I knew before I moved here that I'd be encountering many creatures that I'd never seen up close in my life. I'd heard tales of coyotes and rabbits, beavers and even deer. I've always had a profound dislike for zoos, and I long ago made the decision never to visit one, so I've probably seen fewer species than the average 7 year old. I knew I'd be on a steep learning curve.
The first animal I saw on my property was a muskrat. At first I thought it was a beaver - until I realized how big a beaver actually is. When you see something swimming in your pond, if you can see its head and back, and it's less than the size of a football, that's likely a muskrat. A muskrat looks like a very small beaver with a rat-like tail. By contrast, a beaver weighs about 50 pounds.
I've seen a few chipmunks, and twice I've seen rabbits. So far my vegetable garden hasn't been raided by any rabbits but I've been told to expect that to happen if I don't put chicken wire around it soon.
I've smelled a skunk once. I went out to the carport one morning and found some of my beekeeping equipment scattered on the ground. I went to pick up a bee brush and noticed it smelled strongly of skunk. Not too sure how happy the bees will be about that.
About 10 days ago, I was taking my wheelbarrow down to the decommissioned playground to load it up with gravel, as I was regravelling the driveway. It was still daylight, perhaps around dinnertime. I looked up and saw a mid-brown animal that looked a bit dog-like heading from my north property line to Pond One. It stood there, looking at the pond, while I stood there wondering what it was and what it was doing. It seemed to be surveilling the pond for something. I stood still, watching it. Its face was not at all dog-like. Suddenly, it looked directly at me. We locked eyes and I realized: that's not a dog, it's a coyote.
I knew that the way to avoid problems with coyotes is not to turn your back on them or run, so we basically had a staring contest. I tried to look as big and imposing as I could. Suddenly, the coyote wheeled around and ran for the trees along my north fence line. I dropped the wheelbarrow and went into the house to Google "coyote" to confirm that's what I had seen. It was. I watched out the window for a while, surmised that it had come to scoop up a nice muskrat from the pond for dinner, and finally got my courage up enough to go and retrieve the wheelbarrow.
Since then, I've seen many muskrats coming out of the pond to forage in the lawn for a snack. I always warn them to be on the lookout for coyotes.
Twice recently, I've gone for a hike to my island and encountered a deer. The first one looked quite small. It jumped off the island into Pond Two and I lost sight of it. The second sighting was the very next day. Friends were visiting from Toronto. Two of us decided to hike over to the island. Half way there, we heard a rustling among the trees and suddenly there was a larger doe with white spots, jumping off the island into the pond, heading for the fence line. We traversed the island, and I noticed something red and white on the ground, up against a clump of yew bushes. It looked like a plastic toy of some kind. I've been very diligent about cleaning up plastic and garbage from the property, and it was definitely not there before. I went up to have a closer look.
I realized it was a small animal lying on its side, and it was clearly newly deceased. The red and white was the bones of its rib cage and the tissue underneath, as a large patch of its fur was missing. I was dumbstruck; was it shot by a hunter? Or attacked by a coyote? Had it been abandoned by its mother or been injured during birth? We stood there for a few minutes. I asked my friend if it was a fawn or a hare, perhaps, because it had long ears. She confirmed it was a fawn.
I had my phone with me so I took a few pictures. Please don't look if you are squeamish.
We headed back to the bridge, but I felt deeply distressed. Next day, I felt I should do something to mark its short life. I went to the basket where I keep fabric remnants and cut a long strip of pure white linen. Then I took a large bag of dried lavender flowers that my friend Crystal had given me for my last birthday and headed back to the island. I walked the entire island very carefully but could not find the fawn. I compared the photos on my phone to the places on the island where there were yew bushes and established where I believed the fawn had been. I tied the strip of linen around a young tree, and sprinkled handfuls of dried lavender on the ground to mark where it had lain. I felt like the only mourner at a funeral.
I suddenly heard a voice, singing, and was surprised to find that it was my voice, singing the Italian love song O Sole Mio in Neapolitan dialect. Then I heard myself singing the Paul McCartney love song, I Will. These are the songs I sing when I visit the cemetery where my beloved guys are buried. I often bring dried lavender to their grave. I sometimes bring pebbles from my travels, and I always bring fresh bread for the birds and squirrels.
I don't know what happened to the fawn - how it got there, how it died, where it is now - but I feel that though I could do so little in that moment, I could at least honour its short life with this brief, heartfelt ceremony.