October Ghosts & Nighttime Patrols
On Friday night, Kay and I went on a “date night” – to our favorite romantic spot, Lowe’s. In the glow of the sunset behind the Moat Mountains, we bought paint and primer and quarter round, ooh-la-la. Okay, fine, we went to Chipotle, too. That's a little more date-like. Burrito bowls to go for a hurried ride home at dusk – the chickens would put themselves away but the Chickshaw sat open and that didn’t feel quite all right with us.
We got home at 7:30, in the dark, and I closed the shaw up for the night, nary a peep from the slumbering hens. While I walked back to the front of the yard, I saw two eyes reflecting off my headlamp, across the street in the neighbor’s knotweed. “Hey!” I yelled to it.
That got Kay’s attention, who was around the house and not able to see, so I told her I thought I saw a deer and I wanted to investigate. However I knew deep-down it wasn’t a deer, and sprinted toward the road. The mystery critter was too low to the ground to be a deer, and as it turned to run away I saw its fluffy tail and knew what it was. “F—off, fox!” I yelled. “Scram!” Human noises! Boo! Hiss! Rahhghr!
“Yeah, it was a fox,” I told Kay later.
“Well, that’s not good!” she replied.
“I won’t mind having a fox tail hat,” I said.
The birds slept peacefully through the night, the green/red blinky light of the fence energizer silently and stoically confirming its fortress of voltage remained ready to zap any suckers who dared touch it.
In the barn, I checked on the sheep after chasing the ghostly fox. I startled a field mouse trying to crack the safe otherwise known as the grain bucket, sending it flailing across the room, wowing me with its epic mouse parkour skills. At one point it scampered upside down along a piece of metal fence leaning on the wall before it disappeared into a pile of lumber. The sheep stared at me, unimpressed.
October is already a spooky month – trees barren, silvery frosts on crunchy orange leaves, mice, voles, and spiders pinging the headlamp on every stump and stone wall in my periphery – modern day goblins. Foggy, wet nights filled with pitch black, the only light a Cheshire cat grin of a moon and winter’s constellations slowly docking upon our celestial shores for the season. I take a moment every morning to admire Orion posing directly to the south of our driveway. A nudge to seize the day. To be a larger than life, to go hard right ‘til dark, when he inevitably returns to check in on me.
Orion was a great hunter and there will come a time when I might need to be as well. Just two nights later, Monday evening, I took the dogs out for a sniff around the thick, misty fog. It was enough to skew the light of the headlamp. Immediately, I saw two glowing eyes in the poplars not far from the shaw. Misty white fog, grey pillars of ghoulish trees, and two green wavering orbs, floating. Was this another fox? A bear? Just a deer? They flickered. Barely there.
“Go away!” I yelled. I clapped my hands loudly.
The dogs didn’t even notice the critter, about a hundred yards away. It just sat and stared. Oddly confident. This is a common area for us to see deer, but they usually bolt when I’m around. I tried to outline what a deer body should look like below the glowing eyes, but my imagination could only shape it like a big cat sitting upright. Or a coyote. We’d seen a coyote recently, scurrying across Wentworth Hill in the daylight. These medium-sized predators could probably hop the electric fence if they truly wanted to, but I think the shaw is pretty close to indestructible. I armored it so a bear could not (presumably) break in; I imagine a coyote would give up eventually, as well.
I brought the dogs in and loaded my 22LR, a farmer’s favorite lil' rifle. I’ve used it to put down a sheep before, surely it would send a predator packin’. I returned outside and the eyes were still out there. I fumbled with the bolt handle for a moment and when I looked back to the poplars, the eyes were gone.
At this point I was convinced it had to be a deer. Maybe a young one. I figured a predator wouldn’t linger from my threatening demeanor. However, cats: cats are crazy, confident, and arrogant. I can imagine a large feline sitting and watching me. Petty human. Come get some.
I walked around the shaw, rifle to the ground. I walked the fence line near the poplars, trying to find movement in the fog. Then the eyes appeared again, deeper in the woods. I saw another pair of green floaty spectres not far behind them. Both pairs moved slowly and deeper into the safety of the woods. The slowness of it all made it obvious. Suddenly I could imagine the outline of their bodies and they were deer again, not cats.
Just some dumb deer. Hesitant, careful deer.
I went out a few more times over the evening, until about 11:30 pm. I admit, it was sort of fun to patrol the property, my muck boots and winter cap on, taking a stroll with the rifle. I got your backs, chickies.
I unloaded the rifle and hung it up for the night. Goodnight chickens and thank you for the eggs. All night in my dreams, I walked through fog and peeked at the treeline.