When my wife Andi and I made the decision to move a bit westward – chasing the dream of a bit more square footage and a heaping helping of acreage upon which we could raise some pups and kids – we knew we were taking a big leap into uncharted territory. We certainly had no intention of leaving the state, as the two of us had both grown up on the eastern front of Massachusetts, never more than a 1/2 hour drive to the ocean. And while you’d be hard-pressed to call me a city boy, the small towns we came from were far removed from those Rockwellian fantasies that dotted the Saturday Evening Post. There was some life in them.
Our home towns were quaint but on the move – a nice little swatch of suburbia that boasted sizeable populations yet still allowed one to take a waltz in their backyard on a warm summer night and trip the light fantastic – staring up at brilliant brushstroke of star light unblemished by the glare of city lights. They were nice places to grow old in meaning the second you were of age, like every anxious kid, you saw how good you had it and decided you’d rather be anywhere but there. The grass is always greener, right?!?!?
We didn’t meet until our mid-twenties but both of us had grown up in nice home towns that straddled that line between country and city. Small towns – not rural towns. Thus the decision to go westward bound was a big one. At the time we were living in Brockton – a small city South of Boston. Taking advantage of a booming housing market, we cashed in on the over inflated gains our quaint Cape afforded us and grabbed hold of our dream house – a nice, frontier style home standing sentinel over 1.65 acres of yard and woodland – situated in South Central Massachusetts, just on the Connecticut border.
Moving west of Rte 495 was truly crossing the cultural divide. Move a hair to the East and property values rose in parallel with the population. Meander West and both took a dive. Meaning, a pioneering spirit could find a decent home and land just a few inches outside the norm and yet still reside close enough to old friends and family to make a weekend excursion fairly routine. And that’s just what we did. Rather than settle for a makeshift money pit in our comfort zone, we threw caution to the wind and packed it up for the wild frontier.
Into the Woods.
A short while later, in that moment when the new home honeymoon dissipates, that a fearful thought took root. When we said goodbye to eastern MA, we closed the book on civilization. What we thought were small towns had nothing on our new zip code. I should have spied the portents when we first pulled into town and all the townsfolk threw open their shutters and rushed to the sidewalks to sneak a peek at the inbound city-slickers and their mobilized carriage. When they counted my choppers and instantly declared me Mayor for Life, I reached for the Listerine and showed ’em all how it was done. Give me a year, and I could bring fire to these people.
That was 5 years ago this August and a lot has changed since then. For starters, we’ve got floss, or at least this truly fine corn silk that’s only missing that much coveted 4 out of 5 dentist’s recommendation. What I wouldn’t give to run into that lone dissenter and see what his beef is. I digress.
The biggest change though has got to be the final appearance of wild life.
See, when we first decided that we would move to the country, I was absolutely convinced that within the first 60 days, I’d be mauled, massacred or mated with a lion, tiger or bear. Oh my, did I worry about that. But when 60 days passed – then another 60 – then a few months followed by several years – and I found myself still standing without any bastard badgers running around out there looking to locate their papa, I realized my fears were all for naught.
I’d seen a more active Wild Kingdom on a warm Brockton night than I’d encountered in 4 years running in Dudley. Of course, the glowing eyes that I spied nightly, staring at me from the sparse expanse of tree line that bordered my Brockton property, were more likely connected to the indigenous creatures one might find on a rerun of C.O.P.S. When you’re on the run from Brockton’s Finest and can’t find a kiddie pool to cower under, make a beeline for the bushes.
We knew our departure to Dudley would lead to a decrease in ravenous meth addicts, which was a plus, but what we lost in crackheads we’d likely gain in Velociraptors.
And yet, the Earth spiraled ’round the sun 4 times and continued on its 5th journey before we finally received proof positive evidence that there be monsters here. Three times this summer, I have been visited upon by some creatures, great and small, and barely lived to tell the tale.
We’ll start nice and small… and normal… and move on to where the wild things are.
About a month back, Andi and I were playing with the kids in the backyard, when we noticed we had a curious visitor tailing our every movement from the other side of the chain link. There was this cute little puppy – of mixed breed so hard to pinpoint that it appeared a mad scientist had successfully shaken a cocktail of several diverse breeds and through the magic of weird science somehow, against all odds, brought forth something absolutely adorable. Seriously, this little hippogriff has the body of a pug/bulldog, the head of a lab, the ears of a cocker spaniel and the wingspan of a pterodactyl.
With six families on our street, we have a map of our world and unless someone had recently got a puppy, this stranger was new to our neighborhood. I went over to greet the bouncing, bounding pup and checked his collar for tags. Of course, there were none. So I decided to walk up and down the street looking to see if someone was looking for his or her lost pooch. The dog was nicely groomed so I knew he had a home and based on his young age, there had to be a frantic parent searching for him out there. Alas, after 30 minutes or so, I gave up the search of vacant streets and decided we should call this in to animal control.
Animal control arrived – completely vexed as to this pup’s lineage – and agreed to bring him in with hopes that the owners would be around to claim him soon. As days passed, Andi and I debated whether we should inquire on the pup’s predicament but voted against it, as we couldn’t bear to think that the poor pup hadn’t been claimed.
Just when we were about to give in and make the call, Andi made a startling discovery while looking out our window. There, through a dense thicket of brush, she spied our canine comrade – lazily sunning himself on our neighbor’s lawn – within the confines of their fence. Turns out, we had sent their pup to the clink.
Well, that’s what they get for never throwing a collar on him. More importantly, how were we to know, when this same neighbor is known for trotting out a vast menagerie of critters that has included horses, chickens, roosters, goats, sheep, Yeti but never… I repeat, never, a dog or cat. Sure, I know it’s normal for some rural families to lay claim to livestock, but this house is different. None of those animals has ever cohabitated alongside each other. A giraffe moves in. He grazes for a week or two. And then he’s never seen or heard from again. Drifters, on the other hand…
Leading us to critter number two in this creature cavalcade.
Critter? What am I talking about? We’re talking about a genuine behemoth. Weighing in at 600 lbs, our neighbors have now introduced a bottomless bacon dispenser to the burg.
I crossed paths with Porky about a month ago as I turned the corner to pull up my driveway and met an instant roadblock. There, standing before me, was either the biggest oinker I’d ever seen or I don’t know Alec Baldwin. Seriously, this pig stands about 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide. And at 600 pounds, it has the land speed of a sloth mating with a snail.
While it appeared as docile as could be, all I could think of was what would happen if Colin or Aria were to stroll an inch or two in front of its maw. The last thing I needed was a starring role on Channel 7’s All Alliteration News Hour as Katarina Bandini brought us live to Dudley MA, to the scene of the “PORCINE PICNIC“.
So, I knew I had to get this thing out of the yard. The question was how? My Carrier Jet is in the shop and I lent my RPG to those nice extremists that moved in down the road. Thinking quickly, I grabbed for the most dangerous weapon a Soon-To-Be Soccer Dad has at the ready.
If this thing could cart Grades K – 12 to Friendly’s for a post game celebration, than it could certainly wallop Wilbur. I figured I could start with the horn and if a little friendly coaxing didn’t do the trick, then I’d go straight to the vehicular porcine-icide. (<— The nice thing about a Blog – you get to invent your own words).
Two hours later, the battery was dead, the minivan was a makeshift Mini Cooper and I was on my knees, offering the pig anything if it would just listen to reason and please leave my land.
“All right. All right. All right. I’ll play the Ned Beatty part. Just please leave my lawn.”
Fortunately, a friend of my neighbor came driving by moments before I lost the battle and my innocence and joined the fray. He started with a golf club and progressed through his arsenal before he and the pig’s owner finally decided upon an armada of tractors to prompt Porky Pig back home. Five hours later, Operation Dumbo Drop was a success. My once peaceful home was finally free of animal antagonists.
For a day anyway as this true tale takes its final terrifying twist.
The following day, I was in the backyard tossing a ball for my labs, Abby and Chatham, when Chats started nosing around the shed at the rear of the property. Now, it’s not unusual for Chatham to feign interest in a game of ball toss. She’s the world’s first Labrador Deceiver.
Anyway, whatever she was at, was especially enticing, leading me to believe that she’d found nature’s first home grown Snausage Tree. Except, this tree was moving and screaming.
Or, more to the point, cawing.
It turns out that Chatham had found a crippled crow that was cowering in the bushes. It was smallish but definitely not a baby. Regardless, I immediately ushered the dogs into the house so I could help the bird out of our yard. Of the 1.65 acres, we have about 1/2 an acre fully fenced in, with two gates resting closer to the house. Of course, the crow was at the ass-end of the yard, completely equidistant from either gate and about as far away as it could possibly be. It was obvious that it couldn’t fly as its right wing appeared clipped but other than that, it could move just fine and didn’t appear to be in any pain. I knew I had to get it out of the yard as the dogs would just torment it if they came back out. Now, these aren’t killer canines but I’m pretty sure they thought their Frisbee had developed a voice and I couldn’t resign this crow to its inevitable fate as chew toy.
I decided that the best way to get the crow out of the yard was to follow a few feet behind it, banging the ground with a broom that would then coax the bird to hop and skip along the fence line a few inches at a time. At that rate, I should be able to ferry it out of the yard before sundown, just in time for Boss Hog to return and resume this Sisyphusian samba.
About a half hour later, including a five minute stretch where I lost the bird in a thicket of brush, Heckle and I arrived at the gate. I deftly swung the latch up and patted the ground one final time – letting the bird know that his savior had set him free. And for the first time, the crow turned its head back, looked me square in the eye and let out an angry CAW!!! While the CAW slightly creeped me out, it was the echoed refrain that chilled my blood. A chorus of CAWS rained down from the trees above. All around me came the same sound – at different distances and decibels.
CAW CAW CAW CAW CAW CAW CAW CAW CAW CAW CAW CAW CAW CAW
My eyes darted, scanning the skies looking for the source of this unholy union, but I couldn’t find flock nor feather. But they were there. Their sickly symphony continued. The band of blood brothers played on.
I did what any fully grown, strapping 37 year-old male would do in that situation. I ran away from the Boogeyman – beating my feet in fast retreat. As I crossed the threshold to our home, slamming the door shut and latching the shutters, desperately straining for one last breath, Andi anxiously asked me what the matter was. Not wanting to alarm her and tip her off to the mounting Hitchcockian horror growing en masse around our home, I replied, “Saw a bee.”
Over the next few hours, the crows kept it up. I never saw a single bird, but I heard legion. And while the particulars of their language elude me, their message was universal.
“We got you now, city boy!!!”