Weird: that’s how I’d characterize what’s been happening in my travels since we last met. Then, at other times, same-old, same-old, nothing at all peculiar. Oh well. That’s life.
The weirdness started on my ride home from work through The Meadows before midnight a week ago. In a field where I often see deer, yup, you guessed it, a set of shining eyes I suspected to be those of a deer and were indeed — a doe, ears at 45-degree upright alert, head high, lying in a shin-high hayfield. Honestly, I cannot remember ever seeing a perfectly healthy deer lying in a field on the side of the road like that, just chilling. I swung my lights partially in its direction to check for antlers but it had none, just lying there alone and quite comfortable, though alert to my approach. Its countenance suggested that it was just fine, but I did check the spot next morning to see if it was dead or dying, which was not the case. It had vanished.
What happened next is even more bizarre, playing itself out a few days later in the backyard alcove created by my north-pointing woodshed and barn, joined on the south by the carriage shed’s back wall. It was Sunday morning when my wife first alerted me that she was hearing some strange gnawing or pounding at the house outside the west bathroom. She wasn’t sure but thought maybe a squirrel or raccoon was in the upper unfinished shed area above the carriage sheds and extending over the long, narrow west parlor, historically the third stall of the carriage shed, housing an overstuffed tool shed and workshop I’ve only seen in photos. Before the carriage shed and scale house were built to attach the home to the barn, there would have been an exterior staircase along the west wall of the wing, leading up into the ballroom’s fiddler’s box from the north. Anyway, enough of the history lesson, back to the noise that was concerning my wife.
Around noontime Sunday, I went in to pour a fresh cup of coffee following my daily meadow romp with the dogs and heard something banging away like a machine gun out back. I walked to the counter, looked through a corner French window and spotted a downy woodpecker hammering away at a white vertical corner board to which he had already done significant damage. Quick Google research identified the deep new additions to the board as roosting holes. Hmmmmm? The question was, why? No woodpecker had ever before done damage like that to a home I’ve lived in. Why then?
Well, further Internet investigation by my wife led to conversation that pulled the answer from my memory banks. She said such woodpecker behavior often occurs when a bird has lost a mate and drums on a building to call it back or attract a new mate. When she mentioned that, I recalled a day or two earlier finding a dead downy woodpecker on the ground under a set of four long, slender windows that act as a picture window looking out toward the backyard brook through the west parlor’s north wall. Many birds have hit that window over the years, including a pair of ruffed grouse I once wrote about salvaging for supper many years ago. Others birds have hit one of those windows as I’ve sat there reading or watching TV. Some survive, others don’t. Luck of the draw, I guess. That downy woodpecker was dead as a doornail. I picked it up by the feet and underhanded it into a large pine tree along my neighbor’s driveway. So that’s what my destructive feathered guest must have been searching for; either that or a suitable replacement. Thankfully, it seems to have given up on my yard and moved on. I kept chasing it away and haven’t seen it since Tuesday afternoon. Thank god. Before departing, the little critter was kind enough to leave me some deep-hole destruction by which to remember him.
Which reminds me … an hour or two after discovering that destructive little bugger banging away out back Sunday, and several times chasing it off, I was reading in my La-Z-Boy in the everyday front parlor when someone started knocking on the door leading from the inset porch into the dining room. I arose, looked out, and saw a man I didn’t recognize with a gray goatee. His name was Peter Tusinski. He had seen my truck in the yard and stopped to report a cougar sighting up close and personal a couple weeks ago on lower West Leyden Road in his hometown of Leyden. He isn’t the only person in Leyden who’s seen the mountain lion. He claims members of the Neipp family have also seen it.
Tusinski placed his hand about thigh high to describe the height of the cat, which he described as smaller than he’d expect but very muscular and powerful looking. He estimated it to have had a three or four foot body and a tail about the same length or a little longer. When the beast stepped out in front of his car, he stopped and they looked each other in the eye for several seconds before the cat went back into the woods he came from.
I have no reason to doubt the man’s sighting. It was withing 10 feet of him. And it’s not the first sighting reported to me from that vicinity. In fact, I’d call that part of Franklin County a hot spot, with many sightings reported on both sides of 10-Mile Bridge, which crosses the Green River from Leyden to Colrain below old Denison’s Mill. It’s wild country on the north end of a daunting gorge known to the earliest Colrain settlers as the Falltown Gore, which you could only travel through, not across.
Off I go, leg-weary and satisfied. Chubby and Lily burned me out this morning in a dense, thorny, punishing covert we all know well — always challenging and worth the effort.