The Animals in my Life

For those of you that know me, you know I married a whisperer.  She's not just a dog or a cat whisperer.  She treats all animals as if they understand everything she says to them.  Sometimes, I think they do.  I always loved animals but when I met Gail, my understanding of them grew exponentially.  One thing that stands out in my memory:  We were at a cabin in the mountains, I don't remember the circumstances because we were only 18 or 19 years old.  So, I don't remember who owned this cabin or why we were there.  But, we soon discovered that we were not alone.  There was a little deer mouse scampering about.  We have been together since we were 16, so I shouldn't have been surprised by anything at this point, but, honestly, after all this time together, I'm still getting to know her.  She's the most interesting and complex person I've ever met and I feel honored that she has allowed me to get to know her as much as she has.  Most people have no clue what's going on behind those beautiful blue eyes, especially that it is so multi-layered.

I'm getting off track.  Animals.  This mouse.  I actually saw Gail get down on her hands and knees with a piece of a potato chip and eventually, she got the little guy to eat it.  I was amazed.  Then, years later, our special needs daughter thought it was a good idea to hide her Halloween candy under an immense pile of stuffed animals.  I'm guessing a pregnant mouse got into the house and made a nest in the candy bag.  One evening I was walking down the hall and saw a mouse dart out of the corner of my eye.  The next day, I swear, there were mice everywhere.

Remember...married to a woman who feeds wild mice by hand.  So, there was no discussion of an exterminator or even mouse traps.  My job was to rid the house of rodents without harming them.  Do you have any clue how difficult that is?  I tried several tactics and then stumbled upon one that actually worked.  I hate these things if you use them the way they are meant to be used.  But, for my purpose, they worked quite well.  I am speaking of sticky traps.  These are horrible things that I think the Nazis invented.  But the way I used them...I would set one up and just sit and listen and as soon as I heard a mouse struggling I ran in and extracted it from the goo before it suffocated, the way they are supposed to.  I don't know, I probably traumatized the hell out of those little guys, but, hey, I got them out alive.

Sometimes it was rather comical when I would get a particularly large one that sunk into the goo quickly.  It was really hard getting them out and they would try to bite me and I would be yelling to Whitny to get the door so I didn't lose it.  More than once they got launched from the front door.  Do mice land on all fours like cats?

Anyway, I have titled this page as I did because I have a lot of animals in my life that aren't our pets.  At our Yosemite place, somehow the animals there seem to know that it is a haven.  During hunting season we are inundated with deer.  Somehow they seem to know that they are safe there.  Plus, we have a lot of artesian springs.

My first real interaction with a large predator there was shortly after I finished the house.  I was up there alone and there was an amazing storm.  At about 2AM, I noticed there was a lot of lightning, so I went out on the porch to watch the show.  For some reason, I got me a hankerin' fer some microwave popcorn.  So, there I was, settled in, munching popcorn, watching spectacular streaks of lightning rip across the western sky.  Over the peals of thunder, I heard a snapping of large twigs and small tree branches and suddenly, a 500 pound black bear was actually running right at me.  Instinctively, I tossed the bag of popcorn.  I don't know how many of you have hurled bags of microwave popcorn, but they aren't good for much distance.  But, fortunately, that is exactly what the bear wanted.  It stopped at the bag and basically just ignored me.  So, I slowly got up and backed into the house.  After the popcorn was gone (which wasn't very long) the bear came up to the window and looked in at me like, "Well, what else ya got?"

At this point I was a bit nervous because just a few weeks before a bear broke into the kitchen of a house about five miles from us.  This was just cartoonish...the bear actually came through the kitchen window to get a jar of honey that was left out on the counter.  I had seen bears take off car doors like they were opening a beer can.  So, I just wasn't sure at all what was going to happen next.  I had a gun, but it was only a .45, and that would just piss a bear off.  Also, I wasn't sure I could pull the trigger on an animal.  I know it sounds strange to most people, but I carry a gun in the woods for the two legged predators.  I suppose if it was my life or the animal, I could do it, but fortunately, I've never had to.  After what seemed like an eternity, the bear decided to just waddle off.

I suppose those kinds of decisions are really relative.  Gail's favorite little cat (a Turkish Angora that is much more like a squirrel than a feline) got out of the house the beginning of the summer before last (you can read the whole saga on Whitny's blog: under "Magnificent Beasts")  But, this nasty old fox that we were certain was keeping Buddy from coming back to the house (which, in retrospect, I believe was true).  I actually heard something I thought I'd never hear come out of my wife's mouth.  I was getting pictures of this same fox with the split ear and crooked tail every night on the game cameras, but he just wouldn't go into the traps.  So, I told Gail that I didn't think I could get Buddy back as long as that fox was lurking and I had run out of ideas of how to catch him.  My wife actually said, "Jim, if you think you have to shoot that fox to get Buddy back, then shoot him."  That was a major epiphany for me.  All things truly are relative and contextual.  Fortunately, I was wrong and I did trap Buddy without having to shoot EL ZORRO DIABLO.

Another memorable experience was with Chester, the friendly mountain lion.  I think Chester first showed up in late May, 2008.  I was insulating my workshop (which is actually a shipping container that I didn't know what to do with after the bulk of the building materials were used).  It was already way too hot to do this during the day, so I was out there around 11:00pm.  One of my friends from Southern California had come up for the week and was helping me.  Suddenly, we heard a long, low deep growl.  It wasn't really threatening, it was more like "Hey, I'm here...don't come outside."  My friend freaked.  Since we were, like, kinda inside, and doing heavy labor, I hadn't brought a gun.  I must admit, I was a little uncomfortable, because I cut a door in the back of the container and the two main doors were open, so, we were pretty much at big kitty's mercy.  But, as I said, it wasn't really a menacing growl.  The lion was basically digging through the trash looking for food.  So, after a while, I slipped out and made my way to the house and got a gun.  But, we didn't hear it again that night.  A week or so later, I was building a fence around the cabin.  Again, it was hot and I was working at night.  My friend Scott was helping me and my backhoe was running, Scott's engine driven Lincoln welder was competing with the hoe for decibel output and we had spotlights that looked like a Cal-Trans crew laying pavement at night. Scott needed to go over to the main house and at that time, it was all gravel, so he was making plenty of noise.  The door he was going into has a sensor light and it wasn't until he triggered it that he noticed Chester.  Chester was laying on top of a rock wall about 15 feet away.  After looking at Scott, the lion just got up and sauntered off.  At that time there were trash can below where the lion was laying and these dumb little deer mice would fall in and couldn't get out.  So, I figured maybe the lion was old or hurt and couldn't hunt anymore and was hanging around to scrounge.

But then, a few days later, I was in the cabin and heard it in the trash again.  So, I flipped off the inside lights and hit the spotlights.  Chester cleared the upper road in one jump.  I'm guessing a two step momentum run got Chester 10 feet of height and 30 feet of distance.  OK...Chester could hunt.  Over the summer, I found a number of deer Chester had taken down.

The fascinating thing for me is that Chester was one of the biggest, healthiest lions I've seen and mountain lions just don't let themselves be seen.  But this guy thought he was my pet.  He would watch me through the window when I was on the computer, less than five feet away.  But he never made any threatening moves.  It was just a really great experience.  Then, in November, I had to come back to Downey, and that was the last time I saw Chester.  I actually miss him.

These are my boys.  Max and Robbie.  Whitny brought them home, but I claim them.
Max is perhaps one of the most beautiful cats (in my opinion) I've ever seen.  His white paws look like catcher's mitts and he has the biggest eyes I've ever seen.  But, all stereotypes have some truth to them.  The stereotype of the dumb blonde (I need to word this carefully) I think has some merit....nothing to do with blonde hair...I believe the origin of that is from a vapid, overly sexualized woman who is stunningly beautiful.  Its not true in all cases, but sometimes it does seem to be a case of equilibrium.  If a person has too much of some quality, they can be deficient in others.  What I'm really trying to say here is that Max is not the brightest bulb.  He is a simple boy.  He walks around and meows at me at almost a shouting tone and all he wants is for me to pay attention to him.  None of our dogs with play fetch, but Max will chase the right toy all day long.  I don't think he has a clue that he is a cat.  He is actually about the same size as our smallest dog, Odie,  Whenever I'm cooking, all the dogs line up waiting to see what they might get out of it.  Max joins the line like he is just another dog.