Home for the summer: Of cabins, critters and creative coexistence
By: Jan Kent, Lake County News Chronicle
Animals just seem to turn up at our little cabin on the lake. Lots of birds we can identify; many more that we can’t. There are gulls we can’t ignore and ravens making their usual fuss.
We also have chipmunks – herds of chipmunks. They’re always around, under the cabin, running down the path, and, especially, under the bird feeders. We also have at least one red squirrel that competes with the chipmunks in heroic attempts to jump sideways from a tree and get a grip on the bird feeder. We keep moving the feeders farther from the trees; the critters keep improving their broad- jump distances. At the moment, the humans are winning, but we’re not holding our breath.
Bears and raccoons also turn up at the cabin, and at the bird feeders. Raccoons, with their tricky little hands, can sit on the roof and hand-over-hand the feeder up to where they’re perched. This usually happens late at night, and when the little bandits are finished with the sunflower seeds and pitch the feeder back down off the roof, wow! It really gets your attention.
But it’s the summers when we have bears that we never forget to bring in the feeders at night. Bears are not subtle. When they bring down a feeder, it’s down for the count. One year we had a bear sniff out a creel hanging outside the cabin and do a number on that. We still have it (kind of a bizarre souvenir) but it won’t hold a fish anymore. We’ve had bears rambling down our road, snuffling around the cabin, and years back, before we screened in the porch, a bear rearranged the chairs on the deck. Fortunately, unlike in the Goldilocks story, he didn’t try sitting on any of them.
Some years, after we’ve gone back to Chicago for the winter, a wolf takes up residence in our back woods. We’ve seen the evidence when we return in the spring, but have never actually seen a wolf on our property. And we’ve never had a moose hanging around, either. Now, that would be fun.
Not surprisingly, we have deer. Sometimes we have them in the summer, but we always have them in the winter. There’s a cleared area, close to the lake where it’s just a little warmer than back in the woods (the banana belt, locals tell us). It’s a human-free area for the cold months and it’s just too good for the deer to pass up, when we come back to the cabin in the spring, we can see flattened deer bed areas and droppings all over the place.
Once in a while we’ll have a deer move into our woods for the summer. Then we get a glimpse of him or her when we walk our paths or go down our road. This year, when I glanced out the kitchen window early one morning, I saw a young buck standing next to my car. Then he started a slow walk down our gravel path to the kitchen door.
Just off the path and outside the kitchen door is something we bought years ago at a flea market at the Finland Heritage Site. It’s a deer made of a log. He has perky little wooden ears, a leather tale, antlers made of branches, long stick legs – and a red plaid scarf around his neck. He is about the size of an actual deer. Every fall we pull out his stick legs and store his bits and pieces in the shed. Every spring we reassemble him. So far other local animals have paid no attention to him.
Not this time. Almost to the cabin, the deer paused to get a good look (and me without a camera) at the wooden deer, and seemed to stare into its eyes.
Maybe he was jealous of the scarf.
Jan Kent writes for the Lake County News-Chronicle – in the summers, anyway.