Something creepy has taken up close to the house. I think it is in a patch of ironweed just below the donkey shed. This morning Jack was running toward me from the other end of the meadow. He suddenly looked over to the ironweed patch and steered away, changed his direction, veered around making a half circle, watching it. He seemed spooked by whatever it was. I thought possibly the bear was in the meadow again licking the mineral block and crossed the creek through the stand of ironweed and Jack didn't see it go out the other end into the meadow the other side of the creek. The only thing I could think of. I didn't believe a bear would take up here. Or that anything would take up with donkeys. Jenny did not seem to be spooked like Jack was, but in Jenny's non-Alpha role she lets Jack take care of lookout duties. Later in the day, driving back to the house, a deer was in the road in front of the house. It ran down the road and jumped the fence into the meadow the donkeys don't go into, full of tall grass speckled with white and yellow wildflowers. She stood knee-deep in the grass watching me park. I turned off the motor and watched her for awhile. Such a beautiful being. The essence of grace. Big donkey ears standing up, tail switching, about the size of a donkey, only slimmer. I watched until she walked out of sight behind some trees. I suspected she got separated from her baby when I drove up. I looked around for the baby walking to the house. No baby. I wondered if the deer might have made a bed in the patch of ironweed, but didn't believe Jack could be spooked by a deer. I've an idea the donkeys know all the deer that pass through and around their meadow at night and drop in to lick the mineral block.
Later, I was about to get the writing started and Allan from the next house up the road came in. We talked for a few hours, hadn't had a visit in quite awhile. His dog Martha was with him. He left soon after the stars came out. We stood outside looking at the stars and night sky continuing our talking. Martha went running in the direction of the donkey shed. I thought she was going to go after a donkey and thought: You're on your own with the donkeys--you know they kick. I came back to the house and Allan called for her. About the time I reached the door I heard Martha from the direction of the ironweed patch barking, squealing, sounding like she was fighting something that was fighting back and winning. It sounded like it was hurting her. The barking and squealing went on and on. The tussle ended and Martha ran by me, a black streak in the night, toward Allan's car. Then I was spooked. I came in the house. I was thinking maybe a big coon, but a coon would not spook Jack. The donkeys probably know the coons of the area too. The animal world comes alive at night. I'm sure the donkeys know all the critters living on this mountain. While Allan and I were sitting in here talking, he was sitting beside the open door and said he heard something that sounded like a scream. That memory brought bobcat to mind. I can't see a bobcat taking up this close to a house. My mind went to small bear. A couple days ago I found some bear scat on the side of the road in a place with a 180 degree panorama. It was from a small bear. Bears mark that place every year. This is the smallest one I've seen there. I wondered if perhaps it could be a small bear Martha tangled with. A big bear could have destroyed her, a small bear too. Whatever it was, Martha sounded like it nailed her several times. A small bear stays in my mind, a young one looking for some place in his territory safe to sleep in from time to time.
Jack would be spooked by a bear. It's the only animal around here solitary enough to take up below the donkey shed. It is a place free of my scent. It is close to the creek. In the middle of the ironweed patch is a patch of grass just big enough for a bed. If it is a bear, my feeling is it' is passing through, checking out the place. The ironweed patch can be seen from the high place in the road where a small bear left its territorial marker. Possibly the bear sees the donkey meadow a part of its territory, wants to get to know it, found a good spot to curl up, out of sight, close to water, meadow patrolled by donkeys. Bear already knows about the mineral block. I know where the bear comes into the meadow and goes out. I'll make no effort to fix the fence so bear cannot get through. No need for that. A bear would only attack a donkey if starving so much it's ready to risk the consequences. I don't mind a bear licking the mineral block. The bear is my neighbor. It's no danger to the donkeys. If my little spot of ground is a comfortable place for it, all to the good. It's no danger to me. It's no danger to Caterpillar. If it is a bear, I wish it the best. I want my bear neighbors to know I am a peaceable human, not a threat, bear is welcome. Whatever it is, it's welcome here. I did not hear it making any sounds. I think it was only Martha I was hearing. Leads me all the more to suspect bear. Martha would not have taken on a big bear. Maybe in a few days I'll get some signs of whatever it is. Maybe in a few days it will be gone. My feeling was that Martha chose the moment to retreat. She was not winning the battle and she sounded scared, going by the tones in her squealing characterized by intense fear, while charging anyway. Martha was perhaps being territorial on my behalf. Or she may have just found something by scent and wanted to pursue it.
Whatever it is may explain why Jack and Jenny are staying at the far end of the meadow the last few days. If it's a bear, I don't believe it will take up there. It may stay a few days and nights, maybe. I don't see it staying on and on. If it is a comfortable place for my feral neighbor, welcome. I don't have garbage cans. I throw apple cores out the front door for the squirrels. I spread coffee grounds around the rhododendron. I don't know that it matters to the rhododendron, but it seems to me like coffee grounds are better to let seep into their own namesake, the ground, become earth again, than to take them to the landfill in a plastic bag for future anthropology students to unearth and catalogue. At certain times of the night when I open the door I hear a couple of scurrying possums. They have some power in their legs they can run with and they have hands at the ends of their legs. They walk on four hands, like a raccoon. Most of my experiential images of possums are seeing them in the road at night and avoiding them. Even in the day, they mope around in the road like they don't know which way to run, and the closer you get, the more frantic they become, they take off in any direction and sometimes the wrong direction. I tend to forget that possums do anything besides walk around on highways at night. Inviting the birds, the squirrels, the chipmunks, the crows, to supplement their diets here, letting the saplings that came up grow into trees, shelters and homes for my feral neighbors, the squirrels don't run from me anymore. The birds don't fly far. It's looking like I have made a comfortable place for some critter that can make Martha sound like she was being killed and run like for her life. Whatever it is, I'm glad it's there. It tells me my home is a safe haven for the four-leggeds and the winged. It won't do me any harm. It knows I live in the barn. I'm part of its territory, too.
photos by tj worthington