Thursday, July 16, 2009

city slicker

I don't have a lot of nature in my background. I was born and raised in the suburbs, and have spent my adult life first in Los Angeles, then in New York. To be sure, my Connecticut town was something of a wilderness, in a Mean Girls / Pretty in Pink way, and lord knows that the law of the jungle rules in L.A. and New York, but in terms of outright unspoiled nature, my experience is mostly limited to a very few vacations.

Still, for some reason, I tend to think of myself as an outdoorsy person, someone who could easily win Survivor, hands down. This despite the fact that (a) being in the woods makes me think of Blair Witch Project, and being in the water makes me think of Jaws; (b) I know basically nothing about flora and fauna, other than various ways to kill a cockroach; and (c) I'm a total princess about things like nice pillows and a good deli and 24-hour everything.

For instance. During my daily walk through the woods today, up here in my weeklong country idyll, I saw this fellow:

Now, if I were a nature girl, I probably would have froze and noted his behavior, while my train of thought went something like this:

"The beaver is North America's largest rodent and is built for life in the water. Adults can be up to four feet long and weigh over 60 pounds. The beaver has webbed hind feet and a large, flat, nearly hairless tail. It uses its tail to help maintain its balance when it is gnawing on trees. It will also slap its tail against the water to signal danger or to warn away predators.... Beavers live near rivers, streams, ponds, small lakes and marshes. They build lodges of sticks and mud on islands, on pond banks or on lake shores. Beaver dams are domed-shaped and can be as high as ten feet tall.... The beaver has a specialized digestive system that helps it digest tree bark.... Beavers mate for life, but if one mate dies, the other one will find another mate.... Beavers can live to be 20 years old."*

Instead, my thought process went something like this:

"Holy shit, what is that? Is it a dingo? Oh, wait, it's a beaver! Oh, how totally cute! Just like Mr. Beaver in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe... He was so brave... Edmund was such a jerk in that book; I don't think I ever forgave him, even in the other books, when he was supposedly all noble and kingly.... Selling Mr. Tumnus and his own siblings down the river just for some Turkish Delight.... I'm still not quite sure what Turkish Delight is.... Isn't it weird that 'sweetmeats' are candies, and 'sweetbreads' are meat?... Ooo, that reminds me of that time at Craft, when I had the amazing sweetbreads, and the giant scallops, and the potato gratin in its own adorable little copper skillet, and that fierce Pinot Noir...."

As you see, in less than thirty seconds, my thoughts are no longer centered on communing with nature in the woods, but instead are off having a mad feast at a high-end Manhattan restaurant, and the beaver is long gone.

Perhaps the definitive proof of my inherent city mouse status came a few years back, when I was staying with friends in their farmhouse in upstate New York. It wasn't a working farm, but they did have some sheep (basically pets), and a hen house filled with chickens who laid the most delicious eggs, and two roosters: one fenced in with the chickens, and one roaming the land.

One morning, on her way out the door, my hostess let me know that one of the hens was sick, and, in the evil ways of the fowl world, the other chickens had ganged up on her. "They'll basically peck her to death, poor thing, so I took her out of the coop and stuck her in the barn."

How ghastly, I thought; how very Tippi Hedren.

Not much later, I looked out the window and saw the rooster-at-large heading into the barn. "That little shit," I thought; "he's going after that hen."

Sure enough, when I went out for a recon mission, I found the poor hen cowering in a corner while the rooster came at her. I proceeded to yell authoritatively at the rooster, and shooed him out of the barn. But as soon as I turned away, the rooster came right back in, very aggressive, and very determined to bully the hen. By now, I hated him, deeply, and so I shooed him away more forcefully, kicking at him a bit, and stomping my feet.

And then - sweet Jesus - he turned on me, spreading his wings, making a god-awful noise, and rushing straight at me like a bat out of hell.

I screamed and jumped back, and (and I thought this only happened in cartoons) I literally jumped right out of my shoes. Granted, they were flipflops, but still.

I fled into the house - barefoot and terrified, my flipflops left behind in the grass - slammed the door behind me, and peered out the window to see the rooster arrogantly strutting back into the barn to assert his now-uncontested dominance over the females of the farm. Sheer humiliation.

Can't you hear the crotchety old coot, undoubtedly played by Walter Brennan in the Hollywood version of this story, cackling and scratching his stomach and chortling, "Damn city folk; can't even rustle a rooster; scared her plum right out of her shoes."

(Just in case you're worried about the hen: Once safely back in the kitchen, I calmed myself, found a big broom, basically pummeled the rooster out of the barn, and tucked the the traumatized chicken away in a safe, rooster-free corner. Then I retrieved my flipflops, got in my car, and drove off to the nearest mall for the day, where I bought a ridiculously expensive bag, to remind myself that I do indeed have skills, even if they're more about excellent taste and credit card usage than animal husbandry, or whatever.)

My nemesis - can't you hear him? "Listen, boy, to what I'm tellin' you: She jumped clear out of her shoes! That girl's as timid as a canary at a cat-show."

{*Beaver info (the science-y, fact-based stuff, not the C.S. Lewis stuff) courtesy NatureWorks from New Hampshire Public Television.}


  1. You are friggin' hilarious!!!! I love this one
    Beavers can be 4 feet long? For real???

  2. I was laughing out loud at this. I've always said -- Nature is something you should have to drive to and visit. I don't want it accosting me outside my front door.

  3. Oh, God- what a hoot! (I've been attacked by a rooster, and I was on a horse at the time - the blasted thing spurred both of us.)

  4. atlantis submergicusJuly 17, 2009 at 8:07 PM

    Ah say, listen up boy, ah'm a tryin' to learn ya somethin.' That theah is one fine specimen of beaver ah'm ah tellin' yah, boy. Ya heah me, boy?

    Kids these day. Payin' ya no mind, ah tell yah.

  5. Several years ago I had dinner with friends at their restored 200-year old stone farmhouse in Virginia hunt country. They had a few horses, a couple of pheasants and geese, and a vicious gander which roamed free. I was warned to steer clear of him as he would really peck you.

    During the afternoon, the gander was persistently obnoxious when ever I went outside for something. Later that evening, when we were well into the pre-prandial cocktails, I went out to get something from my car and he came at me.

    I was just buzzed enough that I became determined that the mammals, represented by me, were not going to take this kind of crap from the birds, represented by this jerk. In an evocation of the Olympic hammer-throw event, I grabbed him around the neck with both hands, spun around and threw him a good 20 of 30 feet.

    For a moment, I was afraid that I might have killed him and that would be dicey to explain to my friends. But unfortunately he was immediately hissing and honking around again. Although now he steered well clear of me. And it was like that for the rest of the weekend.

    I must say it was all enormously satisfying. And never more so than when my hosts observed that "Old Ben" (or Skeletor or whatever his name was) didn't seem to bother me the way he did other people.

  6. Anonymous and Siobhan, thank you for a good laugh.

  7. Siobahn . . . "you, you, you yous about as sharp as a bowling ball, as, as, as about solid as a wet teabag."

    -frog horn leghorn

  8. this fellow suburbanite recommends you don't go to a 'jungle'. terrifying, everything is alive.

  9. oh yeah .. i wrenched my shoulder i was laughing so hard

  10. OMG! I laughed so hard. It reminded me of walking my young, huge, golden retriever and we cut across a little causeway in a pond. A nasty goose came at us, flapping her wings looking quite menacing. Instead of my faithful hound protecting me, she ran between my legs, knocking them out from under me and I fell into a mass of goose poop. I got her under control, and knowing that our path was blocked that route, had to forage on. Down the road a bit, we ran into another agressive goose, and fearing another forage into the goose poop, I short leashed her and we took off running through the gaggle with Miss Braveheart constantly looking over her shoulder. I only wish I had courage to do what Anonymous did (or maybe the cocktails would have helped). I thoroughly enjoyed this.

  11. Roosters are vicious sons of bitches. You had to deal with one. When I was a kid, we had twenty of the bastards, because my mother agreed to raise them for our landlady and, once mature, they were to be shared among us and eaten. This is a not-uncommon arrangement out in the country, where you can pick up male chicks for approcimately nothing.

    Twenty roosters, living and flocking together, are a force not to be trifled with. Aggressive, cruel, and surely sexually frustrated, they roamed our yard and nearest fields attacking everything that moved. Including, most particularly, us. It was war and while we were not trying to kill them at least at first, they had no such scruples. I couldn't get to the school bus without at least one successfully spurring my leg.

    Once I heard a cousin crying out on our yard and went to find him surrounded and those evil things were taking turns on him--he had a bleeding scratch on his cheek and there was a rooster flapping atop his head. I charged to the rescue, effected by them turning as one and attacking me while he fled gagging and sobbing. I had to take shelter in the well house.

    A neighbor kid announced that HE wasn't afraid of no chickens, no sir, and he hopped the fence to confront them in the field. Twenty seconds later he was screaming like a little girl and running for his life. They were after him like a pack of velociraptors. He left part of his ass on the top strand of barbed wire and never even slowed down.

    My sister and I began to lay ambushes for the roosters soon after. She would saunter to the corner of the house and show herself, the angry cackle would greet her, and she would coolly pretend disinterest and dawdle as they came racing, heads down to cut wind resistance. Then my sister would dart past as I stepped out to loft as many as I could hit with a broom handle. Of course I regret this, now. At the time it seemed to me a righteous act, and after my mother needed me to pry one of the crazy bastards off her leg, she agreed.

    Cowardice isn't jumping out of your shoes. Cowardice would have been not returning with the broom. I'm saying you did good. Chalk one up for yourself and our side.

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