Saturday, July 16, 2011

Rustle, Rustle

One of the last chores of any day for me is to check the two plastic covered hoop houses that reside on the ridge of the farm. The sun was descending behind trees on the west ridge as I checked Greenhouse 1 last week and all was as should be. Then, I walked toward Greenhouse 2, which is about 30 or so feet away from Greenhouse 1. And as I approached…

I have to pause here for some explanation. I have the intention for the farmland I use to be meticulously “manicured”, if you will. That statement means that all grass, and other green growth will be timely mowed, or even prevented, depending on the plant. As things stand at present, and as it has been for the last many years, tall grass and weeds surround the greenhouses on some of the sides due to… laziness, I guess.

Anyway, it was long after 8pm by the time I approached the west entrance to Greenhouse 2. To the right of the entrance doorway is a mass of grass and weeds approximately four feet high. And as I approached from the northern greenhouse, something rustled within that tall stand of vegetation. What the…?

It was late for clear thinking at that point in the day, (which is long before I start writing these Tales of Idyllia, so that should explain some of the apparent delirium found herein), but nonetheless, I paused. Whatever caused that rustle was of relatively large size. And here experience dictates. If the cause was a mouse, or vole, or mole, or chipmunk, such a noticeable movement would not have been noticed so significantly. But what could it be?

Literally three feet away from the rustle, I paused. Again, what could it be? To explain further, the stand of vegetation was only about six feet across by six feet wide. Something lurked therein, and most assuredly, it was not a creature that should feel comfortable so close to the greenhouse entrance. But what could it be?

After many years of experience witnessing the various creatures that reside around the farm, my mind quickly started deducing what it could be. Groundhog… was my first thought, but it did not linger long. Those filthy, foul, cowards would sprint as quickly as possible to their nearest hole, and that nearest hole was a hundred feet down the hill to the south… I hoped. Anyway, that creature, whatever it was, rustled three feet from me. No, a groundhog would have definitely sprinted away by that point.

The thought of the tremendously large tabby-colored cat that I sometimes see hunting on the farm arose, but cats are predators also. They do not lurk WITHIN the vegetation, they hunt from outside of it. The number of possibilities had diminished, and I guess here might be another poignant place to pause. The key to the analysis going on in my head at the time was that animals tend to act in similar ways according to the species. There are exceptions to the rule, but the key to any knowledge in the realm of nature is to learn the patterns that the native species repetitively reveal.

And with that thought… rabbit! Oh how rabbits frustrate me! Those cute, almost adorable creatures can be such a bane to a farmer’s endeavors! And they will hide in such vegetation, assuming themselves well hidden.
At that moment, a memory arose of a rake that was leaning against the inside of the greenhouse. All I would need to do was to grab that rake, then smash that vegetation with it, and if nothing else, that rabbit would have the scare of a lifetime as it darted away to freedom. Damned rabbits…

But as I entered the greenhouse, my eyes caught site of a few four inch sized rocks on the greenhouse floor…that is a dirt floor, but I digress. For some reason, those rocks instantly steered me away from the rake vegetation smashing idea. Perhaps something more subtle was called for… I picked up a handful of the rocks and walked back outside of the greenhouse to stand a few feet away from the tall stand of vegetation.

And I have to pause here again as well. It is true that I know the end of this little tale, but as I was living it, I did not. There are points in my farming existence, as well as life in general, where a sense of intuition directs my actions in a manner I cannot explain. And it was exactly like that on that day.

So, I stood a few feet away from that mass of vegetation and lobbed one of the rocks in the area between where I stood and the last movement I witnessed in that entanglement. The landing of the rock caused more rustling, and that rustling rustled a little further away from me. What could it be? The movement was slow. Rabbits dart. I began to consciously think that it was not a rabbit after all. Rabbits do not act like that.

I lobbed another rock. The creature rustled away a little further. I lobbed another just behind it as it rustled further away from me. It was only a foot or two from the edge of the deep vegetation, which ended in a mowed area, more succinctly, Field 5 for organic certification purposes, which is a south facing hill where some grapes are planted, but I digress again.

So far so good. I was leading the creature toward the open terrain, but again, what could it be? I was bemused at that point, but in the midst of the ordeal, I was more intent on discovering what form of animal the culprit could be. And just as I was about to lob another rock, the creature bolted, or more accurately staggered into the open area, then down the hill toward the thickets below. The first thing I saw was the black that surprised me, …then the white stripes!

How many readers at this point realize what creature revealed itself as it escaped down the hill? Escaped? Those who realize most assuredly will react much like I did. There was a huge, that is, a TREMENDOUS sense that a tragedy of epic proportions had been oh so narrowly averted. For that black and white striped creature is known in our region as a SKUNK!!! Pepe Le Pew! El Stinko Extremo!

Ah, the skunk, what a surprise it is to witness one of those creatures! More than any other creature… FAR MORE than any other creature found in my Mid-Atlantic Mid-Maryland region, the skunk instills a sense of trepidation within me matched only by, perhaps as an example, political discussion. But that may be… that IS a bad example! Skunks are rather small creatures in relation to my own size. Sure they have sharp teeth and claws, but in a struggle to the death, I am sure I would be victorious, if it was not for that awful, and I mean AWFUL defense spray they emit. There are few odors I have encountered that are more intensely negative than a skunk’s spray. A couple day old skunk carcass that had released its spray is worse, but I wish not to dwell on that memory here. But what are the word’s that can adequately describe that odor? Awful? No. Distressingly disturbing? Unnervingly horrid? Alas, I know of no better description than to say it smells like a skunk! If you have never encountered that smell consider yourself lucky.

And I consider myself VERY lucky that my memory of that odor was not renewed that day. For some reason I avoided using the rake in the greenhouse, and I still wonder at that choice. Did I truly intuit that, or was that merely luck. Nonetheless, I have learned from that experience, and that is what one needs to do when living with nature. And what have I learned? It is a reoccurring lesson that was learned. When dealing with unknown situations in nature, ASSUME NOTHING!!!

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