In most of my books, nature has a strong presence. It’s part of “write what you know,” and I often joke that I was raised by wolves. An exaggeration, but I was lucky enough to be brought up in the outdoors and feel quite comfortable in the woods.
Here’s a picture of my playpen, built by my dad out of sticks at the cabin overlooking Skylight Pond in Vermont.
When I was about 12 (and my brothers were 11 and 8), my parents used to drop us off on the Long Trail in the Green Mountains and pick us up three days later, fifteen miles down the path. We read maps, dealt with unexpected snow, built shelters, shooed porcupines from our food, and cut pine boughs for our beds.
On other occasions, they’d leave us with the old canoe under a bridge (no life jackets back then) and pick us up miles downstream at the end of the weekend. It was a blast. It was normal. And somehow, we survived, even as our adventures increased in daring and duration as we aged.
Fast forward 25 years from those first independent forays into the wilderness: I married my husband, a man from Atlantic City, New Jersey. A city kid willing to brave country living for the sake of love. And, his encounters with wildlife make for endless comedy.
A few examples:
1 – Turtles. I’ve never seen a man run so fast as the first time he came across a big turtle on our hiking path. It was the size of a dinner plate. I pointed it out to him, mostly so he wouldn’t step on it. “Wow, look at that turtle.” He shrieked, hands flew up, and he ran down the trail in the opposite direction.
2 – Bugs. Tornado Boy was over last weekend, and he was expressing a lot of concern about spiders and bees. I called my daughter, “Are you and his dad teaching him to be afraid of bugs?” She denied any role in that behavior. Then I looked out the window and saw Grampy sprinting across the deck, swatting at an imaginary swarm of killer bees. “Never mind,” I told her.
3 – Snakes. We have lots and lots of little garter snakes around here. They’re about two feet long and not much thicker than a pencil (mostly). I try not to leave the doors of the house open because the hummingbirds fly in and can’t find their way out without help, which involves ladders.
But yesterday, I was gardening and left the door open for about 15 minutes. My husband came tearing out of the house in a panic because two snakes decided to take up residence. I found the smallest one quickly as it slithered away from me. I picked it up and let it go in the bushes. The second one was hiding.
After a short hunt, I dragged it out from behind the furniture and held it for him to see from where he stood thirty feet away in the front yard in case he needed to run. I let it go and twenty minutes it was back trying to get in the house again. No luck, the door stays closed.
Other Oregon wildlife to be scared of if you’re from the city: Slugs, bats, coyotes, salamanders, and large frogs. But that’s another story.