Life in the Wild Kingdom

We were walking the dog down the “middle road” yesterday that runs fifty feet above Nameless Creek through the rhododendrons as we often do; Ann is out ahead, as she often is. Fred is tagging along behind, turning rocks, scratching and sniffing, as he almost always is.

“It’s a bear!” she hollers, as the dog rockets up the steep bank after the black backside of a bear. We hear Tsuga barking a hundred yards and another 50 feet higher than the road, but can see nothing through the tangle of rhododendron and Mt. Laurel.

Short of it: after much whooping and hollering on our part to discourage the bear from coming back down the hill towards us (as if he would), the same antics brought the dog down in a few minutes, unharmed. This time.

And yesterday at dusk, it sounded like a kennel of dogs on the hillside, except their sound was more piercing-yelping-howling than the usual mix of canines–at least a dozen of them.

We don’t usually see them, but more and more often, we’re hearing coyotes at the end of our valley. A while later while I was watering the garden, some of our usual fighter-jet trainers zoomed close overhead. I don’t know if the coyotes were frightened by it, were joining the “song” of this obvious alpha male overhead, or are just especially patriotic in a bellicose and particularly noisy way, supporting our soldiers overhead; but they went into howling overdrive with the jet noise.

I just hope they stay down at their end of the valley. There are far too many for even a 85 pound yellow lab to take on. Or a 175 pound geezer or 110 pound geezerette. (In truth, I’d be shocked to ever actually get close enough to see them, and only worry about their dental interactions with our chickens, when they finally come back big enough to not be snake-food.)

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I hear coyotes here a few times a year, usually in the summer. I’ve seen them in my yard twice in the many years I’ve been here. Both times I saw them, there were two and my dogs barked and sent them off from the safety of the house. 🙂

  2. There probably aren’t nearly as many coyotes as it sound slike – when they do their yipping fenzy, it sounds deceptively like a lot more animals than there really are. We can hear them yipping from our house, and it always sounds like at least a dozen, but when we can actually SEE them, there are only 4, making a lot of racket.

  3. We took the young hens back to where they came from. Our neighbors who gave them to us have more snake-proof housing until the girls are too big to attempt to have for lunch. When they come back, and start laying, we’ll do the fake egg trick.