Monthly Archives: December 2014

Mouse in da House

Not that we were surprised or anything– yeah, we had mice. Our first day of moving in, Anni was eagerly inspecting the lovely antique hand carved tallboy bureau in the master bedroom. When she opened a top drawer, lo and behold! – a nest. With tiny baby mice in it, no less.

Oh swell. Now we were right up against our stated intention to live out here in the Forest with the critters, close to the land; use no poisons, kill no critters, plant no non-indigenous Florida plants, recycle everything– the whole Back to the Earth thing. But. We couldn’t leave that smelly nest where it was or Ann’s underwear would be chewed to bits!

It was warm enough that November that we didn’t worry too much about the little ones being outdoors, their momma would probably find them, right? So out they went, someplace Anni found that was “relatively” safe from predators. We hoped.

Fast-forward a few weeks to a cold winter’s night, quite late, when we were rudely awakened by a loud thumping and banging. I grabbed a flashlight and headed toward Anni’s side of the cabin, which seemed to be the center of the action.

Anni had the bathroom light on and was apparently talking to Cami the Siamese cat. As I turned the corner of the bathroom hallway I heard “Now you just–ugh!- no, come with me…agh!” then a loud squeal-scream sound that I had never heard Cami make. Freaked out, I bolted the last couple of steps into the bathroom and before me was a scene from a comic book, or a children’s tale, or maybe just a bad dream.

Anni was bent over the foot of the tub, her back to me, struggling with a slippery Cami, who was wriggling like an insane thing, clawing at Anni and spinning in mid-air as Anni groped for a better hand-hold. The squeal-screaming went on and as I processed that the sound was coming from someone or something besides Cami, Anni yelled “Damnit! Quite scratching me, Cami!”

One step closer to the action and I could now see that at the other end of the tub, under the faucet, was a grey field mouse standing on its hind legs, squealing at the top of its little lungs while it frantically clawed the air in front of it.

“Oh my god!” I stood rooted to the spot until Anni barked “I could use a hand here!  — Damnit, Cami!”

Somehow we managed to fling Cami out of the bathroom and close the door. Panting, Anni stood at the end of the tub glaring at the mouse as it was doing its best to try to jump up the slick sides of the tub to escape, but the sides were way too tall.

Before I could ask, Anni explained that she had heard the racket in the bathroom, came in, turned on the light, and there were Cami and the mouse down in the tub, duking it out! The cat was trying to snag the mouse, but the mouse was making a credible effort to defend itself, with squeals, screams and snarls, running in circles and finally standing on its hind feet to claw out at the cat!

If I hadn’t witnessed the mouse’s defensive stance, I wouldn’t have believed it.

We started chuckling and watched the little rodent as it pitched itself again and again at the slick tub walls, to no avail.

We decided that was one brave little critter that surely deserved to live to fight another day, so Anni put something over it (a hat, I think), caught it up, and headed outside to let it go. She was trailed all the way by Cami, who stared at Anni’s hand and meowed most pitifully.

Round Two

The winter pressed on and we soon grew tired of waking to the sound of pots and pans rattling at night in the kitchen, with little mouse turds left behind to inform on the culprits. Trying to forestall the raiding of the pantry,  we abandoned Zip-Lok bags for sturdy plastic containers to store any and all dry foods. We kept what we could in the fridge, which was not only a deterrent to mice but also larder beetles and the tiny sugar ants that would go on safari throughout the open kitchen area. Keeping up with the critter incursions was almost a full time job– one that wore thin as the seasons spun around.

By the time winter #2 was in full swing, I opened up a bedside drawer to don a favorite sweater, only to discover a mouse had made a nest using a vast amount of my sweater material, and then had the gall to piss all over the nest as well! What a stinky mess to clean up. That was it. War was declared. Forget the Back to the Earth movement, it was Them or Us.

Checking shoes and boots for spiders and scorpions was one thing. Keeping a wary eye out for the venomous snakes was OK, it was their yard and lake after all. Scraping the mold off anything leather before you donned it was understandable, as was storing anything and everything you wanted to preserve in some sort of hard plastic. I got all that. But I was NOT going to give up my kitchen to the damn mice. And their pee. And their pellets.

So, out came the Have-A-Hart live traps. Which didn’t work worth a damn. Next thing, we graduated to the glue traps. Well, OK those worked fine. Except the first night we caught a mouse, we came into the kitchen and turned on the light (middle of the night, of course) to see what was causing all that thumping. It was a field mouse, with all four feet knee-deep in the glue trap, flipping itself and the trap across the counter as it tried to gain freedom. The string we’d threaded through a hole in the edge of the trap and tied off to I-forgot kept the thing from dancing off onto the floor and under the stove or a wall, thank goodness.

We looked at each other. Well, someone had to put the mouse away in a somewhat humane manner, there was simply no pulling its little feet out of that glue. So, we disposed of it by suffocating it in a plastic bag and– no, I really can’t go on. It seemed so barbaric and awful.

Once again I cried. Jeez. This living close to the land really sucked. But damnit, this was also a question of health and safety. The kitchen was off limits. I could tolerate critters anywhere but there. We’d just keep tightening our defense tactics and keep a couple of glue traps out, just in case.

And yeah we did catch a couple more mice but then the weather warmed and the issue went away. For the moment.

MouseGlue

Google Image

Web of Life

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Lakefront Views- sunshine and thunderstorm.

I have said many times that I felt destined to spend the rest of my life trying to re-create the experience we had living at the lake house. Living close to the wildlife, following the patterns of light and dark, the cycles of the moon, the seasons and the weather and getting to know our wild neighbors, their patterns, territories, and watching them raise their young — it was as if the only reality was life at the lake. But of course we had a business to run, bills to pay, clients to satisfy and a really large property and cabin to care for and keep up.

Somehow it all blended together, we made it work, we fit in as best we could, and consciously determined to observe and appreciate rather than encroach and threaten. The lake mellowed us, and it was easy at times to take it all for granted– that it would all be there, forever, and we would be there as well.

And sometimes things just happened that demanded attention, reminding us that there may be a price to pay for the serenity of this place, and what we viewed as a bucolic existence.

On the plus side, we got to know the locals pretty well. We could tell the section of the lake where our closest Southern Bald Eagle pair claimed their fishing rights, and we would watch for hours as they battled Ospreys in mid-air out over the fishing grounds. We knew where the invisible dividing line was between the territory of the big ‘gator that lived south of our dock, and the much smaller ‘gator that hung out on the north side of our dock. We kept track of momma otter after she had three kits, and tried to sneak up close enough for a really good photo, but she’d always shoo them off before we could get close enough.

Sometimes a big, ugly leathery Alligator snapping turtle would haul herself up on the lawn on a warm Spring morning, dig a nest in the sandy soil and deposit her eggs. We’d sip our coffee and watch, and even take a photo or capture some video. Including the morning that the raccoon came out of the woods, glanced at the turtle who was making her way back down to the lake, then promptly raided the nest. The eggs hadn’t been in the ground five minutes before they were being gobbled up.

“So much for the theory that ‘coons are nocturnal,” Anni wryly observed.

Short video- turtle and ‘coon

Then there was one summer afternoon, late in the day with rain threatening, the wind picking up and starting to blow palm fronds and Spanish moss from the trees. From down at the lake came a penetrating scream that had Anni and I flying out the back porch, the screen door slamming behind us as we snatched up broom sticks and ran down the lawn toward the sound.

We had no idea what was being attacked. Hansel and Gretel were up front near the barn, so they were OK. Maybe it was Sneaker the cat, or perhaps a wild critter. We were reacting to a soul-wrenching cry — you’d run too, if you heard it.

The screams got louder as we came to the concrete goose pond that Anni had built, and the little creek that flowed behind it through swampland at the edge of the lake. Peering through the wire fence of the property line, we tried to locate the source of the sounds. Past the fence the swamp took over, and as we stared at the greenery thrashing about, we both spotted the attack at the same time.

A large male raccoon had a small, young raccoon pinned down on a log and was viciously biting and tearing at the baby, who was screaming and writhing about, trying to get away. But the adult raccoon was easily two to three times the size of the baby, and it was no contest.

We both started screaming at the raccoon, and as Anni cast about for something to throw at the ‘coon, it just looked at us as it held the baby pinned beneath a heavy paw. The baby’s upper half was just out of the water and as it struggled I could see that it was losing what little purchase it had on the log.

We kept yelling and finally threw our broomsticks at the ‘coon, but it was too far away. We stood helpless as we watched the adult raccoon tear at the baby and finally the baby slipped off the side of the log and we lost sight of it.

The big ‘coon looked back over its shoulder at us briefly and then loped off into the woods. We stood, helpless– dumbstruck and saddened.

We agreed there was nothing we could do– the water was too deep, there was no way we’d get over that fence without getting seriously injured or cut by the rusty razor wire. We’d have to enter the lake, wade through heaven-knows-what dangers in wind-whipped shallows, and there was no guarantee we’d find the baby, even if we could figure out how to get back into that swampy area from the lake.

About that time the thunder and a slashing rain signaled we needed to get indoors.

Every time we experienced one of these events, we’d talk about it, try to learn from it, try to figure out if there was any way we had caused a situation or what we could do in the future to avoid it– but the fact was, these things happened. The tree fell in the forest and we were there to hear it so yes, it really did happen.

—-

Another time we were unpacking groceries from the car after a long day at work. It was just about dusk, and as we came into the cabin and started putting groceries away, we heard what sounded like a pack of dogs fighting in the back yard, down near the lake.

Once again we were on the run, dropping groceries, snatching up broom sticks, flying out the rear screen door with a “Bang!” and racing down the lawn.

We could see two or three dogs fighting furiously at the base of an old tree. The violence of their movements made it difficult to tell what was going on, but right away I could see that one of the dogs was our neighbor Jack’s “Lucky”, a most placid pet. What the hell would get her so riled up? My brain went right to…

“Rabies!” Anni yelled, as she came to an abrupt halt some 40 feet from the fracas. “They may be fighting a rabid animal! Run back and get the shotgun–and get a flashlight! NOW!”

I didn’t hesitate, I hauled ass back to the cabin, figuring Anni had enough sense to keep her distance. Somehow I grabbed the shotgun, a handful of buckshot shells, a flashlight, and raced back outside and down the lawn.

By now it was dark enough that I couldn’t make out who was who. Anni grabbed the flashlight from me, yelled “Is it loaded?” and as I chambered a round, she edged closer to the tumbling, snarling mix of bodies.

“I’m pretty sure the dogs have cornered a ‘coon at the base of that old tree!” Anni explained.

I couldn’t see any raccoon. “Where is the ‘coon?” I yelled above the din.

Then things got real slow, or real fast, I was never sure. Somehow Jack was there, yelling at his dog and telling me “Don’t shoot until I have Lucky out of the way!” while Anni was yelling “Get closer and get ready to shoot the ‘coon, its back is broken.”

“Don’t hit any of the dogs!” Jack yelled as he struggled to use Lucky’s collar to pull her back from the fray.

One of the remaining two dogs screamed, jumped back and ran off into the woods. The other one ran when Anni whacked it with her broomstick. Then, in the flashlight beam I could clearly see the open, bloody jaws and mangled face of a large raccoon. The thing was breathing hard and fast, snarling and growling and crying, and I stood there, unsure what to do next.

Anni said, in a surprisingly calm tone, “It’s done for, Lynn. They broke its back. You need to shoot it.”

“Where? How?”

“What do you mean?” I remember Anni sounding impatient, which somehow kicked me out of my confusion.

I explained that I couldn’t see where it had a broken back, and both Anni and Jack assured me the ‘coon was a torn up mess. They’d seen it as it had dragged itself into the hole among the roots of the tree, using its front paws and dragging its rear legs.

Jack offered to shoot the ‘coon if one of us would hold Lucky, and I took him up on the offer. No sooner than I had Lucky in a firm grip, I heard “Bang!” followed a few seconds later with another “Bang!”

“Well, that sure did it,” Jack said, sadly. He handed me back the weapon and I turned Lucky over to him.

The next day or maybe that night, I really don’t recall, Jack and Anni buried the ‘coon right where it ended up. They covered it with a lot of lime and soil and then stacked big limestone rocks to keep animals (“Those damn dogs!” as Jack said) from digging up the remains.

It was a sad, traumatic event. Dogs will be dogs and ‘coons will be ‘coons and when they mix, neither walk away unharmed.

I guess Jack and Anni and I talked about that event quite a bit, and the conclusion was that folks with dogs need to keep them fenced in and on their property: which was an absurd notion, considering we were living out in the Forest, where everyone kept dogs, and where bears and coyotes and ‘gators and ‘coons and all manner of critters lived, and unless people were just going to go away and never live on the shores of a big lake in the Forest, we weren’t going to solve the issue between the three of us.

We did agree that it was a good thing to keep firearms, ammo, flashlights and broom sticks handy and to learn to act quickly and decisively.

CabinSunCrop

The Bob Cat

After one of our Rhode Island Red hens had been mauled by something in the woods, we were keeping a cautious eye out for Martha and the Vandals, as we called these large and handsome chickens. Of course, we worked during the week in Ocala, and couldn’t watch them during the day, but the chances of anything successfully taking one of the Girls during the day was pretty slim, and we were careful to pen them up at night.

Anni had also picked up a used .410 shotgun that, in light of recent events, we decided would be useful as a “just in case” weapon, especially if we needed to dispatch another mortally injured critter.

One breezy Saturday afternoon Anni had gone into Ocala for something, and I was puttering around the house when a commotion out by the barn alerted me to a situation unfolding. It seemed the yard around the barn was emptying quickly of scattering,  squawking chickens, and even the geese were running from the scene, flapping their wings and trying to get air-borne.

Looking out through the front screen door, I snatched a glimpse of a what I thought might be a Bob Cat just as it darted around the back side of the barn.

I snatched up the .410 leaning against the fireplace and a handful of snake-shot shells we kept around for discouraging varmints, chambered one of the rounds, clicked on the safety, and headed toward the barn, trying to be as quiet as possible so that I could surprise whatever was out there.

I stood quietly and listened, but the wind coming off the lake was making enough noise in the tree canopy that I couldn’t pick out anything unusual. As I came to the corner of the building, I slowly peeked around the wall and through the hurricane fence that formed a small enclosure behind the barn and there, standing some 30 feet away, was a full-grown Bob Cat! She (for it was a she, I saw her full teats) was very still, staring away from me into the edge of the woods.

Bob Cat-Google Images

Bob Cat-Google Images

I held my breath, slipped the safety off, and slowly raised the barrel to aim just behind the cat’s hind-quarters, where I figured a well-placed scattering of pellets would give her a good scare and dissuade her from coming after our chickens again. The problem was, I had to lean back a bit to swing the barrel up to position while avoiding hitting the fence, and of course the minute I moved, she spotted me.

Memory is a funny thing, but the best I can recall is that I leaned back, swung the barrel up, took aim well to the rear of her rear-end and squeezed the trigger, even as she sprang up and out from her standing position. “Bang!” went the rifle, and the cat reacted by jumping straight up. As soon as her paws hit the ground, she was gone, like that. She simply disappeared into the wall of vegetation.

I stood there, listening and looking at the woods, and it dawned on me that she was likely the culprit who had been picking off the little Bantam chickens–and she also likely attacked one of our Rhode Island Red hens during a party a couple of weeks earlier. It also dawned on me that she was a momma, and likely had at least one kitten somewhere. Finally, it dawned on me that maybe I should trail her into the woods and make sure I hadn’t actually hit her with a smattering of the scattered shot.

I think I was still in an adrenaline fog, or I would have realized as soon as I thought it that following a pissed-off, full-grown Bob Cat into dimly-lit thick woods on a cloudy afternoon was probably a foolish notion. I wasn’t going to see much at all, and as I penetrated the wall of vegetation and walked a few paces, I realized that I wasn’t going to hear a damn thing either. There was so much wind that the trees were thrashing about and I couldn’t even hear my own footsteps as my feet crushed dry twigs underfoot.

Well at least I had the presence of mind to chamber another round as I retraced my steps. I was glad to get back into the yard and get some distance between myself and the woods line.

As it turned out, neither of us ever spotted that Bob Cat again, but we did continue to lose chickens at an alarming rate, and before a year had passed, the flock of 20-some Bantams would be whittled down to two, and then none. Sadly, before the Bantams would disappear, Martha and The Vandals, all four of them, would be long gone, with nary a feather to mark their passing.

One Determined Snake

Just one of many!

Just one of many!

Early one Spring morning I was in the kitchen getting a cup of coffee when I heard a thump and a grunt from Anni’s bedroom. Pretty soon she stepped up into the great room, and came stomping past me, muttering to herself as she unlatched the front Dutch door, threw open the screen door and headed outside.

I stood at the door, puzzled, and watched her tromp up the driveway, past the barn and out to the front gate. She unlatched the gate, threw it open and walked across the road. I think I saw her toss something into the woods, then she came back through the gate, trailed by Hansel and Gretel, who were apparently as puzzled as I was.

“Want some coffee?” I asked as she came back inside the cabin.

“Yeah, I could use some, after that!” she exclaimed.

“What was that all about?” I asked. Turns out Anni was sitting on the toilet and when she reached behind her to grab the toilet paper from the roll, she spotted a rat snake on the windowsill just above the paper roller.

“Man, what was that snake doing there?” I asked.

“Working on its tan,” she replied dryly, with a shrug.

“Oh my god, what did you do?”

“Well, I pulled up my pants!”

Very funny. Actually, she did pull up her pants then calmly grabbed the snake, which quickly wrapped all 14 inches or so of itself around her arm.

“Then I took it out there and tossed it across the road!” she ended, with a note of finality.

Too weird. We laughed about such a rude awakening before one has had their first coffee, and moved on out to the porch to enjoy some peace and early morning quiet.

A few minutes later we heard a “Hullo” from the front and the gate being closed. Here came neighbor Carl, strolling down the drive and up to the Dutch door. He peered through the top part of the open door and said “Hey, can a guy get a cup of coffee?”

As Carl settled on a barstool with his coffee, Anni told him the tale of the snake.

“Hmmm,” he said, with a gleam in his eye. “Was it a rat snake, about this long?”

Anni blinked. “Yeahhhhh,” she said, waiting for the rest. There was always more, with Carl.

“Well I just saw that snake moving toward the house as I was coming down the drive. Looks like it’s headed back to that sunny spot!” Carl laughed, clearly delighted at Anni’s pained expression.

“Yeah well, we’ll see about that!” Anni said as she got up. We stood at the Dutch door and watched her walk up the driveway, scanning the ground. Soon, she stooped down, snatched at something and, muttering, she started walking around the side of the house, heading toward the back yard and the lake.

Carl and I laughed as we walked onto the porch and watched Anni trudging steadily down the lawn, onto the landing, out on the dock and down its full length to the T at the end.

Pretty soon Anni came back up the lawn and onto the screen porch, banging the screen door with finality.

“Well, that’s the end of that snake,” she stated.

Carl asked “Did you toss it off the end of the dock?”

“Yep. And it swam right back to the ladder, so I went down the ladder, grabbed it, and tossed it out there again!”

“No kidding!” We were amazed the snake was that determined.

“Yeah but the best part is,” Anni went on, and this time the gleam was in her eye, “No sooner had that snake hit the water than “wham”, an eagle swooped down out of nowhere and snatched that thing right up!”

“You’re kidding!” “No way!” We sat, stunned.

“Yep, I figure that eagle saw that snake the first time I tossed it and was watching and waiting,” Anni nodded. “It was sure ready when that snake hit the water the second time.”

The dock.

The dock.

Of course the story grew through its many retellings, but it always ended with Anni’s quip “The only thing is, I don’t think you can count on disposing of a snake quite the same way again!”

 

Cats, Dogs and a Gator

Someone brought us a stray black and white kitten, and we kept him inside until we figured he was large enough to dissuade One Eye or a hawk from trying to take him for lunch. “Sneaker” the cat soon became a wise outdoor cat, climbing large trees, hanging out on the roof of the house or the barn, and generally staying out of the way of the geese, and especially Hansel, who had a reputation among the animals for aggressively attacking anything that came near him or Gretel.

So there was Echo the Black Lab, Cami the Siamese (who stayed indoors except when she would escape and climb a tree), and Sneaker the tuxedo long-haired cat. And the geese and the Bantam chickens and the Rhode Island Red chickens. Then came Penny, the Golden Retriever-something mix.

PennyA rambunctious youngster, Penny needed a new home for whatever reason and somehow she ended up at Ziba Khaya, where her welcome was hardly warm: Echo found Penny annoying, Cami ignored her and Sneaker kept his distance, radiating disdain.

The first time Penny approached the geese, Hansel went into fierce attack mode and after that, Penny gave both geese a very wide berth. The chickens were just too tempting, and she initially chased them but enough humans were around to dissuade her firmly and consistently, and she soon tired of trying to play with critters that would fly or scurry away.

One afternoon Anni and neighbor Captain Jack were in the yard down near the lake when Penny came loping up to them, dripping mud and water, a wide grin on her face. Hanging from Penny’s tail was a baby ‘gator, its jaws clamped firmly on a tuft of the “feathers” of Penny’s lush Golden Retriever banner.

Penny seemed uncertain if she was frightened or delighted with her new friend, and as Anni bent down to make sure her eyes weren’t deceiving her– yep, that was a baby ‘gator, alright– Penny took off across the lawn, looking back over her shoulder at the dangling ‘gator. She’d stop, look back at her tail, and take off again, but no matter how she ran, the thing just stayed with her.

BabyGatorAnni and Jack were busting a gut laughing as they chased the dog around the lawn. Eventually Penny sat down and looked at the ‘gator, then back up as Anni and Jack approached. Finally, Jack held Penny, Anni got a grip on gator and with a yank, the ‘gator came free, along with a sizeable chunk of Penny’s lovely tail feathers.

After yelping with surprise, Penny quickly recovered and followed Anni as she walked down to the boat ramp and released the little reptile in the shallow water.

Famous and Infamous

 

JimTammyFaye2

In the spring of 1989, fallen televangelist Jim Bakker and his overly made-up  wife Tammy Faye found a brief haven from the press at “the Preacher’s compound” just up Yellow Bluff Road from Zibya Khaya.  We found out about it when we came home one day. As we turned off the highway and slowly bumped down the hill of the graded, dusty and canopied road, we turned the corner and had to brake hard to avoid hitting the corner of a TV station van. The vehicle was joined by at least three others like it, each sporting a logo of a different TV station from the metro Orlando area.

The vans were crammed tightly together, nose-to-tail, between the road and the high hurricane fence that surrounded the expansive and well-manicured lakeside property that the locals called “the Preacher’s compound”, a retreat run by the pastor of a local church.

A large satellite dish perched dangerously near the roadside ditch, with fat black cables snaking along the ground to the nearest van. A guard stood with arms folded on the inside of the gated entry to the compound, and a crowd of people scurried around on the other side, pulling cables and brandishing hand-held microphones. Some people had video cameras perched on their shoulders, some were gripping 35mm cameras. All turned to stare at us as we slowly edged past. We could clearly read the eagerness and a kind of pent-up excitement in their faces and in the tension of their bodies.

“What the hell is going on?” we both asked in the same breath. It certainly looked like a media circus but why here, in the middle of nowhere, at a place where we hardly ever saw anything or anyone moving except the grounds-keeper who spent a lot of time on the tractor mower?

We were about to find out. No sooner had we closed our own gates, parked the car under the shed and gone inside the cabin, than Hansel started honking furiously up at the gate. A young fellow in a suit was trying to enter the property but Hansel was holding him off.

“Oh great,” Anni muttered, and headed down the drive toward the gate, calling to Hansel as she went. I stood at the screen door and watched as she shooed Hansel away with one of the old broomsticks we kept leaning against a nearby massive pine tree.

After a brief conversation with the young man, Anni let him onto the property and escorted him down the drive, keeping a hissing Hansel at bay with her broomstick.

Turns out the fellow was a reporter for an Orlando newspaper and wanted to use our phone to call in his breaking story. We unabashedly listened as he dictated his brief but intriguing tale.

In a nutshell, the somewhat famous  televangelist Jim Bakker was awaiting trial on 24 Federal counts of fraud and conspiracy for stealing millions of dollars from PTL, the television ministry he founded. The Bakkers had been forced out of a rented house in North Carolina, where they had been taping “The Jim and Tammy Show”, and had somehow  chosen this out-of-the-way place as somewhere to literally retreat to, but the media was hot on their heels.

After a few days, the Bakkers came out to the gate, where they gave short interviews through the fence to this or that TV station reporter. The text was always the same: Jim was innocent and a sobbing Tammy Faye would blubber her undying faith in his virtue.

It didn’t take long before our phone was ringing off the hinges as our family and friends called us, asking what it was like, had we met “those people”, had we been invited to sit in the audience as the televangelists renewed their weekly broadcasts from the communal rooms of the compound’s large cabin.

LakeGeoRetreat

The Preacher’s Compound – Google Images

Like our neighbors up and down Yellow Bluff Road, we weren’t happy about this invasion into our quiet corner of the forest. As the days went by, dealing with people entering our property from the road and the lake, uninvited, became as annoying and cloying as the pall of dust thrown up by all the traffic up and down Yellow Bluff Road.

After letting in the young reporter, we refused all further requests. We tired of constantly walking down the drive to turn away yet another reporter or photographer or someone else who simply HAD to use our phone (remember this was before cellular phones) or, worse, one of our bathrooms! The topper was a couple of guys in a pickup truck pulling a bass boat, who had the gall to ask if they could drive down our lawn and launch their boat from the ramp in the back yard so that they could make some money from reporters who would pay for the opportunity to approach the Preacher’s compound from the water, on the off-chance of getting a few photos of the Bakkers.

We compared notes with the neighbors and they, too were aggravated at the invasion of their privacy and the need to constantly stand vigil over unwanted incursions onto their property. Of course, with all the media play, a couple of the neighbors admitted to being curious. Our pal Captain Jack knew the Preacher pretty well and so Jack strolled down to the compound one day and after chatting with one of the many faithful who had followed the Bakkers from N.C., Jack was invited to join in the next Saturday’s videotaping session, as a member of the “audience”.

We laughed when Jack asked us if we wanted to go with him to the session. We were certainly no fans of the Bakkers, or any other televangelist for that matter. We just wanted them and all those people who had followed them from N.C., and the reporters and TV vans to go away so that we could get a break from keeping a watchful eye out, and get back to our schedule of commuting daily from the forest and into our office in town.

After a couple of weeks, the TV vans and the satellite dish went away, the cars from NC. thinned out, and the dust finally settled onto the trees and brush lining Yellow Bluff Road.

One Saturday morning we were enjoying our coffees out on the porch when the peace and quiet was broken by Hansel’s frantic honking up at the gate. We both got up to look down the drive, where a scene of mayhem was unfolding.

Anni said “I got it”, and headed quickly down the drive. It was hard to see through the hurricane fenced gate but it looked to me like a group of 4 or 5 people were circling around, talking loudly, and doing their best to side-step and avoid Hansel’s relentless attack. Somehow he had gotten out of the gate and out on the road, where he was honking and hissing and flapping his wide wings as furiously as I’d ever seen him. That was one pissed-off gander!

In a couple of minutes, Anni had Hansel rounded up and back inside the fence. She had a short conversation with the group, and as they moved off down the road, she strolled down the drive, passing by a still-flustered Hansel, who was being cooed to by Gretel, a wise goose who had safely avoided the whole scene.

Anni laughed and shook her head while explaining that “That was the Bakkers, with their teenage kids”. No kidding! What the heck were they doing tangling with Hansel out in the road and how had Hansel slipped outside the fence in the first place?

It seems one of the Bakker’s kids had spotted the geese and wanted to pet them, so with the encouragement of their parents (!), they opened the gate and here came Hansel, head down and on the attack. After the dust had settled, the Bakkers sincerely apologized to Anni for causing the fracas. Anni made sure nobody had been bitten by Hansel, and in the course of the discussion she learned that the Bakkers apparently had a lot of waterfowl on some property somewhere, and the teens were used to handling the tame fowl. Unfortunately, Hansel was not as tame as anticipated!

Later, Jack came by and as he stepped into the cabin, he laughingly showed us his new t-shirt that sported a giant blob of dozens of different-colored splats and the text “I ran into Tammy Faye at the mall!” We all had a good laugh, then when we told him about the Hansel incident, he said it was a good thing Hansel hadn’t gone after Tammy Faye, or he would have ended up looking like the t-shirt!

The Bakkers’ eventual downfall and demise is a sad tale, but this wasn’t the only news story to come out of the Forest. The next year this little corner of the world once again made headlines as the scene where more than one victim of serial killer Eileen Wuornos had been found.

The Forest has a dark past and continues to attract what seems to be more than its fair share of weirdos, freak happenings, scary goings-on, and criminal activity. Here’s just a sample of its shady history:

http://kidnappingmurderandmayhem.blogspot.com/2021/