All Wayward Creatures Great and Small

Illustration: ©Fred Zinn

This time it was a horse. Hamp Scanner reported last week: “There is a loose horse running in and out of the road near the Florence Road, Burts Pit Road intersection.” Last May, it was a loose bull running in and out of Audubon Road in Leeds. The Monday after Ted was born, Chuck returned to his camp program with great news: He had seen a bobcat that morning. There was no mention of the infant at home.

I grew up in the Detroit suburbs. We had squirrels. It was a banner day if we saw a deer or a raccoon (especially when it was a baby raccoon in my parents’ fireplace, much to the dog’s surprise). In Minnesota it got a little more exciting. Living very close to the Mississippi River, we had regular sightings of bald eagles. I learned to differentiate them from vultures, and not crash my car while doing so. One spring afternoon, I watched an eagle mug a hawk for its lunch near downtown St. Paul. I also saw Garrison Keillor on a regular basis, but that’s as far as we got with the Minnesota fauna.

Because the Pioneer Valley is agricultural and rural we see an entertaining array of wayward critters. The bears usually get the most attention. Because they’re bears. Seeing a bear in the hinterlands has its own caché, but there’s nothing quite like running into one downtown. Driving through the grocery store parking lot, I looked to my right and thought: “Damn that’s a big dog.” Double take ensued and I realized it was a bear lumbering out of the trees. A few hours later a bear was spotted in a tree in a downtown parking lot. I assume it was my bear, who had clearly strolled up State Street, hung a left on Center, a right on Masonic, and found a nice little spot.

Last summer, another bear decided that the tree next to the Northampton Chamber of Commerce would be a good location. That is, until the paparazzi showed up.

Several years ago, my friend Margaret received a call from the Department of Natural Resources to inform her that she had a bear sleeping in the crawlspace under her house. “No, I don’t.” “Yes, you do. She’s tagged, we’ve been tracking her.” They went on to assure Margaret that the bear posed them no harm because she was hibernating. Margaret and family named her “Miss Flo” after our local diner. After a few months of A BEAR SLEEPING UNDER THEIR HOUSE, the DNR tranquilized and relocated her to the woods to wake up, since she would likely return to the place she last hibernated.

I’m still disappointed that I was the only one home when the wild turkey appeared in our backyard. Wild turkeys are not unusual around here, but to see one standing on a large snow pile in our very small downtown yard was noteworthy. She did a few laps, leapt over the fence, and took off up the street. Unfortunately, I did miss the cow wandering the streets of my neighborhood in the early morning, just after the Sox had finally won the World Series. Fortunately, my neighbor, a reporter, didn’t miss it, and filed a sweet little story in the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

I’m still hoping to see a moose, but not terribly close up. I’m sorry I wasn’t with Fred when he watched the UMass police try to catch a moose that was gamboling across the campus athletic fields (to the Benny Hill music, I like to imagine). The Holy Grail of sightings would be an Eastern mountain lion/cougar/catamount/puma/panther/mountain cat. However, since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared them extinct last year, seeing one may be a sign of looming insanity.

I suppose I’ll settle for a fisher cat.

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