Tuesday, June 8, 2004

A Walk On The Wild Side

For the past 33 years, I have spent at least six hours a week walking on the cross-country and hiking trails throughout Bear Brook State Park in Allenstown. As a result, I’m fairly well acquainted with most of the park’s 10,000 acres.

Believe me, I’ve seen some pretty strange sights in the park during my walks, and have encountered a lot of interesting creatures…of both the four-legged and two-legged varieties.

Lately, however, it seems as if the wildlife in the park purposely is trying to rip my arms out of their sockets. You see, I usually walk with my dog, who weighs nearly 90 pounds, and she takes great pleasure in bolting after everything from squirrels to butterflies (and an occasional bicyclist)…while I am hanging onto her leash. As a result, my poor arms have been yanked so often, I now can touch my kneecaps without bending over.

At dusk one day last week, for example, a deer suddenly darted through a clearing about 50 yards ahead of us. My dog, wagging excitedly, thought it was another big dog and immediately charged after it. When she reached the end of her leash, the jolt was so hard, I felt my teeth rattle.

There also are quite a few pheasants lurking in the bushes in the park. Pheasants have a sinister habit of quietly hiding until you walk past them. Then, when you least expect it, they fly up out of the bushes and take off. Their wings make a sound that is comparable to that of a low-flying helicopter. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve nearly suffered from pheasant-induced cardiac arrest.

And, of course, my dog thinks she can leap high enough into the air to catch one of them…while I’m still hanging onto her leash.

Once, we also encountered two wild turkeys in a cornfield adjacent to the park. I honestly never knew that turkeys could fly, but I suppose when you startle them by screaming at the top of your lungs (heck, I’d never come face to face with a wild bird that big before, so they really startled me), the poor birds will do just about anything to get away from you.

I like to think of myself as somewhat of a wildlife expert by now, but to be honest, two things in the park recently have puzzled me. First of all, I came across a large pile of what looked like tan-colored, two-inch long, jelly beans. I knew that the pile was the calling card of some animal, but which one?

I immediately ruled out deer, horses and rabbits, and I was pretty sure a bear hadn’t done it…even though I had absolutely no clue what a bear’s calling card might look like. The more I thought about it, however, the more curious I became, so the next day, I brought my digital camera and took a photo of the “evidence.” Then I showed the photo to several hunters and even e-mailed it to a few of my friends.

The general consensus was that a moose was the culprit. “You be careful around the area where you found that pile!” one hunter warned me. “It’s the time of year when the females have their young, and believe me, you don’t want to mess with a protective mother moose!”

“If I ever come face to face with a moose,” I told him, “the moose won’t be the only one leaving its calling card in the woods!”

The other thing that has been puzzling me lately is beginning to make me think I’m hallucinating. On two separate occasions during the past week, when my dog and I were about a mile into the woods on one of the isolated trails in the park, we heard something rustling in the bushes.

When I turned to see what was lurking in there, I caught of glimpse of an animal that looked like a big black and white spotted guinea pig, about the size of a housecat, moving swiftly. The reason I thought it looked like a guinea pig is because it didn’t have a tail.

The next day, near the same spot, the black and white animal once again appeared, but this time it was with a rust-colored companion. I stepped closer to try to get a better look at them, but they bolted off into the deeper woods.

Did someone abandon a bunch of cats (without tails?) or pet rabbits (without long ears?) out there? Or are they perhaps some strange new hybrid species?

I may never know. But I do know that every time my dog spots them, she yanks so hard on her leash, my arms feel as if they’ve been stretched another inch or two. If this keeps up, pretty soon I’ll be tripping over my knuckles when I walk.

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