Posted by: trevormeers | May 13, 2011

It’s Not An Animal House; It’s An Animal Home

I used to get pretty jealous of life on Sesame Street, watching its daily drama from the remove of a century-old house on a Nebraska farmstead. It wasn’t so much that I envied the live-and-let-live attitude on the street, where a person could move into a garbage receptacle without fear of reprisal, as much as I liked the sense of community. We lived 20 yards from the point where the gravel road gave way to minimum maintenance dirt, and I often wondered what it was like living in a setting where you walk down the street under a friendly shower of greetings from all your neighbors. The closest thing we had to Gordon shouting, “Good morning!” was a farmer lifting a couple of fingers from the steering wheel as he roared by on his way to worm a heifer.

Shortly after Finey the Rooster departed this world, the ducks moved in and put up this sweet pad.

Today, my family lives in slightly cozier confines since all the properties on our road max out at about 3 acres. But almost everybody here has a job in town and lots of evening tee-ball leagues, so there’s still a dearth of neighbors to wave to. Human neighbors, at least. Yet there’s no shortage of friendly people in our neighborhood as long as you don’t worry about whether they’re people. Here are a few of the folks we greet when we’re out on the street:

Sawed-Off Dog – The dog to the east is probably banned in 10 states owing to legs seemingly shortened to far less than the legal limit for a torso of his size. The night we met SOD, we assumed his owners had been neglecting their lawn for a few weeks, since we saw what appeared to be a black Lab wading toward us in chest high grass. When SOD stepped onto the road, we saw that the grass was about 3 inches high, and that this Lab chassis was mounted onto the legs of a Chihuahua. Someday, I hope to learn the details of the cross-breed tryst that thrust SOD upon the world.

Kung Fu Possum – A possum’s synapses fire about as quickly as your average reality TV star’s, which means that when I came flying up on a possum while riding my bike, any thinking about our imminent relationship was up to me. The possum stood in the center of the bike trail, trying to remember whether he was coming or going. Riding at full speed, and deciding that I didn’t want to slow down and creep past a potentially rabid giant rat, I chose to accelerate and blow by the possum in an instant. I zipped a few inches past his nose, then glanced back over my shoulder to check his response. He’d rocked back onto his rump and put his hands up in some kind of defensive judo posture. When I came back an hour later, he was gone, and for all I know, he’s still standing with his nose up against some tree daring it to put up a fight.

Finey the Rooster – Finey’s real name remains a mystery, but Allison gave him this tag when she was about 4 and started relying on him as an alarm clock on preschool mornings. Before Finey went to that big KFC bucket in the sky a couple of years ago, he lived in a coop two lots down under the care of an elderly guy who also kept a shed of homing pigeons. Finey had a carefree life compared to the pigeons, who lived with a couple of cats permanently hanging from the coop’s eaves, anticipating the moment some strong breeze might knock the screen window loose enough to liberate a squab dinner.

Shaggy & the Velcro Cats – I can’t decide whether Shaggy the enormous sheep dog, like most individuals who sleep the day away in public places, is a slacker or misunderstood genius. He sleeps in the middle of the road at the crest of a hill, and the first time we came upon him, I was trying to figure out how I’d tell his owners their dog had been pancaked on the road. But then he raised his head heavily, blinked at me and fell back asleep. He’s been pulling this off since we moved out here years ago, so his trust in the work of local brake repair shops appears to be well-founded. Proving that confidence is contagious, his house’s cats have joined in on the action, sleeping on top of Shaggy while he’s soaking up the warm asphalt.

Kamikaze Blackbirds – For the record, I was staying on my turf. But don’t tell that to the red-winged blackbirds, who decided I was threatening their nest hidden somewhere in the roadside grass. So as I approached during my regular run, they scrambled their fighters and sent them out to dive-bomb my head. If you’d been watching from a 1/4 mile away, you would’ve enjoyed the scene of a sweaty guy madly bobbing and weaving and swatting at the air with his hands as a couple of little birds took strafing runs at his head. On the run home, I’m pretty sure I kept a 4-minute-mile pace when I passed the same spot.

Disco Snake – If you’ve always wondered exactly how John Travolta would look while getting jiggy in a pair of knee-high rubber chore boots, you need to come hiking with us to the old highway cut at the Engledinger Marsh. It’s pretty snakey ground over there, but I’d mostly forgotten that as I walked out in front of the rest of the family, striding along in my “pig boots” as we worked uphill, away from the soggy spots. Suddenly, Allison said, “Dad is that a SNAKE?!” and pointed at something wriggling between my feet. Before my brain registered “SNAKE!” my legs had already made up their mind and started carrying me rapidly to some other place in a funky new fusion of drum major and BeeGees moves. To this day, Teri and the girls can send themselves into hysterics on a walk just by saying, “Hey, dad is that a snake?”

The “Wood”pecker– Despite my limited studies in ornithology, I’ve always been fairly confident that woodpeckers mainly bang their heads against wood. Not so, according to the woodpecker who became convinced a few summers ago that our house’s aluminum soffit hid a colony of tasty grubs just beneath the surface. At about 5:30 a.m. every morning in June, he’d land on the wall above our bedroom window and start rattling against the metal like Geraldo attacking Al Capone’s vault. I covered my head. I poked Teri to go deal with it. I hissed at him through the open window. He kept hammering, so I jumped out of bed, stalked to the front door and strode around the corner of the house in a pair of gym shorts I should’ve retired in 10th grade. I stood under the window, throwing dirt clods at the bird, shattering them against the screen and showering my clock radio inside with dust. A lot of neighbors probably would’ve said something about an idiot standing in tiny shorts in dawn’s early light, throwing dirt at his own house. But lucky for me, most of my neighbors can’t say a word.



  1. Oooo…the sawed-off dog’s a person in your neighborhood…
    (Our human neighbors are really nice too!)

  2. Love great animal stories! Very entertaining! I am, however, terrified of snakes regardless of size or possession of fangs (or not). You would not find me anywhere near where I thought one might be lurking.

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