Robert Hitt Neill 10-2-12

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Wild animals near the house are no strangers to rural life

It was a chunk-floater, the first good rain in months, and it went on for most of three days. The low spots filled after the “moisture had met,” the runoff went to the ditches, which went to the deeper ditches, which ran off into the canals and creeks, which drained into the quickly-deepening rivers of the Delta.

Johnny Cash used to have a song that went “How high’s the water, Papa?  Three feet high and rising.”

That always comes to mind when it rains like this.

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I was headed out for the office in town, when I glimpsed movement beyond the front door. There’s a stray cat who’s been tracking up the car hoods at night, and I thought that’s what I saw out front fixing to come up on the porch, so I headed back to the den for the shotgun – only cure I know for car-walking strays.

But when I tiptoed up to the front door to snatch it open, I peeped around to get the exact position of said feline, but it wasn’t a cat – it was a mink!  And it had two bedraggled kits in tow – obviously flood refugees from a now-submerged den.

We are no strangers to visiting mink, otters, coons, possums, skunks, and other common night critters out here at Brownspur, and praise the Lord for it

I leaned against the door and watched Mama Mink clean her kids up, then lead them off toward the persimmon thicket across the driveway, where I hoped they’d end up finding another close, but higher, den.

We never had a baby mink for the kids to raise, but we’ve had numerous coons, possums, screech owls, great horned owls, barred owls, a barn owl, shrews, flying squirrels, a migrant grey squirrel from NC, wood ducks, pintails, a one-winged-from-birth dove named “Nub” after our Ole Miss football manager, even a spreading adder named George, in addition to all the beagle and Labrador puppies, plus a few kittens.

My own mother never permitted wild pets, so I have hoped that my own kids fully appreciated a mother like Betsy, whose standard reply was, “Sure,” to every little thing they’d bring in, with the exception of baby skunks. What a treasured childhood, to grow up learning about wild things from the wild things themselves!

Sometimes the wild things are a little large for pethood: deer stroll by on an occasional basis and water at the Swimming Hole; packs of coyotes can be heard hunting up and down the Mammy Grudge once or twice a week; bobcats stroll along the ditchbanks alert for an easy lunch or perhaps to join the crowd of smaller critters when the Brownspur Fruit Buffet is serving; we learned by hard experience that a six-foot eight-inch chicken snake is too large to keep around the house. But the most recent awe-inspiring outbreak was just a couple of weeks ago.

I’ve had malaria a couple of times in my life, with its accompanying shakes, chills, fever, night sweats, and bone-crushing aches, and something like that has come back recently. Therefore I was up about 2 a.m. one Saturday night when I heard the most terrifying scream.

I have four neighbor ladies here at Brownspur within a quarter-mile of my home, and I briefly had time to wonder which husband had just fatally whacked his bride, when the scream was answered by a chorus of wolf howls, from the same location, which seemed to be across the Mammy Grudge ditchbank, less than 100-150 yards from the bathroom window.

We’ve for decades had a den of “Our” red wolves within a half-mile or so, and it’s been a pleasure to sit on the balcony and listen to their howls. But these were not the high-pitched red-wolf howls, nor the sharp-tongued yapping of coyotes – these were obviously the deep-throated howls of  heavy-chested canines like gray, or timber, wolves, which we’ve also had around for decades, one black lightning-fast wolf for 25 years, or his progeny. The whole late-night cacophony didn’t last more than 30 seconds, and all I could figure was a panther was headed east on the Mammy Grudge and met up with a band of big wolves, headed west.

I don’t think you hear stuff like this in town! Want to buy my house?