Locked In

I have seen news stories about all the wildlife boldly going where no undomesticated animal has gone before since the coronavirus quarantine drove people into their dens.  While we have been locked down, nature sees us as “locked in.”  Wild animals are using the opportunity to run amok. I think it is the natural world equivalent to calling all your friends and having a party when your parents are away for the weekend… or for many extended weeks in the case of coronavirus quarantine.

I am seeing it in my own neighborhood.  Our friendly neighborhood rabbit, Honey Bunny, has made several appearances in my backyard in the last couple of weeks.  We often see squirrels scattering around in the trees back there. Seeing Honey Bunny is a rarer phenomenon.  Up until a few weeks ago, we had not seen hide nor hare for over a year.  Then there was Ghastly Gussie the Gator.  I’ve lived in Florida for over five years and, before the quarantine, saw no alligators sunning themselves in the proximity of my sun porch.  After seeing a very live Ghastly Gussie in the backyard, I have seen two halves of alligators on opposite sides of the main highway outside my subdivision.  They might not have been so ghastly as Gussie, but certainly grislier and more gruesome. 

A week or so ago, a friend and I both saw some sort of mystery critter within a few days of each other. It was skedaddling into the brush around our community “meditation glen” wooded area.  We both saw it in about the same location, so I think it is probably the same animal.  Neither one of us have a clue as to the identity of this animal, even after extensive googling.  To me, it looked like a brown, furry, ambulatory ottoman roughly the size of an overfed lhasa apso.  Someone suggested it might be a wild hog, but it seemed too fluffy to be a hog.  It moved like an extremely large skunk, but it seemed to be devoid of any skunk striping or coloring.  I wondered if it might be a mink or otter, but it seemed too large and stocky to be a mink or otter.  It also would have had to have been a mink or otter having a really bad hair day because this creature certainly lacked the sleek elegance of minks and otters. It might have been a raccoon, but there was no banding on the dark brown bushy tale.  I really thought it looked most like a fisher cat or wolverine, but fisher cats and wolverines do not live in Florida. Whatever it was, I am sure I have never seen anything like it before the quarantine.

The other day, as I sat at the table eating breakfast, I noticed some action outside my screened-in lanai.  I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye.  I looked outside and saw Robert(a) the Bobcat sidling past my lanai.  If I had been out on the lanai and the bobcat had stayed where he/she was, I could have touched him/her through the screen.  That is how close the cat was.  Robert(a) was not in any particular hurry.  He/she walked purposefully but was clearly not in any “fight or flight” mode.  Max and I watched while Robert(a) made his/her way past all the houses on my street until he/she disappeared around a curve in the conservation belt behind the houses.  

Not to be outdone by the bobcat, Rocky (short for Rockette; I am guessing she was a female braving the daylight to forage food for a nest of babies) the Raccoon tramped by the lanai yesterday.  When I posted a photo on Facebook, my neighbors responded with dire warnings that Rocky was probably the Rabid Raccoon because she was out during the day.  Further research indicated that, although raccoons are primarily nocturnal, they are often seen during the day, especially in the spring when mommy raccoons leave the babies in the nest while they wander in search of calories.  Either for the babies or for themselves.  Apparently, nursing baby raccoons is hard work.  Google indicated that, if rabid, a raccoon will likely be disoriented, clumsy, and lethargic.  Rocky was none of those things.  In fact, she traversed the backyards along my street with a certain pep in her step and lightness of foot.  She seemed to travel most gracefully with a rhythm of movement.  That is why I named her Rockette.  I half expected to see her doing eye high kicks.

I think I am beginning to understand how animals in the zoo feel.  I’m locked in and the regular inhabitants of my world are coming out to look at me!

Rockette the Raccoon high-stepping outside my lanai

FRIENDLY REMINDER: Today, my second book, Random (A)Musings, launched on Amazon. You can order paperback and kindle editions. You can thank me later!

Me, showing off my new book before yesterday’s virtual launch party
I couldn’t wait to read it!

Wild And Un-Woolly

Well, it has finally happened.  There was an alligator in my backyard.

Yes, after more than five years of living in Florida, we saw an alligator meandering around the green belt behind the houses on our street.  He was a reptile on a mission, although a slow-moving one.  Luckily, his mission seemed to be taking him in a direction away from us.

Let me back up and remind you of the little bit of heaven we call home.  When I bought my house in this quiet little age-restricted community, the realtor went into raptures about the beautiful location and natural view.  Truthfully, that location and view were big selling points for this particular house. I look out my sliding glass door and huge windows into a beautiful, peaceful greenbelt area.  It is a conservation zone.  Developers will not be constructing any new houses in that area.  It is quiet.  It is serene. 

What I didn’t realize until several years after I purchased the property is that the “greenbelt” is actually a wetland.  It was at least a year after I moved in that I realized there was WATER down the grassy, forested slope from us.  The epiphany that there was a body of water about 20 feet from my house dismayed me for a little while.  People say that, if there is a glass of water anywhere in the state of Florida, there will be an alligator trying to get into it. 

When my mother moved to Florida, she insisted that I find her a home that was not on the water because she did not want to share her property with the alligators.   I thought she was being a little unreasonable because we live in a place called LAKE County. There are over 1000 lakes in Lake County, which cover over 200 square miles of water.  Finding a place to live far away from the water is sort of geographically impossible. I did find her a place that didn’t back up directly on water, so that was a win in my book.  I didn’t take the alligator thing very seriously, though. All in all, my #1 strategy for living in Florida is to try not to think about alligators.

We had a guy do some work on the soffits in our house.  This was after the great snake chase ( http://www.terrilabonte.com/2016/07/the-great-snake-chase/) and I was kind of paranoid about wild things entering my home.  I was thinking about small wild things like snakes and squirrels. Obviously, an alligator could not get into my house through the soffits.  Or could it? The soffit guy mentioned that he heard a big bull alligator bellowing while he was on the ladder screening up our gaps.  I, for no reason other than abject denial, decided it must be bullfrogs he was hearing.  I validated this opinion based on Google, which told me that mating season for alligators was over, and on some random wildlife page that said an alligator sounds like a motorcycle starting.  The noise in the backyard did not sound like a motorcycle.  More like the foghorn on the Titanic.  Return to strategy #1 for living in Florida…. Try not to think about alligators. 

As I lived in Florida longer, I started to get a little more comfortable.  The only place I ever saw an alligator in the wild was on the grounds of the Kennedy Space Center, of all places.  It was becoming easier to employ strategy #1 for living in Florida.  Still, I had friends who kept insisting that alligators are commonplace in Florida communities.  They recounted their alligator sightings on golf courses and local ponds. One friend seems to spend a lot of her time in the passenger side of a car keeping her eyes peeled firmly on the surface of any body of water, fascinated by the prospect that she might see an alligator.  Sometimes, she does.  Me? Strategy #1 for living in Florida… Try not to think about alligators.

Once I got on Facebook, I saw photos of alligators wandering in my subdivision.  At first, I thought some of the folks who posted these pictures might be trying to pull my alligator-ignoring leg.  Then, there was a video of a whole batch of my neighbors herding a small alligator from one pond to another.  Apparently, he was too young to challenge the male alpha-alligator for breeding rights and too old to be tolerated as a juvenile by said alpha-alligator. Papa Gator apparently ran him out of the breeding pond. Junior was looking for new digs, aiding by my neighbors.   

Despite my strategy #1 for living in Florida.. Try not to think about alligators…. I think I always knew, deep down, that there were alligators out there.  Because I live on the wetlands (which looks suspiciously like an everglade environment to me), I really did believe that someday I would see an alligator in my backyard.  The only thing that really surprised me was that it took as long as it did.  Well, one more thing really surprised me.  This guy was huge!  I figured the day would come when I’d see an alligator, but I thought it would be one of those 3-5-foot models.  Oh no, this guy was super-sized.  He had to be at least eight feet long. 

Max was standing out in the Florida room, looking out our windows.  He called to me and asked if I could identify a large dense-looking dark patch of matter about 25 yards from our back door.  We thought it might be a fallen tree or large turtle (strategy #1 for living in Florida… try not to think about alligators.) I almost had him convinced it was a log.  Then, the log lifted its head, opened its mouth, and meandered a few feet up the slope towards the house next to us.  Ghastly Gussie the Gator was on the move.  We watched, pretty aghast ourselves, as he ambulated a few feet north, stopped to rest for a few moments, then progressed a few more feet before pausing again.  He continued in this manner for some time.

I called the phone number Google told me to call for “nuisance” alligators.  I wasn’t sure Ghastly Gussie was really a nuisance, to be fair.  Sure, I saw him as being in my backyard.  I’m certain the alligator thought I was in his backyard.  He wasn’t really threatening anyone, although I was certainly relieved that he was “non-threatening” further away from me as time passed.  My Google research advised me that the alligator wranglers would likely not “relocate” Ghastly Gussie.  At least, they wouldn’t relocate him alive.  Apparently, alligators are very territorial and will keep returning to “their” place repeatedly, despite human attempts to change their venues.  Still, Gussie was a pretty big guy and I thought, given that he seemed to be getting closer to peoples’ back doors as he headed north along the water line, there might be some danger to people and pets.  Anyway, when I finally called the alligator wranglers to get their advice, I only reached voice mail.  The voice mail gave me another phone number to call if there was an immediate threat.  The message listed the criteria for declaring an alligator an immediate threat.  Some of the criteria were finding an alligator in your garage, finding an alligator under your car, and finding an alligator attached to your leg.  None of the criteria for immediate threat applied, so I left a message.  I also posted a picture and a warning on our neighborhood Facebook page so people could exercise a little extraordinary care.

Eventually, Gussie disappeared from my view.  I started trying to re-engage with my strategy #1 for living in Florida… Try not to think about alligators.  It was a little harder to force my brain into that frame than usual.  However, the experience wasn’t all bad.  At least Ghastly Gussie practiced proper social distancing!

What is the strangest thing you’ve ever seen in your backyard?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a wild and un-woolly day! But stay safe!

Terri/Dorry 😊