Why Did You Ask Me That? Adventures with snakes. I like snakes.

#1 – Eastern Rattlesnake – #2 – Eastern Copperhead –  #3 – Hognose Pair top and bottom views – #4 – Eastern Hognose playing dead –
#5 – Eastern Corn Snake – #6 – Eastern Rat Snake – #7 – Eastern Garter Snake
Photos by Internet

Why Did You Ask Me That?

 

      “Why did you ask me that?” I asked MBH (My Better Half), somewhat taken aback.  We were sitting on the porch on a late spring night at the Rancocas Nature Center after supper, drinking our after dinner coffee. Four years previously, in 1977, we had moved from our home in Oak Ridge to the RNC, on Rancocas Road in Westampton. Today, the public displays and classrooms are located on the ground floor of an old farmhouse that was built in 1803. The second floor is all offices now, but when we worked there the second floor also housed part of our living quarters which overflowed to the top floor. RNC is still open to the public, and is a fascinating place to visit. The center is located in Rancocas State Park and is still run by the New Jersey Audubon Society. The upstairs quarters housed our selves, our family, and our pets. That evening he and I had been reminiscing about the pets we had owned over the past twenty years. There had been so many places we had lived and so many pets in the previous twenty years!  The pets moved with us. We were constantly replenishing those who died, or trading, donating animals to other appropriate locations.

      Both of us had been fascinated by unusual pets which would make interesting pets when we were children and carried the habit into adulthood. There were the usual cats and birds and fish. Our cats were fascinated by the menageries. I recall one feline who used to jump into the fifty gallon fish tank and catch fish to eat. We kept tropical fish and all the accouterments for years. I should have changed the feline’s name to something like Wetsuit instead of the more mundane Cat..

     For years we had lived in apartments in New York City and homes in northern New Jersey, and our somewhat unusual pets lived with us and our cats.  In addition to those rather egotistical cats, there were vertebrates not within the usual realm, such as turtles, frogs, toads, native and exotic fish, skunks, non-venomous snakes with interesting names such as Houdini, Stinkpot, Potato Chip, Hog, each with its own tales to tell. And there were so many other animals we recalled – some, but not all, with great fondness. Each had its own tale, though I must admit the woodchuck burrowing within our former  home’s walls was a saga onto itself.

     Other vertebrates with whom we shared our lives were iguanas, mice, white rats, Western Ground Squirrels, and birds. This winged contingent included zebra finches, a guardian crow with a protective attitude, an owl who moved heaven and earth to finally escape, several baby birds who never made it to maturity, a badly wounded sea gull which a local police officer with a big heart shot for us, and a years’ long abused parrot without feathers. The pathetic bird was so distressed by her treatment by the former owner that she plucked herself naked.

      Admittedly, the invertebrates were by far the most interesting.  Members of the insect and arthropod groups included scorpions, spiders, butterflies, moths, hissing cockroaches, poisonous insects, fireflies, and a particular favorite – praying mantises.  Preying mantis eggs hatch in the early spring, and no matter how closely we watched, we always managed to be somewhere else when hundreds of babies came out of the egg case. Each time it happened, and it happened nearly ever year, we, with great determination, managed to rescue nearly every single one. The animals were released into the wild after several hours of incredible acrobatics on our part.

      I was reminiscing for a moment and then  he unexpectedly dropped his bombshell, and said, .“Well, you don’t always immediately appreciate the pets I acquire, and after the opossum incident, I thought I should ask.”

     I winced. The opossum still brought back unfavorable memories.

     “Well, I don’t usually complain too much about pets as long as we make a joint decision. The animals we’ve owned certainly cover a wide range of species, don’t they?”

     He laughed quietly. “Yes indeed. Let’s see, I guess it started when we first met in New York City in 1956. You had a cat and I had two turtles I had stolen from the Bronx Zoo.”

     “I have to admit that finding those turtles in your mom’s apartment when I first visited you there certainly put a different spin on the word pet.”

       He chuckled. “I’ll never forget your surprise as you came out of the bathroom screaming when one turtle wandered out from under the tub.”

     “And the tradition continues here.” I smiled, somewhat wryly. Memories of the opossum troubled me. I was somewhat relieved when it finally met its demise while trying to cross Rancocas Road as a fire engine raced by.

     At least, with the exception of our cats, they were all in kept in secure containers. Snakes were difficult to enclose. We contrived all sorts of devices to keep them contained, but invariably, with the exception of Eighteen-plus, they managed to escape for short periods of time before being retrieved.

     Toads and frogs were my great favorite. I always had a fondness for the little amphibians, though the one Cuban Tree Frog was almost as large as my head. Examples of the native species were raised from tadpoles, and at least one of each kind would spend the winter until being released late the following spring when new tadpoles were available. Feeding these insect-eaters was fun to do, and fireflies feeding time was a spectacular sight to watch. The amphibian shot out its tongue and swallowed the blinker whole. Then we watched as the toad or frog would light up internally as the firefly continued flashing as it continued its interior journey from the stomach through the body.. What fun to watch the animal twinkling at regular intervals for up to five minutes as each tidbit was swallowed.

     As a photographer, I happily photographed the animals we lived with. Reptiles, amphibians, and fish are difficult to pose. Often, I would put the animals into the vegetable bins in our refrigerator for ten or so minutes, as cooler temperatures make cold-blooded creatures sluggish without bringing them harm for a short while.

     For a few minutes we each retold some favorite memories. Then I once again asked him, “Just why did you ask me that?”

     He looked a bit uneasy. “We have an offer.”

     “An offer? And from whom do we have this offer?

     “You can say ‘no’ if you wish, of course.”

     “Tell me more. It sounds a bit irregular, this offer you mention.”

     “Well, uh, er, you might say that.”

     I looked at him. He explained. “The police department in Willingboro made a drug bust and arrest last night. This dealer had several hundred thousand dollars in cash in his home, along with a huge stash of various drugs. The neighbors were suspicious, but were afraid to check on him because of his, uh, pet.”

     I looked at him quizzically. This sounded remarkable. “Pet?”

     “Yah. An eighteen foot-long, diameter-of-a-human-thigh Burmese Python he kept as a watchdog and he underfed it so it was always prowling around eyeing visitors.. He would occasionally feed it rabbits, chickens, and small goats in front of his cohorts, who were terrified of it. He barely kept it alive. The police would have shot it, but during the raid he fed it some bags wrapped in a bloody rabbit skin. The snake and the resulting, uh, shall we say evidence, is needed for the Grand Jury in ten days. The python is too huge for the county refrigerator, otherwise it would be dead.”

     “Rabbit? Those things eat goats and other good sized mammals like people,” I commented.

     He nodded agreement. “Are you willing?”

     “I guess.” Then I paused and said, “Well, since snakes are sluggish under seventy five degrees Fahrenheit, you had better keep it in a cage in the basement. It’s about sixty degrees down there. And you may NOT take people down to see it . . . those steps were built in the early 1800’s, are made of split rocks, and are dangerous.”

     MBH readily agreed, and at the end of two weeks, the police finally removed it for its court date, which had been delayed for several legal reasons. By that time, the evidence had travelled through the animal and had been picked up and placed in a plastic storage bag in the County Coroner’s office.

     At my request, the Prosecutor’s Office agreed to donate the snake to a zoo in northern New Jersey, where it spent the rest of its life in a quiet display case and was finally fed at regular intervals.

     The questions I have been asked in my life time!

 

Super Pests Need Not Apply

 

Considering the diverse variety of animals we kept as pets, you might well ask, “What in heaven’s name could a woodchuck possibly do if it wasn’t chucking wood?”  Well, woodchucks, also known as groundhogs, are not mental giants like other rodents who appeared on Earth approximately sixty five million years ago. Their inconceivable survival rate is the result of their focus on several  survival behaviors – eat, sleep (hibernate), bask in the sun. Reminds me of the title of a current best-selling book, Eat, Pray, Love.

Probably the only animal stupider than a woodchuck is the opossum. I used to tell people that on the animal intelligence scale of one to ten, with ten being the highest, Woodchucks rate a one, and ‘possums rate a minus five. Yes, opossums are incredibly and inherently stupid, a trait that has enabled them to survive and thrive the past seventy million years they have existed on Earth. These marsupials are a prime example of survival of the fittest. I suppose that fainting into a dead trance when frightened doesn’t sound like a successful survival technique, but survival of the fittest does not imply survival of the best. I can prove that scientifically. Think of politicians.

Our woodchuck came into our lives on a fine summer day in northernNew Jersey when we found it as a baby next to a dead mama and two dead siblings. We took the poor little one home and MBH nurtured it into maturity. It lived in our house and made its den under the kitchen counters by gnawing through the molding to get underneath the space. On laundry days it would steal dirty clothes to make a bed in its quarters. Then, as it grew larger, it gnawed upward into the cabinet floors. There are few shocks as harsh as opening up a cabinet door to pull out a roaster and finding a sleepy, ten pound woodchuck curled up in the pan. He had free run of all three floors, and wandered – and slept where ever he pleased.

By fall, our boarder was full grown. H decided he should gnaw through walls into other rooms. At that point, I put my foot down and demanded he be thrown out. He was duly evicted. We had peace that night. The next morning, he was back in the kitchen. How did he do it? He waited in the attached garage, and when MBH left for work that morning, I took out the garbage. Of course I left the garage/kitchen door ajar. By the next morning, our guest had gnawed into the walls and hoisted himself up to the attic. There was no catching him after that.

Winter approached rapidly, and the woodchuck happily hibernated until spring. At least it was quiet.

In the late spring, he came to life and made his way down to the first floor, where he raided my vegetable bins in the middle of the night. He also ate fruit by climbing to the tops of the counters. He loved cereal –  boxes and all. The next four weeks were hell.  By knocking on walls, the differences in sound helped us to discover his corridors through the sheet rock from the first floor to the attic. However, short of taking out the sheet rock and then replacing it, there was no recourse. Anyway, he was never where we searched. At night, his chomping, shuffling, excreting, and burping kept us awake. Finally, at my request, a friend who worked in the Bronx Zoo in New York City came to see us. He suggested removing all food from counters and storage places and temporarily storing it in our car. Then he set a humane cage trap baited with radishes, apples, and Cheerios. It worked. The woodchuck was trapped.

The next morning we took him back to the area where we had found him, some seventy miles away. He never came back, of course.

It took us weeks and a great deal of money to repair the damages.

I hate woodchucks.

Several years later, when we moved to the Rancocas Nature Center, we found a baby possum clinging tightly to its mother who had been killed by a car on a late spring day. MBH fell in love with the “poor, little tyke.” He picked it up and it promptly rolled over in a dead faint. “How adorable!’ he exclaimed. He was named Possum. The smell of animal made me ill. Opossums are not models of cleanliness. A zoologist explained their brain power is so small they don’t enough to keep themselves clean. My thoughts are best left unsaid.

Opossums’ fur is a mixture of black, gray, and white hairs. MBH’s voluminous beard was the same colors. At night, the two of them would lay on the sofa, with Possum curled up in his pal’s whiskers and beard. They were soul mates. They even ate the same foods. Well, opossums are omnivores. Friends who came to visit would be startled to watch MBH’s beard magically detach itself and climb to the floor. Eventually, as Possum achieved adult size, he roamed at will  through the three floors and basement of theNatureCenter. His favorite daytime sleeping spots were the staircase going upstairs or a waste basket in a corner behind the bookstore desk. At night, he would attempt  to get into bed with us. That didn’t last too long. One evening, I literally threw him out of the bedroom and slammed the door. Yes, I did toss him.

One late summer day, a woman showed up with a baby bird she had raised when its parents abandoned it. We accepted the bird and she left. MBH took the bird up the stairs to the second floor where he intended to feed it to a snake. He carefully stepped over Possum, who was asleep on a step half way up. Then he remembered he needed something from the bookstore, laid the bird on a lower step and went on his errand. Possum woke up and jumped on top of the bird. It wiggled free and flew a foot straight up in a panic. Jaws wide open, the hunter was right behind his victim. Possum jumped, gulped, and swallowed . Then he made his way down the steps and returned to his waste basket, throwing me a satisfied growl as he climbed in. I growled back, which he ignored.

A few weeks later, he was run over and killed by the fire engine. Did I miss him? No. MBH mourned his “pal”.

The Nature Center had an old, decrepit six door chicken coop fifty feet in back of the main house. At one time we kept chickens who knew enough to avoid certain spots on rainy days. They delighted us by laying pastel eggs. Someone donated a nanny goat, and we set up dry quarters for her in the coop. She was pregnant, which was a surprise to us, but we thought that after her baby was weaned, we would milk her. Both of us liked drinking goat milk. Alas, the happy chicken coop family was not destined to remain whole. Mama would butt her way out of loosely fastened windows or rickety doors with sharp horns and hooves. Then she and her kid hung out in the parking lot, begging for food from visitors. Somehow, mama developed a taste for car seats, and would jump into the vehicle preparing to snack. Screams by our visitors alerted us immediately if the office windows were open in the building, and we would run out of to remove the two protesting animals.

On a Saturday afternoon during the summer, a staunch supporter of the Nature Center arrived in her brand new pale blue Cadillac with her granddaughter. They knew the goats and had brought treats for them. The goats boarded the auto and perched on the rear seats to eat all the goodies that were offered. When the food was all eaten, mama goat started biting and kicking the woman and her granddaughter. The woman and child ran to the office for help. By the time we got out to the parking lot, some two hundred feet away, the goats had demolished the inside of the car. Removing them was not easy, and the seats were shredded by sharp hooves.

Our visitor accepted the blame and got into the remains of the car to take it to the dealer. She drove straight down to the showroom. The owner of the dealership thought the whole thing was hilarious. Speedily, he called GM in and explained the situation. Headquarters asked him to photograph the damage and to give her another car in pristine condition. They said they would cover his expenses.

When grandmother and grandchild returned two hours later, the goats were gone. “Did you shoot them?” the woman asked in horror. “No’, we answered. “We called up a rehabilitation farm and the owner drove up and took the goats away. Apparently, by the time they arrived at the place, the two animals had eaten their way through everything in the van; clothes, paperwork, and some snacks.”  Grandma giggled. “It all goats to show you, eh?”

Chitty, Ratty Bang, Bang 

            One of our most popular exhibits, in addition to some disgusting gigantic Madagascan Hissing Cockroaches, were our two white rats, Ranger Rat and His Wife. White rats make superb pets. Ever since I had read Little Women as a child, I knew about those marvelous pets, and I was absolutely enthralled with them. These animals are extremely intelligent, tame, can easily be taught various tricks and acrobatics by voice commands, and their fur feels deliciously soft to the touch. Like all domesticated or wild rats, they are fastidious about keeping clean. Visitors of all ages thoroughly enjoyed being entertained, even letting the two rodents climb all over them. A favorite perch was on a person’s head. When babies came, they were eventually fed to the snakes as a meal, but the human visitors were unaware of their fate.        

Both of us knew how to handle firearms, which is another tale in itself, and after hours often used one or both  of our two rifles to control pests both inside, as well as in the woods and fields. There were certainly pests to deal with. The most dangerous were the gray sewer rats, much larger than Ranger and His Wife, which, in the early days of us taking over the Nature Center, overran the land and tried to force themselves into the buildings. Wild rats carry diseases and are extremely dangerous. Attacking an animal ten times their size is commonplace. They were every bit as intelligent as our pets, and soon learned to identify poisoned food. So we resorted to other measures. With the help of our firearms we were eventually, able to bring the problem under control, and except for one flare-up, which appears in the next paragraph, we were free from these pests.

            An automobile crash on Rancocas Road involved a local exterminator and several other cars. He was returning from a job, and had put a half dozen rats into a cage in the back of his pickup. They escaped and ran onto the property, promptly taking up residence in the rear yard and chicken coop behind the building. We declared war, and with two days were able to kill four of them. The other two eluded us, so I put out bait.

            A neighbor’s teenager  happened to be visiting our children to socialize at dusk one evening a week or so after the accident. As they sat on the back steps, I appeared from the building, holding the .22 rifle. Sarcastically, he told my son and daughter within  my earshot, “Uh-oh. I better not ask your sister for a date. Your mom might shoot me.”

            “Watch it, Buddy!” I whispered. “I’m a good shot.”

            “Watcha gonna kill, Mrs. A? Tigers?”

            “Rats. They escaped from your uncle’s car crash last week.”

            “Oh, you can’t shoot rats in this light. You won’t be able to see.”

I grunted and told him to stand behind me, which he did, making what he thought were funny remarks about women who shoot guns. As the dusk deepened, a rat came out of a pile of debris about 100 yards away and , with its back to me began eating some of the bait I had left out earlier. “Ya ain’t gonna get it. It’s too dark and too far away,” he whispered.

Carefully, I took a bead on the animal and squeezed the trigger. The rat didn’t even bother to move despite the noise of the shot. It sat there. Buddy chuckled and whispered, “Sneak up on it. Maybe you can get it if you’re closer.

Quietly reloading the gun, I started to slowly approach the rat. The three teenagers followed quietly behind me. About thirty feet from the animal, I once again released the safety and took another bead. Buddy whispered, “He’s a brave one. Ain’t moving and ain’t afraid.”

Something didn’t seem quite right. We began to slowly sneak up on the animal. Taking my flashlight and holding it in my mouth, I highlighted the rat as I trained the gun on it. It didn’t move. What was going on? Within seconds we were up to animal.

It was dead. No wonder it hadn’t moved.

We all gasped.

Closer examination brought about a huge shock. The bullet had entered the rat’s anus, travelled through the body, and had come out through its mouth. None of us had ever seen anything like that before, and would never again. A few months ago, Buddy and I saw each other, and he retold the story to his friends with wonder.

“What did you do?” his friends asked.

“I didn’t ask her daughter out for years,” he chuckled. “Right, Mrs. A.?”

 So, many years after the events of that evening, I got my revenge. “Right, Buddy. You got that right!”

However many shooting adventures we had, my favorite tale is about the squirrel a ill-behaved visitor brought in to be taken care of. We explained we didn’t rehabilitate squirrels because they were pests who robbed nests and killed baby birds, and she needed to take it to a nearby county park to release it. “If you leave it here, I’ll just feed it to the snakes,” said my better half. The woman was angry and stalked out, holding her baby.

Disdainfully, and muttering indistinct insults, entered her car and peeled out of our parking lot. The squirrel had not been carried away. As she drove slowly past the center, she opened her car door, released it, and drove off, blowing her car horn in derision.

Within minutes, the squirrel had found one of the bird feeders, a horizontal 24” x 36” framed screen fastened  outside, under a window. It was a favorite viewing spot for ourselves and visitors. Since it was time to close, I went upstairs to cook dinner. About fifteen minutes later, I thought I heard a shot being fired. Quickly I came down the stairs, and there was MBH happily holding the .22 rifle.

“What in heaven’s name did you just do?” I asked.

He grinned widely and told me he had loaded the gun and, from the inside, had stealthily approached the closed window. Gingerly, he inched the window open until there was about a two inch gap. The squirrel was blissfully eating all the birds’ food. It saw MBH but was not afraid because it was used to people. Quietly, MBH inched the muzzle of the rifle out towards the cheeky little mammal. It barely paid attention. Eventually, the muzzle was resting against the squirrel’s head. Then he pulled the trigger. “Problem solved,” he roared with laughter. “I think it looked surprised before it expired.”

I couldn’t help laughing. It was a perfect surprise attack for Westampton, New Jersey. “I guess there hasn’t been such a successful trap since the Lenni Lenape ambushed the mail carrier in the 1700’s,” I chuckled.

“C’mon, Liz, don’t cook. I’ll take you out for pizza to celebrate.”

It was a deal I couldn’t refuse.

We fed the remains of the squirrel to an extremely appreciative snake before we left for dinner.

The woman never came back.

Slithering Around 

I suppose my savoir faire in pets is somewhat different from other women’s tastes. To tell the truth, both turtles and snakes have always been great favorites of mine. Frogs and toads were a close second. It was a philosophy in which both myself and MBH agreed. From the very beginnings of our marriage we shared many favorites which became part of our menagerie.

By the time we were ensconced In the Rancocas Nature Center, we didn’t have space restrictions and were thus not required to limit our choices nor numbers.

There are twenty-two different species of snakes found in New Jersey. Only two are venomous: the Eastern Rattlesnake and the Copperhead. We chose not to display live venomous snakes. Many dead snakes found by ourselves or brought to us had a place of honor in our freezer until we could skin and/or stuff them for display and programs. Both of us presented a snake show to audiences on and off campus, and I particularly specialized in presentations of NJ Snakes to local fire and police departments and hunting groups so the people were reassured about their safety.

First I would present a slide program about the reptiles and then delight the audience with live specimens they could choose to handle. Usually four snakes accompanied me – Houdini, a six foot long Black Racer; so called because of his ability to eventually get out of any cage or display case in which he resided. After one of his escapes, I found him on the roof of a sharply peaked roof of a two-story high building addition where he was happily basking. “I found Houdini, I told my husband. “Well, I’m busy. Go get him.” was the reply. So out I crawled.
             Stinkpot was a two and a half foot long Garter Snake, which I so named because the species will rub odiferous fecal matter onto the arms, face, and body of a person they consider a threat. Actually, the snake sports longitudinal black and white stripes, reminiscent to early zoologists of the garters worn by women in the early days of settlement. Garter Snakes do bite, but do not draw blood, and I would delight in hearing the audience gasp when I permitted Stinkpot to sink his harmless fangs in my hand as I waved it with the attached snake in the air. The little bit of show business certainly impressed the students in my classes when I was teaching.

The two stars of the program, though, were Potato Chip and Hog. Potato Chip was a Corn Snake over a yard long. His skin had geometric patterns in red, gold, brown, black, and white. This species got its name because it is usually found hunting small mammals who live in corn fields. Our snake was carried around in a large potato chip tin, hence her name. People don’t elicit aggressive behavior from Corn Snakes. The animals will slither around necks, into clothes, and through belt loops without a care in the world. One of my daughters used to test a new suitor by letting Potato Chip do just that. The lad was judged by his reactions when he casually put his arm around her waist. Personally, I think they are looking for a meal, but I never the hypothesis  with my audiences.

            Hog was the real star of the program. Each spring we would catch a Hog-nosed Snake to keep for a year. These snakes are common in New Jersey, do not bite, nor are they aggressive. When a Hog-nosed Snake perceives itself in danger, it throws itself on its back, opens its mouth, thrusts its tongue limply out of its mouth and shivers in death throes. For all intents and purposes, it is dead. It was fun to hear the audience gasp when they thought it had died. Then we would walk up to the snake and turn it right side up. The gasps were louder. Immediately, though, it would flip over to assume its dead position, tongue hanging out and all. We only flipped the snake one or two times. If a Hog-nosed Snake decides an Academy Award performance of playing dead isn’t working, it regurgitates it last meal at its aggressor. Since toads and carrion are its favorite foods, the odor of partially digested animals is not pleasant. The word decides may be a misnomer as snakes have tiny brains the size of one of their eyeballs. Thinking is not part of their repertoire. When any snake considers itself in danger, its first reaction is to strike harmlessly or hiss to frighten its perceived enemy. Snakes, by the way, are deaf, so screaming, growling, or screeching doesn’t affect them. Since they can only strike one third of their own length, the obvious purpose is to make the enemy retreat.

            If the enemy flees, so does the snake. However, due to its lack of brainpower, it usually heads in the same direction as the runaway. People tend to misconstrue this as chasing. If a person steps to one side a few steps, the fleeing snake will head into the sunset, so to speak. So, why do people get bitten? By picking up a snake to see it better is the most common cause. In the out of doors, stepping on a snake in a bush or under leaves will incur a bite. So will climbing trees and rock faces and putting one’s hand on a resting snake.

            There are only two venomous snakes in New Jersey and no one had died of rattlesnake or copperhead bites from the turn of the twentieth century until some time in the 1980s. At that time, someone with a brain the size of the snake which bit him, picked it up and kissed it to impress his girlfriend. This was in the days before Goth.  As he lay writhing and screaming on the ground, the snake was killed by the man’s girlfriend, who stomped on it. She was barefoot and was bitten, but stayed alive. There have been no venomous snake death bites in the state since that time. Make no mistake, a venomous snake bite damages a great deal of tissue, and there is painfully slow recovery period.

Miscellaneous Sex and Guardianship

 

I certainly couldn’t forget the darling little ground squirrels we were asked to keep by the New York Bronx Zoo. Their only focus in life was enthusiastically procreating during all hours of the day and night in their cage in the dining room. They embarrassed me, visitors, and even our children with their persistence. Our minister, on a visit, looked askance at the x-rated behavior and finally managed to ask somewhat hesitantly, “Do they ever stop?”

“No!” we all chorused. My husband was the only one of we seven who didn’t blush. Luckily, the female died after several months, and the male followed soon thereafter from what I suppose was a broken libido.

And finally, there was the crow who was convinced he was lord and master of the building. He got used to being spoiled by treats when he was a baby and was very friendly with us and with visitors during the summer. Still, he didn’t hesitate to chase out anyone who didn’t do homage to his majesty by offering him a treat from a well marked box at the entrance. Everyone enjoyed him. Some people would not feed him at first just to see him fly at them screaming, cawing, and flapping his wings. As they exited the front door, he would land and chase them by nipping their shoes. As soon as they tossed a treat over their shoulder, he would quietly turn around and march back into the building.

His call was an unusual three part caw, repeated twice. Our watch bird lived through the winter in the Nature Center constantly patrolling. He would follow us outdoors, screeching what we supposed was advice on what we should do. We wondered how we would handle him in the spring. Mother Nature solved the problem effortlessly. Spring came. The main flock returned. One lady crow caught his eye, and though she didn’t offer him treats, they flew off into the sunset with the rest of the flock. The crows all nested near the building, and we were always delighted when he would fly by, cawing uniquely.

Today, I have no pets, exotic or otherwise. I suppose I shall eventually get myself a cat, but that won’t be until I am much older, am confined to my home, and I become somewhat infirm.

And what will its name be? Why, Cat, of course.

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