Wild Kingdom

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If you’re an American of a certain age — say, about mine — chances are good you remember sitting with your family in front of the television watching Marlin Perkins host Wild Kingdom. “Reality TV” was decades away, so this was I guess documentary as Mr. Perkins paraded an endless supply of exotic animals in their natural habitat before us, the viewing public.

[I have an exotic animal in his natural habitat — on top of my arm –interfering with today’s entry.]

These days I’m feeling like Marlin and I are kindred spirits as I’m living in my own wild kingdom.

So far, I doubt I’ve encountered a single creature I couldn’t have seen from a house inside the city limits, but the multitudes are vastly amplified out here and the proximity is more proximate. Instead of watching a fox in search of prey way out in a field on the Van Tuyl ranch, for instance, we last evening watched one just yards from our deck before it may have seen us in our glass enclosure and dashed off.

Given the fox’s nearness, and the part where every time I look out at Marrakesh he is carting some small creature across the deck in his mouth, our property must be teeming — teeming — with rodents.

And just now I have looked out and seen a fox slinking along the path that marks the southern boundary of our lot. No idea if it’s the same one, or the next in a cavalcade of them. We do know there was at least one mother with three pups (kits?) earlier this year, so perhaps by now there are one thousand foxes out here.

We know, of course, about the skunks. Boy, do we know about the skunks. Two days of open airing and frantic Febrezing, and you still walk in the front door to be confronted by a wall of skunk. It’s as though we’ve been harboring a surfeit of them (which I just learned is their “group” term, like “pack or “herd”) inside for a week and while Lynn, who can’t smell, remains confident, I am having doubts that the smell will be suitably contained for the open house we were contemplating later this month.

But at least Oz learned his lesson and hasn’t gone tearing after random small creatures — oh, wait. Was it just yesterday morning that he about gave me heart failure as I watched him race after some small black creature?

Yes. One entire day removed from his sordid episode that has made him a pariah and plunked him in a bathtub, which he hates — although I can verify that his girth is really mostly hair, and he’s not nearly as fat as people keep telling me he is — he went ahead and charged another skunk-sized creature. This one, to my heart’s ever-lasting relief, turned out to be a squirrel, one who made it safely up a tree and then chittered indignantly, not at Oz, but me.

I suppose the squirrel is right, and so far Lynn and I are obediently heeding our training, putting Oz on a leash when he goes out in the dark of night, ready to chase anything that moves without regard to how this might impact him, or us, or our new house that had smelled so nice.

I have had very close encounters with skunks in town, too, although the advantage there is that there are more people (and dogs) for a skunk to spread its wealth around to. One night back when my dog was named Reprieve, I watched her go nose to tail with a skunk — and come away completely unscathed, because the skunk had obviously used all its ammo without time to replenish.

Another time a skunk and I entered the same pool of streetlight at the same time, but we both opted to run in opposite directions and again no one was harmed in the incident. And there was the time I set foot right next to a skunk that was in our garage, but it was under a work bench with just enough clearance for a skunk to crawl under but not raise its tail, so it settled for stamping its feet (click click click on the concrete) until I realized what the sound meant and skedaddled back inside.

So having a skunk invade my space is not a new thing, but around here, I get the sense that Lynn and I are the invaders, not the other way around.

Like whatever it is that barks and/or snarls at Oz at night. Maybe it lived right where the house now sits, and so it haunts the corner Oz always stares hard at — only during the night, of course, when I can’t see anything — because it is waiting for us to leave. Or maybe it will decide to live symbiotically with us, snuggling in under our deck. In which case, I hope it’s not a skunk.

The deer population may be less out here than it is in town, and without the deerquarium of our downstairs window, we are not likely to get as close to them as we have in the past, nearly nose to nose as they snacked, uncaring, on Lynn’s flowers.

I have yet to see the bear Lynn walked obliviously past last year (according to a neighbor who had seen it), nor the mountain lion that was right outside the house at the farthest reaches of Riverwalk, again last year. If everyone including Marrakesh were safely tucked inside our glass enclosure, these sightings might be exciting.

Well, any sighting is bound to be exciting — if I thought Oz chasing what I feared to be a skunk set my heart to pounding, imagine what happens when the creature down the road is bigger and more predatory — but exciting in a benign way. As in interesting to watch from the safety of our glass enclosure.

Not as in the bear comes in through the unlocked front door and makes a bit of skunk perfume seem like the tiniest of problems. Where is Marlin Perkins now that I need him?

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