, my 6-year-old granddaughter told me. She showed me the little snake. It was about two inches long, the head that is. It was the head of a five-foot-long black snake resting comfortably under the pretend playpen. We moved the snake unharmed to a nice place in the woods. Five minutes later, I heard the call, “There’s another snake in the playhouse.” I doubted this, but there it was, this one only about four feet long. Kerry and her twin Georgia seemed totally unfazed by these sneaky and evil looking creatures. When I was 6, one let alone two large snakes would have sent me into a panic so fierce I’d still be in a recovery center for Post Reptilian Trauma Syndrome.
Next it’s mouse problems. Three times mice moved into our gas grill. Fortunately I looked first, and didn’t cook any. Not much meat in a mouse anyway, takes at least four to make a decent burger, I’m told. Where are those snakes when you need them, don’t they like to dine on mice?
We have two gardens, a berry garden near the house, surrounded by tightly-woven chicken-wire fencing to keep out the critters. Our other garden, across the hay field is for veggies. The berry fencing has worked fine for years, until this summer. As I mow this fortified enclosure, I see something running between the berry bushes. Rabbit! — And many times bigger than the largest fence opening. I never did figure out how it got in or out. It hung around a few days and then, just disappeared. So did most of my low hanging berries. The vegetable garden is under constant attack. I fight back with a humane trap. One muddy raccoon and smiling opossum were safely placed in a witness protection program and relocated far from my garden.
In late June Connie drove to our veggie garden, her trunk loaded with watering cans. Since she’ll be returning soon, she leaves the garage door open. Our garage is in our basement. I watch from inside as she drives back toward our house; about 200 feet from the garage she suddenly slams on the brakes, jumps from the car leaving the door open and engine running. She dashes across the front yard to the house in two seconds flat. I watch this with mouth wide open; I haven’t seen her move that fast in over 20 years.
Before I can ask, she screams, “There’s a bear in the garage.” Yeah, right, I think to myself, not daring to say this out loud. “It went toward the tractor shed,” she said. I go outside, no bear. “Go to the tractor shed,” she screams from the safety of the porch. I do this, and then I scream because there is a bear. The bear hears my scream and runs away. Thirty minutes later it returns, and this time I am no fool. This time I am armed — armed with medium-length telephoto lens and camera, and observing from inside the house. I manage to get a couple of blurry photos of the bear near our berry garden even though it’s nearly 9 p.m.
According to the NC Wildlife folks, the bear had probably been attracted to our garbage bin inside the basement garage; and had most likely followed the Yadkin River from Wilkes County to our property. Suddenly, I remember, we have two colonies of honey bees, and I can’t stop thinking about Winnie the Pooh.
Eventually we did make it to Yellowstone, it is very beautiful, and the bison and elk were everywhere by the thousands. We saw one bear, ironically the same number of bears we’ve seen in our own yard. Once upon a time these large mammals roamed freely around the Yadkin Valley, but they’ve been pushed out by way too many people moving here, many are Yankees moving south to flee the cold north, and a gentler way of life here in Yadkin County.
As much as I enjoyed visiting Yellowstone, I much prefer Yadkin County. I know we have at least one bear, large numbers of deer and turkeys, a diverse bird population, lots of wildflowers, snakes, rabbits and of course mice. We have something Yellowstone does not. We have a huge herd of friendly, but funny sounding and acting Yankees to observe. They are a curious bunch to watch and extremely entertaining to listen to; they use some strange form of English. Bless their poor little hearts, most Yankees don’t even know what a Moon Pie is, let alone fried squash and fried okra. What a shame, poor things.
Rod Hunter lives in East Bend and is an avid hiker, biker, photographer and nature lover. He is the past state chairman of the Sierra Club of NC. He volunteers as a court appointed children’s advocate for children in foster care and with Cancer Services Inc. He is a two-time cancer survivor. He has backpacked in Alaska, Arizona, California, Utah, Oregon, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Georgia, Virginia, and of course North Carolina.