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Sonoma County Gazette
Camp Meeker Beat by Tom Austin

Who Else Do We Share
the Forest With? 

Feb 1, 2019
by Tom Austin


It’s been a soggy January in Camp Meeker.  Not that I’m complaining — rain is never something to complain about in the west county – but there has been some odd behavior.  All sorts of little critters seem to be trying to take shelter in my front hallway.  Those stupid tiny moths and that thing that is either a big slow mosquito or a miniature crane fly – a Shetland pony fly or something.  This is just in the last couple of days — I have lived here almost twenty years and this is the first I’ve seen it. 

Peaceful Coexistence. Not that this is the first time I have had small life forms in my house.  The spiders and I have reached a general agreement:  I will do my best to conduct them safely outside when they get stuck in my bathtub, and they will eat any termites they find. I don’t think either of us has kept our side of the bargain perfectly, but as long as both sides find benefit in the deal we will keep our uneasy coexistence.  

Then there is my back yard.  Banana slugs are frequent enough visitors that you can’t really call them visitors.  They, too, find their way inside from time to time, and are duly and politely escorted from the premises.  It just seems to be a little over the top to taunt a slug.  They have so much else to deal with, and no shell to withdraw to when it all gets a little much. Another local creature well adapted to the damp is the Pacific Giant Salamander.  This big little fella grows up to a foot long.   I saw one crouched under the fern in my back yard my first year here, and haven’t seen one since- but that’s only proof that I don’t get out enough. They are here, mastering the art of Not Being Seen.   

Who else do we share the forest with?  On the ground, you will see a number of small varmints, like the dusky-footed wood rat, the vole (though they are more associated with drier and grassier climes, they do live along creeks and rivers), and of course the raccoon, who is if not an apex predator certainly qualifies as a neighborhood tough – as my trash cans will ruefully attest.   I surprised one on my deck one evening.   He was apparently cornered, and would have to get past me to leave.   I was certainly willing to negotiate a peaceful withdrawal, but that turned out to be unnecessary.   He hopped over the railing without so much as a by your leave and shimmied down the rainspout, head down and nimbly as you please. 

Speaking of neighborhood toughs, I give you the Blue Jays and the Crows. They are not considered as majestic as any of the raptors, but they demand respect and receive it.   Way back in the day, a friend of mine rescued an injured screech owl that had been nicked by a passing car. She stashed it in an empty rabbit hutch and, thickly gloved, fed it raw hamburger.  The mouse who slipped in there one night looking to feast on rabbit leavings also became a meal. At any rate, the screech owl was soon feeling better and ready to be released.   We took it out to the back yard for the farewell ceremony.  My friend might have hoped for a last look of gratitude from the owl, but there was no such.  As soon as the own realized he was free to go, off he went – to be immediately pursued through the trees by a murder of crows. I’m not just being all Sting-pretentious in using the correct word there – the word “murder” is a verb in the preceding sentence.  Fortunately for the owl, he made it to safety.

The last tranche of forest fauna probably don’t venture within the Camp Meeker “city limits” all that often, but rest assured they are out there:  bobcats, bears, and pumas.  Sorry, I guess they go by “mountain lion” here. Or cougar.   Or panther. It’s all the same species, Puma Concolor, and they are out there. I don’t know if any make permanent homes in our forest, but if so it might be only one.   Cougars are highly territorial and a male cougar might claim a territory of fifty to a hundred square miles.  That’s from here to Jenner and all points in between.   

When I say “my favorite thing about Camp Meeker is my neighbors,”I’m not just talking about you fine people – fine as you undoubtedly are. We live within a much larger community than that.



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