A friend is traveling in the southern US and is currently in what he calls Bear Country and wanted to know about adventures with wildlife at camp. That might take awhile so here is the first installment.
At Tahquitz Meadows we had all kinds of wildlife, about the only kind we didn’t have at that camp were bears. We had deer, coyotes and gopher snakes and rattlesnakes. We had many birds including quail and thrashers as well as the usual suspects like Stellar Jays and Great Horned Owls.
At that camp we also had a barnyard, because we were working with kids from the inner city the YWCA who owned the camp thought that children should know where their food came from so we had several kinds of chickens , mostly the Phyllis Diller kind also really known as the Araucana , 2 goats, Romeo and Juliet, 2 donkeys, Jack and Jenny, 2 pigs, Pork Chop and Bacon, 2 sheep, Cupcake and Short Cake, some bunnies and Rhode Island Red rooster and a Banty rooster. We also had a lot of horses that people that lived in the desert donated to camp for the summer because it was too hot for them in places like Indio in summer. We also had some miniature horses about the size of collies.
The wild and the tame animals were not always a good fit. One morning we came out and there was blood everywhere in the barnyard and the 2 sheep were dead. The male goat was covered in blood and none of it was his. A coyote had gotten to the sheep which are incredibly stupid and just stood there and let the coyote eat them. Romeo on the other hand seemed to have protected the rest of the barnyard animals by the pattern of the mess. It looked like a crime scene and it was coyote blood the goat was covered in. I had a lot more respect for goats after that and a lot less for the sheep.
The Banty rooster was the bane of our existence and I hated that bird with a passion. He liked to sneak up on you from behind and launch himself spurs first into your calf muscles. I got really good at booting him across the yard but the stupid bird kept it up every time I was out there. I had one prayer that summer. “Please Mr Coyote, eat the Banty Rooster.” About 3/4s through the summer my prayer was answered to great Hallelujahs. I came out that morning and there were feathers everywhere. Who knew one savage little bird had so many? He was the only chicken we couldn’t ever pen up at night and he was gone! I was extremely happy that he had been that coyote’s dinner.
But I had some really glorious moments with the animals too. Our camp bell couldn’t be heard in two far units so one of the rotating staff tasks was to go wake those units up. It was about a 1/2 of a mile walk that we got to take at about 7 am and I used to volunteer for it sometimes because it was a special time.
One morning all was quiet and still and I was about halfway down the road when I heard a rustle and huge buck landed three feet away from me and just stood looking eye to eye with me. I have no idea how long we stood there looking in each other’s eyes. I got lost somewhere in the deep brown, wise depths of that buck’s eyes. He had a huge rack of antlers and was about the most majestic thing I have ever seen and so close I wanted to touch his fur, ticks or not. And then we blinked and he was gone down the embankment to the stream and I breathed and continued down the road in total awe of what I had experienced.
Another morning at about the same place I heard the metallic buzz saw noise that male hummingbirds make and shortly I was very glad that I wore glasses because there he was about 3 inches from my face and really pissed. One of the most beautiful ruby throated hummingbirds I’ve ever seen and he was flashing his throat at me to try and get me out of his territory. Finally, I buzzed him back and he took off and I went and woke up the units.
Out at the back of this camp we had an overnight outpost so the kids could spend a few nights outside under the stars and not in a canvas tent or cabin. We had taken our kids out there and were all arranged on tarps. The staff tarp was on the south side of the outpost at the edge of a very long grassy meadow. We’d been asleep for awhile when I got slugged by the counselor sleeping next to me. I heard. “Don’t move and sit up on the count of three. One…two…three!” and we sat up. There was a coyote standing on the foot of my sleeping bag looking at us. And he took off with a yip and like a shot he took off and we laughed ourselves silly. I guess he was trying to figure out whether we were big sausages all wrapped up just for him.
We had one bathtub in camp and it was a big old claw footed tub from the 1920’s and you signed up for the privilege of a real bath and not a shower. One afternoon great screams started emanating from the back of the cabin where the bathtub was. So of course, everyone took off running to the rescue. Good thing none of the guys were with in hearing distance because one of the female staff was standing naked as a jaybird screaming like it was Armageddon. It wasn’t unless Armageddon is an albino tree frog. He was happily swimming in an out of the bubbles in the tub. I picked up the pretty white frog and took him outside but I think it was the last bath that staff member ever took in that tub. I wished I’d had a terrarium to put him in because white is not an optimal colour for a frog outdoors that doesn’t want to end up a bird’s dinner.