Down the Road a Piece
Critters, night and day
The other morning I was outside, hanging the bird feeder, sprinkling sunflower seeds for the squirrels and wild turkeys, and staring at the ground.
Staring at the ground is not usually one of my day-off activities, but I was staring at tracks, bigger than kitty, shaped wrong for fox, not big enough for coyotes, but maybe the right size for.....
The night critters that Dolores saw a night or two later, when she turned on the porch light for a last peek before bedtime.
She told me about what she had seen a day or two later. Night critters aren’t unusual enough in our yard to cause an announcement. Unless it had been a mountain lion, bear, or moose, none of which it had been been.
Actually it was a “they,” she told me. She said she had wondered about them at the time, and she described them to me. She described a momma and youngster fisher.
She hadn’t been alarmed by them, nor was I surprised after seeing those tracks in the snow. When I had seen them, the word “fisher” had come to mind, but I hadn’t seen one in our yard for about a year and a dozen years before that had been when one had been eating bird food on our Steuben deck along with one of our kitties.
Fishers, of course, carry a kind of superstitious fear for people, the fear that they might attack you. But, hey, they prefer mice and molasses-doused deer grain, which they had been nibbling when Dolores spotted them the other night. Why would any self-respecting and self-preserving fisher want to attack and try to eat some huge critter covered in artificial-fabric clothing and hard shoes with which it could kick a poor hungry fisher? Mice and molasses-doused deer grain make easier meals.
Mice are soft, warm, and not overly furry. That grain must be sweet.
My most recent siting of this 35- to 37-inch long member of the weasel family (according to Wikipedia) was early one morning as I was headed out to drive my little bus. It was still dark, and I saw it as I glanced toward a large pine just above our driveway. It was on my side of the tree, took one look at me, and did it’s kind of “wavy” run behind the tree and into the woods.
I must have looked like I’d make a poor breakfast. But, then, maybe 5 a.m. is a bit early for a fisher’s breakfast.
But it was startling, as a quick sight of a fisher always is. So quick I’ve never gotten a photo, but Wikipedia has some on its page about these critters.
The one I had seen at our Steuben house was maybe one of the strangest views I’ve come across. We had started by feeding birds in a bird house attached to a rail on our deck. Soon many -- and squirrels and then raccoons -- had showed up for the free chow that we had expanded our supper table to the deck floor. We had fed them all there for several years, even the momma raccoon who tried to come into the house when I had slid open the deck door to deposit her kitty food for her. (Fast-thinking, courageous me had used the bowl to shove her back outside.)
But one evening when I glanced out at all the other critters, including one of our cats, there was Mr. Fisher, nibbling cat food and bird food alongside the kitty. I had actually slid the door open a bit for a better look before I had spotted the fisher. He took one look at me, grabbed another mouthful, and slid off the deck and out of sight, kind of like a rich relative would do at sight of a poor country cousin.
The cat disappeared too, but in a minute was at the back door, letting me know he wanted to come in -- assuming, I suppose, there was no fisher in the house.
The only other one I’ve seen was years before on Black Mountain in Sumner in western Maine. I had been hiking up a trail, relaxed, and thinking no thoughts at all, as far as I remember, when this dark critter sped quickly past on the far side of a blowdown.
Creatures of the night, yes, but twice for my viewing pleasure in broad daylight.
Other night critters I’ve seen in the day are, of course, the raccoons, who have shown up in daylight so many times I don’t recall all those photo opts. Owls don’t usually show up in the daytime, but they have entertained me a couple of times.
Once when I was a kid in Pennsylvania, I was walking our shepherd-collie on a leash, like you’re supposed to do in those civilized lands. We were on a woods path, and I heard a commotion in the brush just above us. I stepped into the brush in time to watch an owl grabbing a screaming cottontail. They argued a short time, and the owl won.
Like Frazier on the old TV sitcoms, I left the scene -- not the building -- quickly. Old Shep and I discussed it very briefly, and continued our walk.
I’ve seen a mountain lion alongside a highway, a bobcat in our yard, a coyote in our yard and one running across a road in front of my car, and lots of fox, which are not necessarily critters of the night.
But the fisher remains the top contender of my night memories of excitement.*
There was something about the one up by our pine tree, when he -- or she, but large enough to probably be he rather than she -- looked at me.
Those eyes might have been evil.
After all, when you’re heading for work in the pre-dawn hours, anything is evil.
*From Wikipedia, “Despite the name fisher, the animal is not known to eat fish. The name comes from colonial Dutch fisse or visse due to its resemblance to the European polecat (Mustela putorius). In the French language, the pelt of a polecat is also called fiche or fichet.
In some regions the fisher is known as a pekan, derived from its name in the Abenaki lanaguage. Wejack is an Algonquian word (cf. Cree wuchak, otchock, Ojibwa ojiig) borrowed by fur traders. Other American Indian names for the fisher are Chipewyan thacho and Carrier chunihcho, both meaning "big marten", and Wabanaki uskool.”
Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Milton M. Gross Copyright 2013