Some of the things I treasure most in life are the relationships and bonds that I have formed over the years- not with people, mind you, though I have met many a soul that I have loved enough to “adopt” into my own unofficial family. What I am speaking about here is the bond a human being can make with the furry, feathery or even scaly denizens of this little world of ours. Now, when I speak of a bond, I am referring to more than just the “oojie boo-boo” baby talk nonsense that some pet owners will vomit up on their respective loved ones. (Yeah..I am with ya- that sort of thing kinda makes my teeth itch as well.) What I am talking about is a mutual respect and understanding between a human and an animal that is more than just a pet/owner relationship. Let me explain:
I currently have a cat for a room mate. He is not my pet, and he is certainly not my “oojie boo-boo”. (ass hat is the term I would more than likely use) We have learned to get along well enough over the years, and will even engage in the typical pet/owner ritual of lap sitting and petting from time to time. (I sit in his lap and he will pet me?) But all joking aside, it is not that aspect of our relationship that I would term as a true bond. Where it does come into play however, is in the almost warped way we both choose to relieve boredom when it comes over one or the other of us. He will jump on my bed, take a couple of playful swats at my head and then run away... I will reach over the couch and stick a finger in his ear when he looks most comfortable. He will wait until the wee hours of the morning, plant a kitty hairball of love just outside my door and meow until I invariably stumble my way outside of my room to step right in it... and I will stalk him around my house with my Nerf machine gun and use him for target practice when he is snoozing. It’s not that we dislike each other at all- far to the contrary. We just have a mutual “stinker” streak that we like to take out on one another from time to time. It is that definitively antagonistic aspect of our day to day lives that I oddly cherish the most. (yeah.. I know- I am a strange one)
Now when dealing with the non domesticated animals of the wild, one would certainly not expect to find that sort of bond between man and creature. At most, perhaps a mutual tolerance and acceptance could be achieved over time- but certainly not the kind of “relationship” that I just described... right?
I had been living my new “mountain man” sort of lifestyle for about two weeks now. I had relocated from my beautiful mountain vista of doom the very next day, after being awakened at the crack of yuk by the sound of four wheelers and dirt bikes pounding over the nearby terrain. If I was going to do this, then I wanted to get as far away from the mechanizations of man as I could so that I could at least enjoy the serenity of being “alone” in the wilderness. Besides, even after the pounding my poor Ford took on my first outing, I was still eager to find a place where I was forced to use my four wheel drive. (have I mentioned that I have never quite grown up, and probably never will?) After several days of searching, I finally found a nice little clearing off of yet another back woods trail. It didn’t have quite the picturesque view as my first camp did, but it certainly afforded me quite a bit more protection from the wind and elements, as it was deeply embedded within a thick copse of pines. Besides, as I looked back down the trail I had come up to get here, I was afforded a beautiful down range view of the mountain backing sky- and it smelled just like a perfect Christmas morning once I stepped out of the truck. My inner kid was jumping for joy!
I immediately set to work finding a suitable flat spot for the tent which so enjoyed aerial acrobatics, and found one at the base of three smaller pines. In retrospect, that was probably not the wisest course of action, as I found later that pines have a way of vomiting up one seriously sticky mess on the tops of vinyl tents. Who knew? But at any rate, I got my tent and fire pit set up with plenty of daylight remaining (lesson learned the hard way from my first night out), and I finally had time to sit on the hood of my truck, lean back on the windshield and just enjoy the peace and the view of my new home. This was the life! The sounds of birds chirping, and the wind gently blowing though the trees, as I enjoyed the heat of the sun on my face, warming my bones. I thought to myself that it couldn’t get much better than this - and that’s when I met him.
I had been hood snoozing for perhaps an hour or so, when the soft sounds of sporadic scampering over the nearby foliage roused me enough to crack open an eye. Approximately ten foot to the front of my truck was a fairly large black squirrel with one of the thickest bushy tails I had ever seen. But it wasn’t his unusual features that managed to draw my full attention- after all, it was still just a squirrel. In his mouth, the little scamp was carrying some sort of white clod that was nearly bigger than his own head. He was obviously having a devil of a time with whatever the object was, as he had to stop at frequent intervals, fuss with it with his little paws, and then find a new grip with his teeth. My curiosity piqued by the struggle, and I rose to one elbow to better observe the scene. Now, as I have said before, I had been living in the mountains for a couple of weeks by this time, with my only human contact coming from the few days that I had gone down to work. As a result, it wasn’t shocking to me that I deigned it reasonable to speak aloud to the little guy.
“...now what in the world do ya have there, my man??”
Imagine my surprise when the squirrel dropped his cumbersome load, turned to face me on his hind paws, and gave me an answer in the form of a very long burst of seemingly irritated chitters and squeaks!! My eyes went wide for a brief moment before I burst out with the heartiest laughter I had enjoyed in quite some time.
He chittered on at me for a few more moments, and then scampered off to the young pine directly behind my tent, leaving his treasure behind as he departed. I was still chuckling over the oddity of the whole fiasco, but I suppose part of me felt kind of bad for disturbing the hard working creature. By way of recompence, I slid off the hood of my rust bucket, retrieved the clod (which seemed to be a portion of mushroom or something of the sort), picked it up and placed it at the base of the tree where the little man was still eyeing me angrily. I didn’t really expect him to understand the gesture I suppose, but in a way I guess it kinda just felt right. Whatever the case, I walked away from the scene and angry chitters that still ensued, and went about the rest of my day. Dark was fast approaching, and this night I wanted to spend in front of a nice, crackling fire. I did check about an hour or two later, and saw that my peace offering was gone, but to me the ordeal was over and forgotten. Apparently, that wasn’t the case for him...
It was once again at the crack of yuck that my new “friend” made his next appearance. (apparently, there is no such thing as sleeping in where the mountains are concerned) The sun had barely crested over the horizon when I was awakened by the sound of tiny paws skittering over the ground directly behind my tent- so close that I could actually hear the grunting little breaths and sniffs being made at the back of my head. I knew immediately who it was, and in my groggy state, I had no reservations whatsoever about once again addressing my new companion out loud. Big mistake...
Have you ever been walking through the woods, and heard the concussive bursts of chattering that an angry squirrel makes when you have walked into his territory? Well imagine that annoying cacophony channeled directly into your ear! I swatted at the back fabric of my tent several times, hoping that the sudden bust of motion would spook him away so that I could get back to sleep. No such luck. He just sat there at varying distances from my tent, yelling at me in squirrel curses, as I retorted in kind with colorful metaphors of my own. Ah the beloved roller coaster of relationships! There we were, having met only the night before, and we were already having our first fight. Touching, really...
As you may have guessed already, I wasn’t allowed to get back to sleep that morning. Of course I fumbled my way out of the tent all bleary eyed and more than a bit grumpy over the whole affair, but after a good breakfast and a few moments of basking in the warmth of the morning sun, I was able to find my good humor once again. After all, I was the interloper in his territory, and I had apparently set up residence directly beneath his own home. I decided that I would try to remember to move my tent a little bit away after work that afternoon, and that would be the end of it.
Call it bad luck, bad memory, stubbornness or perhaps even fate, but I never did move that tent. And of course the very same routine played itself out the next morning... and the next... and the next. One would think that I would have eventually taken the hint- but that one has probably never met me and come to the understanding of how I operate. By about the fourth morning of our routine, the stinker side of me reared its ugly head, and it became a personal war to me. It was time for a little pay-back! (If by now, you do not know where I am going with this... stop here and go back up to re-read my bit about the cat and I. I’ll wait...)
So my first attempt was a little crude and childish, and to be honest, not very creative. (yeah.. as if anything I do doesn't often have a twinge of childishness to it.. *sheepish grin*) During my time in the military, I developed a lasting trait which allows me to wake myself at virtually any time I want to, almost to the minute. If you can’t see this ability as possible, then you have obviously never been rudely awakened by the blaring sound of reveille in the morning. At any rate, all I have to do is look at a clock before I go to sleep, and then tell myself over and over what time I want to wake up. This time, my internal clock was set somewhere in the 5am range. I can’t remember the exact time.. it’s been a while. But I do know that it was some time before sunrise, and before my furry alarm clock was set to go off. It was time for some revenge!! I crept out of my tent, moved stealthily over to to the small tree, and immediately proceeded to shake the living daylights out of it while bellowing “WAKE UP YA LITTLE RAT!!” at the top of my lungs.
To be honest, I am not even sure that this attempt even worked. I can state for a certainty that everything else was rudely awakened... I could tell that from the sounds of an entire forest full of critters moving at a high rate of speed in the opposite direction of this woodland idiot! (it is almost scary to think about how much life is out there without a person being aware of it) Whatever the case, I stomped back to the shelter of my tent with a self satisfied grin of victory splayed upon my face. I went back to sleep, and for the first time in a while, was able to sleep in for the morning. Ha! Victory was mine... until the next morning.
I could go on and on about the foolish antics my little buddy and I enjoyed over the next several weeks. But for brevity’s sake, I will just give you the highlights. He continued with the alarm clock... I continued with early morning and nightly assaults of sound, using the truck horn, loud music and banging pots and pans. He dropped things from the tree to the top of my tent, and I threw the occasional pine comb or twig at his tree. He chewed a hole in the side of my tent, and I marked his tree by... uh, well never mind what I did there. But all the while we would have our daily conversations to the point where I actually looked forward to getting back to camp to have “heated discussions” with my nemesis- this Machine Gun Willie.
Now don’t get me wrong here; I never felt any actual animosity towards Willie. To be honest with you, it came as a weird sort of companionship for me in those times. It even came to the point where I would break my cardinal rule about living in the woods, and throw him a scrap or two of whatever I was eating as we fussed back and at each other. In time, he would snatch up the food, eat it in silence, and then resume whatever lecture he felt it necessary to regale me with. And in time, I would come home and leave a “gift” under his tree in the hopes that he would come out to play. It was an odd relationship to be sure, but it was one that, over time, I became quite comfortable with and even a bit fond of. It honestly made me feel at home and I looked forward to being there.
As it is with all things however, time and circumstance would effect change for the two of us. I was on a journey, that time I spent in the high mountains of Colorado, and by definition a journey requires moving on. I freely admit that it was a bit a sad moment when the time came for me to pack my camp and bid my farewell to Willy and our little war zone. As I have stated before, I was following the call that God was putting on my heart and following it to wherever it may lead me- and in this case it was to the tune of a coyote’s howl!
But that is a story for another time...
(... to be continued...)