PV Headshot Jean Shriver.JPG

I’ve always loved living in the country, but never more so than during this endless lockdown.

I can walk down our dead-end road admiring the swaying pepper trees alive with chirping birds and not encounter another soul.

If I feel restless, I can follow one of the woodland paths my son has created and watch lizards scatter at my approach.

It is peaceful and quiet here.

Yesterday I took my book to the wisteria arbor and wallowed in the luxury of no phones and computers. Then suddenly a small dark shape scooted over my foot with the resident black dog in hot pursuit.

They careened past me and around a corner, a noiseless chase. I didn’t see the small animal clearly. Was it a ground squirrel or maybe ... ugh! ... a rat? Both of which we seem to have in profusion lately.

Later in the day, I went to my computer and the first thing I saw on Facebook was a picture posted by my son of a rattlesnake he had just killed—a big one.

He explained why he hadn’t just scared it away, as he usually does: “It went into the bushes by my mom’s office.”

The nice fellow was protecting my ankles from a lethal bite. He added that the snake had eight rattles and that he’d buried it deep in a ground squirrel’s hole.

So much for the peace of the countryside.

I began recalling when we moved here, some 30-odd years ago, we’d seen plenty of raccoons, opossums, skunks and a fox or two on the property.

The former owner had a dream of making this place The Peaceable Kingdom and frowned on the thought of exterminating any animals. I didn’t argue but wondered if she really felt so benign about rats.

However, with the exception of the ever-present rodent population, we did our best to protect and nurture any wild animal we found on the property.

The abandoned feral kittens became Peanut and Butter, beloved pets. We rescued baby raccoons whose mother had died and freed a fox we had mistakenly caught in our live trap.

After a movie shoot at our house, a chicken nobody could catch was left to wander on the property. It ate from the same bowls as our feral cats on the back porch.

One day we found a batch of eggs stashed in the hollow root of a pepper tree. We left them alone, but alas, when we next checked, all we found in that hollow was a bunch of feathers.

As Tennyson so aptly wrote, “Nature red in tooth and claw.”

Which brings me to the present and to the advent of prowling coyotes on the Peninsula which has changed the balance of everything. Small pets now wander freely now at their peril.

The raccoon population is way down in our neck of the woods. We never see opossums any more. And foxes are as rare as diamonds in the woods. The howling of a pack of coyotes isn’t a nightly occurrence, but when you hear them, you sit up in bed, clutching the sheet to your chest.

Guess my country retreat mirrors the rest of life—it has ups and downs; it's good and bad.

It remains a great place to call home.

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