I live where the Navarro River meets the ocean, where the tides ebb and flow, animals come and go, and I am a part of that natural flow close to nature on the California Coast, more than a stone's throw from where I grew up near the Arkansas River with the proverbial quicksand patch we were told to stay away from if we wanted to make it out alive. Revering nature vs fearing nature.
I used to think animals don't speak our language, but I've learned from experience, we don't speak theirs. My life over several generations has made this turnaround toward respectful relations with all living beings and I am profoundly grateful to have come to this realization.
I live in two locally crafted cabins on six feet of stilts in the flood plain for protection from roiling flood waters breaking the river banks from time to time, threatening my precarious existence.
Animals include cats, skunks, raccoons, birds, frogs, slugs, worms and the like, amidst plant-based gardens of green endocannabinoid life forms, cannabis nutrition and medicine, eucalyptus, onion, garlic, kale, tower of jewel, lemons and the like… Plus humans.
I've come around to these relations over time. Raccoons were my first encounter and it didn't bode well. They entered my space looking for food, crashing glass jars, dragging garbage around, making a mess. It felt like rape. I didn't like it a bit. I yelled at them to stop and bitterly complained, but I didn't get it.
Since they're scavengers, all they wanted was to be fed. So I thought about it, came to my senses and decided to feed them. But with what? I decided against leftovers, which was not sustainable. Instead I began to feed them dry cat food, the same nutritious stuff I feed my beloved cat, Ma (which translates to cannabis in Chinese). I stopped yelling at them and instead fed them a plentiful helping every nite. They liked it. I liked it. We came to an amicable understanding.
Then along came the skunks. Now the skunk is a truly mature animal, a mammal of the weasel family, with long necks, short legs, weird hands, stripes and art patterns down the length of their backs, and an outsized bushy white tail. Oh, and a gland on the back of their tail that emits a “fetid” smell if attacked or displeased. It's better to get along, which is what I set out to do.
I was charmed by them, delighted by the way they scurried around so quietly and unobtrusively. I opened my office door where I set aside a bowl of dry cat food. If it was empty they'd climb up my leg to my knee and tug on my pants to alert me to the dire situation or pop my door to get my attention, and never spray me. Sometimes they leave a lingering aroma which I love. I don't yet speak fluent skunk but I'm open-minded and they are patient.
After the 2019 flood I went through, I needed three weeks of recovery waiting for Mother Nature to settle back into the ebb and flow I know. A true friend took me in along with Ma, offering me a separate room with a couch and a lamp for my late nite forays. I wrote up the experience for AVA and remained productive.
There came a time when I felt a need to go home and face the mess in my backyard. I decided to make a major change by opening my bedroom door a crack, an inch, inviting little animals like skunks and cats but not bigger ones like raccoons.
There's no heat in my bedroom so I tend to bundle up. On my first night home, one of the three baby skunks came to greet me. I heard her pit-a-pat and sat up straight in bed. Here she came, up close and personal, reached out her arm and stretched her entire weird hand across my face, as though to say, “Welcome home. We've missed you. Now fill our bowl, would you please?” She also combed my hair from the back of my head with her claws, kneading like cats do.
Interacting with animals through a crack in my bedroom door has opened me up to a new community. I am sharing my life with them and they are sharing theirs with me. It is fascinating to be alive to the ways of the world in the wild.
I was renting a house about forty years ago that had a front door latch that began to fail, then completely broke. I used a brick to keep the door shut at night. Sometimes I didn’t, and the door would creep open. One night I was awakened by the sound of a repetitive “thump thump”, “squeak squeak”. I grabbed a flash light and took a peak. There was a mother skunk, with 5 to 10 babies in my living room. I carefully hearded them out the open front door, which wasn’t easy since the babies had minds of their own. Nobody sprayed. I also had alligator lizards that came in and ate my resident pill bugs. Hey, it was a rental, and the best alternative for me at the time.
Beautiful piece. This from the Times obit of a woman named Alice Koller:
After “An Unknown Woman” was published, Ms. Koller contributed five essays to the Hers column in The New York Times, lyrical pieces about a life alone with her dogs and the pleasures of the natural world. In one, in which she delighted in the courtship of a pair of cardinals, she wrote, “Do you still think I live alone in the country?” Koller wrote a book called “An Unknown Woman” that the Times compared to Thoreau. Like you, she had her fans. And PS, she made it to 94.
Love hearing about your life as it is now, Pebbles. Your old friend, Macey Thorney