At Odds With the Animal Kingdom

At Odds With the Animal Kingdom

Bees that send me to cursing at church cookouts, horror stories starring our pet hamsters, and those darn green lizards—my unfortunate run-ins with the animal kingdom

Although I was only six years old, I remember this day vividly. I was enamored by the greenness of the earth, blown away by the expansive terrain, and surprised that more existed than what I had seen out of the tall windows of the snowed-in brownstone house we had just left in Chicago. We were on a road trip, going to the tiny coastal town of Davis, near the Outer Banks. I was fogging the glass of the big Buick, tuning out the clamor of my brother and sister beside me. Herman and the Hermits were singing "I'm Henry the Eighth I Am." I felt so small and insignificant, yet totally important simultaneously. It was the first time that I knew that I wasn't in charge of a darn thing and the person that was, well he was smiling above those clouds. He knew I was in for one hell of a ride.


Somewhere in the foothills of the mountains we stopped at a roadside tourist attraction. Mom put money in a bubble gum type of machine and food poured out into a pan. We slid the pan under the grate of an iron enclosure that led down from the mountain side. Wild black bears sauntered down to eat. One bear sat on his butt and stuck his furry paw through the iron rail, motioning with his hand for me to come back as we left. The only animals I could remember having seen before were monkeys with red behinds and giraffes inside fenced enclosures at the Chicago zoo.


That first summer on the coast across from Ocracoke was an experience to say the least. It was here that I realized for the first time that I am at odds with the animal kingdom. The first day we moved into the little white house I was stung by a wasp as I stuck my arm into a heavy-laden fig bush. The onslaught of that summer included: red ants, crabs, flopping fish, mosquitoes, lizards and crabs, no see-ums (wish I hadn't seen ums), green flies, ticks... And there it began. Animals, insects, reptiles. It's not that they dislike me—it's that they want to get closer to me than they do other people. Like real close. For example, I've:


  • * Locked eyeballs with a bobcat while picking wild plums on a dirt road in Dorchester, SC.
  • * Had a paralyzing stare down with a huge python in a deserted, hurricane-demolished lot in Gulfport, MS while blackberry picking. He was probably a pet rendered homeless when Hurricane Camille devastated that coast and had lived in the undisturbed undergrowth for the seven years since.
  • * Frozen in my tracks as a huge buck broke through the woods one day in North Carolina. He rushed by me with a respectful stare that told me "Don't move and you'll be alright." I felt the breeze of his speed on my arms and legs as he flew by.
  • * Been questioned by coyotes slinking curiously around the perimeter of my yard with darting, untrusting eyes.
  • * Oh, then there was that alligator that tried to tip my jon boat over in a swampy Dorchester, SC pond while fishing for bream.
  • * And, mercifully, there was that truce with a skunk I surprised while gardening in North Carolina.


I could fill a book with categorical experiences with snakes, spiders, animals, and just weird stuff. All the while, I crave normalcy and peace with the creatures of the world. Then came the day when I crossed over—over to the dark side. It was bound to happen. Having four kids—two boys and two girls—at some point a varmit was going to become a pet. Hence my youngest daughter's hamster. She kept him in his cage in the bedroom she shared with her sister. One night, I was awakened as something large and furry crawled across my neck and wedged next to my ear. I grabbed a fistful of fur and slung it into the wall screaming. Lights came on throughout the house as four sleepy children and a husband filled the room to watch a hamster take his last breath. Now there were seven rooms in this house and six people to choose from. Really? Why me? No sympathy for mom though, just murderous accusing stares.


I apologized and promised to buy my daughter another hamster. We got another and this one was a cyclist. Exercising fool. He spun on that wheel all the time. In a better world, he could have been the lab prototype for the "Spin Craze." It's clicking and squealing wheel became a torture drip to everyone in the house. After a particularly loud evening I laid in bed unable to sleep. I crept down the hall into my daughters' room and quietly exited with the cage. I placed it in a closet so I wouldn't hear the clanging. The next morning, we got up running. I totally forgot that the hamster was in the closet. As I walked into the door from work that evening my daughter wanted to know where her hamster was. I opened the closet door to get the cage and froze. The hamster was still and lying on the wheel. Jesus, I killed another one. He apparently didn't know when daylight came and his nocturnal drive had him running all night. Another burial. I was labeled a repeat offender. Please don’t call PETA on me. Lord knows I don't want to hurt them, I would just like to be on an RSVP-basis with them. I have redeemed myself with varmits. We bought a guinea pig for our grand-baby that lived beyond its expected years and now, presumably, is in that hamster exercise ball in the sky.


But recently, I've been reminded once again that I will never escape the onslaught of the animal kingdom. The little green lizards. Everyone tells me of their sweet co-existence with these green snakes with legs. They pass each other along life's byways and highways. Not here. Case in point: I go to the pool one morning—lather up, tuck in, pull out, and stretch out. I pull out my magazine and a flash of green from afar catches my eye. Across the pool deck at least 30 feet away, a lizard with intent scrambles down a post and hits the deck running. I look around me and there is no one in its path but me. I pull up and it is still charging. When it is about to reach my chair I swat out with my magazine. Does it run away? No! It scampers stealthily beneath another chair and watches me ease back down into my laid back position. Then what does it do? It charges me again. I jump up and run the dang thing across the deck. It stands firm at the edge of the deck next to the pond, blowing bubbles at me defiantly. I flick it into the water with the magazine. For the next hour I can't think of a thing but that thing swimming up behind me for a flank attack.


Yes, as long as I am breathing they are going to find me. June bugs that fly into my shirt at ball games, bumblebees that make me say potty words at church cookouts, palmetto bugs that decide the best place for them to fly and land is the middle of my forehead. I type this as I am listening to a chorus of frogs outside of my patio. I think they are singing, "Why can't we be friends?" I answer, "We can, just send me a friend request"