Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

May 22, 2013

Country living with the critters

Dan Graves
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — Sometimes you wonder why we’re always being dined on by insects.

We’re too big to consume in one meal, we don’t fit in doggy bags, and I’ll bet we don’t have much flavor in the first place.

As our population continues to swell and more “city slickers” seek the solitude of country living, many of these “rural folks” find themselves, probably for the first time, sharing living quarters with the local inhabitants.

Problems often arise from communal living, especially when a former big city resident has their first encounter with a possum roaming through the garage. The first natural reaction is a blood curdling scream followed by “Honey, call the exterminators. We’ve got rats. BIG ONES!” Next comes a massive supply of D-Con and a beaver trap while the poor possum struggles off and dies of a heart attack from all the commotion.

The lack of understanding between humans and country critters has resulted in the two teams changing sides. As more of us move into the sticks, more of them move into town. Maybe that’s a prime example of suburban blight and urban renewal. However, sometimes the exchange of residents can get a little exciting.

Some years ago we sat in the family room watching TV with the door to the patio open for fresh air. Suddenly, a large raccoon ambled through the door, stood looking around for a few seconds, then casually left as if it was looking at a motel room before making a decision to spend the night. We didn’t mind unannounced guests, but our dog, who was asleep behind the couch, might have had an entirely different viewpoint. A full grown raccoon treed on the back of my easy chair might have made watching an old Dracula movie a little too exciting.

Since most city folks are unfamiliar with the habits and traits of country wildlife dwellers, I think a list of the most common varieties and their usual style of living are in order. After thoroughly studying this list, start practicing rapidly shinnying up a tree or crow hopping backwards while screaming “Snake, Snake!”

Raccoons are smallish critters normally weighing between 1o pounds to 12 or 13 for the really tubby ones. They are easily recognizable by their illusion of wearing a Lone Ranger mask. They are mistakenly considered a fastidious eater because they wash their food and by all appearances are cuddly and cute. Wrong! Trying to convince one to evacuate the corn crib is like asking Adolph Hitler to put down the gun. They are highly opinionated about certain things and have no reservations about expressing themselves in a manner that will have you looking for higher ground in short order. Forget about climbing a tree as a means of escape. The raccoon will be waiting for you when you get to the first limb. Your best protection is a blue tic hound with a low IQ and a thorough knowledge of who fills his food bowl every night.

Everyone is somewhat familiar with the owls in this part of the country, but a city slicker wouldn’t know the difference between a screech owl and a hoot owl if one was jerking hair off the family cat. Nocturnal by nature, owls hunt mostly by night, thus making it difficult to see much less identify the species. The hoot owl is the largest, best known for its mournful call that gave it its name. If you have any doubts about identifying the hoot owl, rent an old Dracula or Frankenstein movie. One will show up in these eventually.

Apparently, mating owls sometimes have family problems, as demonstrated one night while we sat outside enjoying a moonlit evening. The old man must have been hanging around with the wrong crowd and his wife was waiting for him when he returned home. The squabble started with the usual hoots and then swung into a series of yelps, wails, and caterwauling that sounded like two New York cabbies trying to get through an intersection at the same time.

I started grumbling in support of the old man and Judy took favor with the distaff side. I made the mistake of hissing, “You don’t have to take that, old boy. Show her who’s boss,” and as a result spent the rest of the night sleeping on the patio deck. If you move to the sticks, don’t interfere in family squabbles between wildlife.

The one critter that draws more attention than any other is the snake. I’ve always followed the philosophy that if it doesn’t have hair or legs, give it a wide berth. That’s unfortunate because the snake is a much maligned creature, being one of the reasons we don’t find a live mouse in the cereal box every morning. Most farmers would rather have a snake in the corn crib than their mother-in-law in the living room. As for me, I assume that every snake I meet is a King Cobra. I’ll leave making buddies with them up to the herpatologists.

Some of the other local residents a city slicker might encounter are groundhogs, squirrels, salamanders and chipmunks, all harmless. That is until the lady of the house finds one in the kitchen and the man has to repair all the damage caused by the shotgun blast. Ah, country living.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.