Clearwater was the scene of my favorite animal tales. Because it is semitropical jungle, there are lots of critters!

I lived in a salt box house down a hill right on the bay with 2 siamese kittens. Our neighbors included a pack of furtive, fat, thieving raccoons - the zen raccoons - but that part comes later; several fully grown cats who considered my yard THEIR territory, commanded by one Lucifer. As well as the usual assortment of crabs at low tide, a mouse, a squirrel, a blue jay, lizards and a family of wolf spiders who called my kitchen home.

The first night I was alone in my new house, I thought I saw something out of the corner of my eye in the kitchen. Next day I caught a mouse leaping out the window. There was a jack-and-the-beanstalk vine going up the drainpipe to my kitchen window. So I shut it. The mouse would come and bump his nose on the glass, wondering, "What's going on here? The air is solid." I showed the mouse my kitties. Never saw him again!

I let them out to play in the yard. Down the hill slunk the big cats. My boy considered himself the protector of his sister. So he phhtted and curled himself into a fighting pretzel. (Yeah, that's going to scare those big cats.) Unnoticed by the kittens, I lobbed cat food cans at the big cats - which they understood perfectly well and ran away. My boy was totally exhilarated, he thought HE had run them off!

Every morning I would open the back door and let the kittens out. The squirrel would descend the tall tree, tantalizingly closer, closer... The boy cat would twitch until he couldn't stand it anymore and rush the squirrel. But the squirrel was too fast for him. Up the tree he went chittering curses and abuse. Then the blue jay would join in and dive bomb the cats. Same comedy every day like clockwork.

My cats thought it was perfectly normal to play in wet grass, sleep on the boats and chase crabs in the sand. All kitties do that, don't they?


Now my son loved animals more than anything. One day I saw this huge birdcage someone had built of chicken wire and abandoned, so I brought it home. THAT very day, not some other day, but THAT day, a bird flew in the house. I caught it and we put it in the birdcage. We got some birdseed and put the cage outside on the back stoop. My son opened the door, pet the bird and let it go.

Next day I was on my way down the stairs to work when who should be in the cage eating birdseed but Mr. Blue Jay. He was so terrified, he couldn't find the door. So I put my hand in and showed him where it was.

We'd be waiting for the bus back from the beach and my son bored out of his mind, said, "Mom, may I catch birds?" and I would say no. But he would catch them anyway, pidgins and sea gulls. He'd put them under his shirt and they'd fly our his collar!

My friend asked me to keep his stereo for a few weeks while he went out of town. I said sure! Only when he came to drop it off, he said , "By the way, could you watch my cat?", presented me with this 50 pound long hair calico named Demosthenes - and left! The cat came with a long list of allergies and feeding instructions, special ointment for his eczema, no claws, had never been outdoors, and homicidal tendencies toward me and the kittens. Demosthenes proceeded to yowl and phtt at me. He was NOT de-fanged, that's for sure! Then to make matters worse, while I was hiding the kittens, he got out the door! I begged him to come back in. He screeched. I commanded him to go back in the door. He sneered. I told him the other animals would kill him. He was unmoved. Finally I put some tuna inside the door. That worked. I decided to change my tack. I said, "Demosthenes, we have not been properly introduced. I am honored such a fine cat as yourself has come to grace my humble home until your master returns." He decided to let me live, if not the kittens. In fact he decided I wasn't such a bad sort really, and proved it by planting his 50 pounds on my lap and padding my shoulders while purring like a lawnmower.

All was well until the next time he got out. Demosthenes climbed a bent old tree and curled up like the cheshire cat. He would not be persuaded to come down no matter what I said about bad critters would kill him in the night. Amazingly enough he survived. I guess he was the biggest baddest critter out there!

His owner looked extremely suspicious when he came back and Demosthenes was no longer obese, just a modest 30 pounds or so. He had no eczema; in fact, he was healthy. We'll never tell!

Now the spiders did respond to commands. I'd tell them to go out the kitchen door and they would. Unless they couldn't find it. This teenage wolf spider, only half as big as your hand, was waiting for me on the kitchen counter, he couldn't find the door. So I put him in a cup and sailed him out.

Another spider I found wobbling around and around on the floor in a mesmerized circle under the ceiling fan. Apparently he'd been doing it for quite a while, got caught in the vortex. Sailed him out the door.

One day I wandered over to the empty house next door and saw unmistakable signs of our marauding raccoons. THIS was where they lived! The walls were covered with their little footprints. The zen part was, so was the ceiling!

We celebrated Christmas one July back in the 60's in Jenny Lake Climber's Camp. The Weeks brothers were bird catchers. They would go up on cliffs where no one but birds had a right to be, catch falcons and eagles where they nest. But down in the valley, at the level but definitely on the outskirts of mere mortals, we climbers were this hot dusty July. One of the brothers had a lady and children in tow. They had no home actually, no money and the kids had missed Christmas that year. The rest of us were college students or professional people of one sort and another, with the occasional European climber dropping in. The Weeks' were a tad more out there. Anyway, we all set about to remedy this oversight. We got toys as our pockets permitted - back then you could tour North America for the summer for $100 - and set up a feast cooked outdoors, of course, strung lights, made music and put on a proper Christmas party. Don't know who enjoyed it more - us or those kids!

This view is seen when you hike up from the lake we camped at, and you reach a higher level lake. My mom caught fish with a pan in the shallows of these rocks. They fled from the shadow of her hand and she scooped them into the pan! I climbed Wolf Jaw, the peak next to Sharks Nose, in the background.
My boyfriend and I were backpacking into the Wind Rivers in Wyoming. We got to the top of the crest where you leave the normal world behind and gaze out upon endless fantastical mountain crags and streams spreading to the horizon. I swear I heard a mountain lion roar in the distance. I thought to that critter, you don't want to meet me and I don't want to meet you. (We were completely alone and, needless to say in those days, unarmed, 30 miles from the nearest civilization. Postulates were our only protection.)

Another trip there were 700 head of goats - do you know they all have different voices? - plus a couple of Basque sheepherders and their dogs. In that huge space they were never too near but I could no longer skinny dip. So one day my boyfriend was out and I was alone in the tent taking a bath with a tea cup of water. Something licked my bare bottom and I nearly jumped out of my skin! This sweet little sheepdog had slipped into the tent to say hello!

My boyfriend came back and said the sheepherders had invited him to dinner. I said. "Great, when do we go?" He said when he asked about bringing me, they said, "Oh, leave her at home!"

The first time I went to the Wind Rivers was with my group, the Vulgarian Mountain Climbing Club, or VMC. We were antisocial, sick of the city, we wanted OUT. So who should show up but the Iowa Mountaineers. About 25 of the cheeriest, noisiest, most depressing bunch of happy well adjusted %#@X you'd ever want - or not want - to meet!

So we went up the Bugaboos in British Columbia. Make the Wind Rivers look like a penny arcade. Man, we were really away now. Who should happen along but - you guessed it - the Iowa Mountaineers! Due to the sound carrying qualities of the glacial peaks, we'd be climbing miles away yet hear their conversation as if they yodeled in our ear!

One time the Grand Tetons I hiked up the high camp bearing wine. But the fellows were up on the peaks so my girlfriend and I polished off the bottle.

Another time in the Bugaboos a storm moved in. While we floated in and out of the clouds like a Japanese watercolor, my mother baked biscuits and served them hot with butter and jam.

When I was 8 years old, my mother and I camped out under the stars in Chaco Canyon way far out on the Indian Reservation. Little skunks and raccoons perhaps or foxes and prairies dogs formed a conga line about 20 feet out from "our space" and danced in the moonlight.

Come to think of it, my travels started when I was about 3 or 4. My mother and father took me to a lake somewhere around Croton Dam in New York state. There were pink salamanders and newts who looked for all the world like fairies or elves to me. Although my mother had introduced me to fairies in stories, she doubted they would appear in real life. Which is pretty hypocritical when you think about it. Anyway she let me go for walks alone, probably forgetting I existed while she was lost a book somewhere. I was adopted by a humongous black sheepdog - the kind that carries brandy to people stranded in the Swiss Alps - named Mickey. So she didn't worry too much. Mickey and I would disappear for hours while I made my way back to the salamanders to see if they would talk to me with no grownups around to discourage them. The fact that they still didn't I attributed to the dog's trying to eat them.

I have some travel stories. It was the 60's. I was 17 and employed as a nanny on a ranch. I went out with the stage coach driver - yes, Jackson Hole, WY employed a stage coach driver - and we were way the heck out in the back roads somewhere when he wanted to advance our relationship. At which point I was seized by irrational visions of my virtue being compromised and my body being found in a ditch. So I talked about how my employer was expecting me home, that I had told him no worries, I'd be with the stage coach driver and would be home early, etc. That worked! (Visions of very tall employer, well armed.)

Another time, my boyfriend and I were hitchhiking from Wyoming to Washington state. We got a ride from a truck driver. After barreling along in the 110 degree cab all the way to Butte, Montana, he expressed a desire to have me repay his favor... Whereupon my 5' 10'' pit bull boyfriend squared off against the 6' 5'' black man and explained we would in fact be going now.

One time we were trying to escape Missoula, I think it was. Cars passed us by for 8 hours. I started throwing rocks at them. Discriminate against flower children, will they?

Back in Wyoming, I used to hitch the 20 miles from Jenny Lake Climber's Camp
to my job as the 6 am waitress at Gettings Motel in Wilson. I would go up to the road at dawn and stick out my thumb. One day a lumber hauler picked me up. Our entire conversation consisted of my telling him where I was going and my saying thank you when we got there - on time! To get back to school in the Fall, I hitchhiked from Wyoming to New York with a professor and his family. We definitely took the scenic route.

Then in the 70's I got mad at my boyfriend out in Malibu at 2 o'clock in the morning, went up to Pacific Coast Highway and got a ride to my door from a police officer who took pity on me and asked no questions.

More recently, I went to the Freewinds (yacht in the Caribbean) and did courses and shopped and partied all week - on $1.50. I flew to Paris first class, stayed in a 5 star hotel and shopped, etc. - on the production company! A few adventures in hitchhiking.




Copyright 2012

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