A 3-foot-long snake, banded yellow with brownish blotches, trailed behind Woolley, my feisty, elegant, long-haired kitty. She held it by its head, parading across the field as she hurried toward me to share her wonderful discovery. She held her fluffy tail erect as if to say, "I'm so proud of myself."
As I chased her, she dropped it, and the theme song from "Green Acres" rang in my ears. I'd been introduced to farm livin'.
We had recently relocated to a tree farm in Southern Oregon after living most of our lives in the Portland area, and encounters with the flora and fauna kept presenting us with new challenges.
One of our first exposures came when we tangled with ceanothus, a plant previously unfamiliar to us as we set out to clear the Upper 60. We knew what it was because I'd looked it up in a "plants of Southern Oregon" handbook. But we were wrong.
"Hell, that stuff's buckbrush," the neighbor told me.
Another plant seemed to flourish in and around the buckbrush. We weren't sure what it was, but when we returned home, we noticed our arms had developed a red rash and we felt a little itchy. The slight irritation worsened, and we found ourselves at the doctor's office.
As he wrote out a prescription for prednisone, he said, "Those are a couple of fairly nasty cases of poison oak."
Besides having deer eat our roses, squirrels gnaw holes in irrigation hoses, neighbors' horses graze on the lawn, acorn woodpeckers poop in the foundation and dust boil off the gravel road, we faced a larger problem — moose. They actually were elk, but I called them moose because they were BIG.
I researched Southern Oregon prior to moving here. I don't recall the literature mentioning these unexpected less-than-delights. After we'd signed the final papers on the house, a real-estate agent said, "Yep, these rural properties. Everybody wants one, but nobody lasts."
He said it slowly, emphasizing everybody and nobody. "Oh, they'll stay about 10 years, get tired of all the work, then pack it in."
It looked, however, like the elk were going nowhere. Snout prints on the shop window convinced us we needed to take action. I feared one of them might step on my cat.
Unlike our neighbor, we didn't have seven dogs to run them off. My husband gave it some thought and came up with a brilliant idea, or so it seemed at the time.
"I'll create an alarm. I'll hook up a motion detector, a light and a car alarm. When an elk passes by, it'll set off the alarm and frighten Mr. Nosey away."
One morning, shortly after installation of the new preventative device, I walked down our gravel road to Highway 140 to pick up the newspaper. As I rounded the bend, I noticed a green-and-white sheriff's car headed toward me. At first I wondered what was going on, then it occurred to me — the moose alarm. It was loud and probably within hearing distance of our neighbors.
"Good morning," said the young officer. "Ma'am, we received a report that a car alarm was going off on your property."
"Oh, that," I said, trying to sound lighthearted and airy to lessen the impact of the offense. I had no idea what a citation for such a transgression might be.
"That was the moose alarm."
I hurried to explain in an I'm-sure-this-kind-of-thing-happens-all-the-time manner. As the deputy listened with interest, an incredulous look crossed his face. It seemed he may have been trying to stifle a smile. He seemed understanding as he scribbled something in his small, black notebook.
"I am so sorry for the inconvenience," I said. I considered continuing the apology but figured I'd better quit. I imagined what he wrote in his log book was "Fool with car alarm trying to scare off mooses."
This incident led to the development of a new, improved, moose alarm with an automatic shut-off feature.
We've now lived on our rural property for four years. It looks like we might make 10.
I've grown to relish it here, even with all of its challenges. I enjoy waking up to the sunshine. I rejoice in the songs of the meadowlarks in the morning. I cherish the solitude. But maybe most of all, I love the fact that Woolley has decided snakes are not toys.