Author Archives: Destinations- a Travel Prism

About Destinations- a Travel Prism

I blend a love of storytelling, independent eco-travel, history and the natural world with over 40 years of experience as an award-winning writer, photographer, creative designer, and producer.

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



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.


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:

Ol’ One-Eye

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

One Eye, an imposingly large female Barred owl, clearly thought the lake house and all the surrounding property was her private hunting ground. She’d apparently taken up residence years before we moved in, according to the neighbors.

One Eye was one of many Barred and other owl species that made the woods surrounding the house their home. We soon learned that owls were active during the day, as we’d often spot them sitting quietly on a tree limb, and we certainly heard them calling during the day. Here’s a great video snippet (not mine!) of a Barred owl calling

During the Fall and Winter, the Barred owls in particular would get to hooting and setting up such a cacophony of racket at night that we were hard-pressed to get to sleep. Their calls went far beyond the typical 8-note territorial call to a far more strident caterwauling (Google the sound, it’s amazing).  I soon became pretty adept at mimicking their standard call and more than once an owl landed in a tree nearby to check me out!

Anyway, our owl certainly had her one eye on our chicks, and one night we raced outdoors, chasing yet another chicken alarm call, to see One Eye perched about 30 feet up on a massive limb of the oak tree near the front door, a baby chick grasped in each of her talons.

Even as our hearts fell for the fate of those tiny chicks, we couldn’t help feeling awed by the presence of this mature, large owl. She was simply magnificent, sitting heavily on that limb, the porch light picking out the highlights on her feathers, the dark orange of her scary-looking talons and the glint in her one remaining eye. When she lifted off the limb and flew silently away, her wing-span was easily five and a half feet across.

We’d often come across One Eye as we worked around the property or walked to and from the dock. Sometimes she’d be sitting on a limb of the magnolia tree, eyeballing us as we sat in the shade reading books and watching the geese and the chickens moving around the lawn and the ever-present aerial display of eagles and ospreys as they headed out to their fishing ground or battled over the fish successfully caught.

Sometimes scenes like this would strike me as bucolic and also a bit macabre. All around us critters were eating and being eaten, stalking and being stalked, hunting and hiding from the hunters. No matter how much you may read about such realities, when you become a part of the landscape for hours and just observe, without disturbing anything, it’s amazing what you take in and, I guess for me, how much that may form or change your fundamental outlook on Life. Pretty heady stuff perhaps, but ultimately the moments seldom lasted because practical matters would inevitably intrude and, once again, we’d find ourselves in “protection” mode.

We talked and talked about the problem we were causing by introducing domestic fowl into this ecosystem. It didn’t matter that we hadn’t started it, we had willingly taken on the responsibility of protecting the chickens, and now the geese, and in the case of the chickens, we were failing. Different folks had different opinions, and many a beer was consumed out on the dock or the porch or sitting on the stools around the kitchen bar as we weighed options, pros and cons.

Ultimately, we recognized the hard truth was that all our efforts to grow the flock were only succeeding in growing more fodder for the wild critters. We knew the whole issue was going to come to a head at some point, even as we dreaded the inevitability of the outcome.

Chicken Battles Snake

In spite of having our “guard” geese on the property, the flock of Bantams was slowly being whittled down by the incessant  attention of predators. These ranged from the hawks during the daytime (past masters of chicken-snatching) to coons and owls that would pluck the chickens from their night roosts in trees, to snakes that would steal eggs in the odd places where they were laid, any and all the time. We simply couldn’t keep enough biddies hatching in our hand-crafted, snake-proof incubator, nor could we be around every second of the day or night.

We did our best to ward off the attacks, when we were aware of them happening. Which usually occurred at night, when it was 40 degrees or lower outside and we were huddled by the fireplace or, worse, rousted from our beds to find ourselves rushing outside in our underwear, brandishing a big spotlight in one hand and an old mop handle in the other (we kept a lot of those nearby, mostly to keep Hansel at bay when he got too frisky.)

One such night there came such a thumping and screeching from the roof that it drowned out the TV. Our response was instant and unspoken. We hit the drill, snatching up our respective spotlights and mop handles, flipping on the porch light, lifting the latch of the front Dutch door and flying out to the cold and windy night.

WhiteMommaWhite Momma, our very best “settin’ hen”, had been roosting up on the roof, just under an overhanging eve, and we could hear a series of choking squawks coming from that spot. An extension ladder was leaning conveniently against the roof and I dashed up it, stick and spotlight in hand. I quickly grasped the scene: there was White Momma, frantically pecking at and dancing around a writhing snake, which clearly had one of the biddies in its mouth. In fact, it had most of the baby chick in its mouth and the poor baby wasn’t moving.

As I clambered onto the roof, I yelled to Anni what was going on and asked her to come up the ladder and shine her light. After that it was all a blur: somehow I set down my spotlight and approached the snake, which was obviously a large rat snake. I managed to shoo White Momma out of the way and used the mop handle to wedge the snake’s head, hard, down on the roof surface, trying to get it to spit out the baby. After a bit of a tussle, the snake released the biddy, which was dead.

I called out to Anni “Here comes the dead baby,” and I shoved the poor thing over the edge of the roof. We quickly decided I’d flick the snake over the roof too, so at least it wouldn’t be near the nest. As I turned back to get the snake, damned if it didn’t have White Momma in its mouth! She was putting up a real fight and I was so afraid for her, but I was mad as hell at that snake now. It wasn’t gonna get our best hen! So I chased it as it wriggled off, and thank goodness Anni was there with the light. I finally wedged the snake against the eve and thankfully it let White Momma go. She took off like, well, like a wet hen, squealing all the way.

I pounded that snake over the edge of the roof and clambered down the ladder, ready to cut off its head with the ax or the hatchet or the machete or the hoe– we had a lot of tools and weapons at hand. But Anni restrained me, and talked me out of killing that damn snake. We watched it slither off into the darkness past the wash of light from the porch. I know we both cried, standing out in the cold, looking down at that poor dead little chick.

I’m no bleeding heart but really, that was a shocking scene. Plus, we were so frustrated at our inability to protect these free-range chickens, who, we were told, would not come into a coop and if we put them there forcibly every night (oh yeah, not an easy task), they would die. The whole situation of caring for these critters was turning more complicated than we had first thought.

Then, of course, there’s the disposal of the baby chick. You’d think this would be a fairly straight-forward thing, but we were both upset. Anni suggested we put it in a Ziplock bag and out in the garbage collection in the barn, ready for the next trip to the green box (dumpster.) I argued it was dead anyway and so we should toss it out in the woods to feed some other critter. We agreed on that logic, or maybe we were just anxious to be done with the trauma. In any case, the little chick body was consigned to the deep woods and we went back inside, sad and deflated and not a little worried about White Momma tangling with that same snake again. After all, chickens were somewhat creatures of habit, and snakes truly have terrific memories and will return to the scene of the crime, again and again.

I told Anni that if I saw that same snake again, anywhere near the house, it was gonna be a dead snake. She didn’t argue the point.

Geese and Chickens

Chix n geeseWe had agreed to look after K’s flock of free-range Bantam chickens. On the face of it, this seemed to be a fairly simple task. All we had to do was feed the 20-or so hens and roosters cracked corn ever so often, and keep a wary eye out during the day for the many hawks that lived around the property. K’s wife had used a slingshot to pop away at hawks that dared to land on trees around the yard, and the presence of K’s old red-tick hound also helped to discourage these efficient predators from swooping down to snatch up the unwary chick.

Well, we didn’t have a slingshot and K’s hound had gone off to live at the farm in Ocala. We had Echo, Anni’s black lab, to defend the flock. Turned out Echo was basically an indoor dog, more given to relaxing on the cool cement floor of the porch or hanging out in front of the fireplace than in chasing hawks or, luckily for us, chickens. Also, we went off to town each work day, which pretty much left the flock to their own devices.

For the first couple of months, all appeared well. We’d be sitting out on the screened porch, enjoying an early morning coffee, quietly watching as the flock of hens, roosters and chicks would move through the tall lawn grass, muttering chicken nonsense to each other as they rapidly snapped up insects perched on the tall grass-blades. The flock would form a kind of skirmish line, beaks darting left and right as they made their way steadily down the lawn toward the lake. Only when they reached the old concrete boat ramp and the headland beyond it that anchored the dock would they turn around and go their separate ways, dispersing toward the tree line, the large bamboo stand, and the wall of greenery at the outer edges of the lawn. Here they spent the day, safe from the marauding hawks, protected by the dense canopy of greenery offered by the massive magnolia tree, the water oaks, hickory trees, pine trees, and the odd palm tree, all festooned with old-growth Spanish moss that waved like giant flags from limbs and boughs as the morning easterly breeze came on, building force as it crossed the width of the lake, dispersing the mosquitoes, flies, gnats, and who-knows-what that had settled in the lawn overnight.

As the winter dusk drew in, the chickens would find a nest out in the barn to stay warm. Hens would cluck encouragement to their tiny chicks as they’d usher them up the trees whose branches grew near the chimney.

At some point, we noticed a couple of the hens were missing. We counted beaks and, sure enough, we were shy two adult hens. When we shared this disturbing news with friends who lived on a farm near Ocala, they recommended that we get a pair of geese.

“Wonderful property guards, geese,” we were told. “They’ll go after anything, they’re fearless and they hang close together and mate for life, so you wanna get at least one male and one female. Raise them by hand when they’re goslings, they’ll imprint on you and make you part of their set. But- they live a long time, like 30 years, so it’s a commitment. And, if you ever need to find a second home for them we’ll take them in, they’ll do fine with our geese.”

Sounded good to us, so we went off to yet another farm to get two baby geese. That began our education in goose-keeping, the first lesson being, that geese aren’t easy to “sex”, or determine what gender they are until they’re pretty much grown. Hmmm. We took the advice of our goose-provider, who found us two lovely tiny, fluff-ball Embden geese. The goose-woman was “90 percent sure” that one was a male and the other a female, but truly only time would tell.

Of course, we named them Hansel and Gretel and bundled them off to the cabin in a cardboard box.


Off we hied to the library, checking out any book we could find about raising domestic geese. Thankfully, there were tomes available, and we dug into the research, reading out loud to each other interesting bits as we sat on the couch before the fireplace, sharing foot space with Cami-the-Siamese and Echo-the-black-Lab, who insisted on taking up the best spot where the heatilator blew warm air.

Between the books and observation, we became more knowledgeable and more enamored of our two lovely geese. It didn’t take long for the differences between the two youngsters to become apparent. One was growing up to be a bit larger than the other, with a dark orange beak. The smaller bird had a pink beak and seemed to be far more mellow, perfectly content to sit on a lap.YoungGeeseSwim2In about 3 months, the geese grew from tiny goslings held in the palm of our hand to the size of large cats, albeit with large wings. We were entranced by their soft mutterings, the way they enjoyed cracked corn with gusto, and their signature flat-footed stomping gait as they would race toward us when we stepped from the house to greet them or bring them a tasty bit of lettuce, a favorite treat.

Before long, we determined that the larger bird was indeed a gander, and the smaller bird a goose. Now we knew which was Hansel, and which was Gretel. A small triumph, and likely more important to us than them.

YoungGeesePool1Concerned that the geese might make their way into the lake, where large gators roamed at will, we set up a kiddie swimming pool, much to the birds’ delight. We’d spy out the windows and laugh at their antics as they frolicked in the pool, splashing in with abandon, frantically swimming about squawking and flapping their wings vigorously, causing small molted feathers to fly every which way. With such wild activity, they soon learned to take turns, sliding in over the pool edge on their breasts, flapping and splashing about, then clambering out awkwardly, sometimes landing beak-first.

After a few such rounds, they’d stand off a few feet away, spread their ever-growing wing spans, and flap vigorously three or four times, their heads stretching straight up as first one then the other would let out a loud “Arrrrk!”, which ended on a high note. It looked to us like they were having the time of their lives playing in that pool.

In the depth of that first winter, the pool froze over. We hadn’t really thought about the consequences, assuming the geese would stay out of the pool until things warmed up. However, after an overnight hard freeze, I happened to look out the window and there was Hansel, stomping toward the pool with his usual brisk, flat-footed gait. As I watched, he approached the pool, turned his head so that he could eyeball the surface, then carefully placing one broad webbed foot on the edge of the plastic and spreading his wings to get a bit of lift, he launched himself off the pool edge, landed breast-first on that slippery ice, scooted across the surface, and slid ass-over-teakettle right out and over the other side, landing in an ungainly heap on the frosty dirt.

My hoots of laughter brought Anni to the window lickety-split. While I was choking with laughter as I described to Anni what I’d witnessed, Hansel was prancing around the pool, his wings fully extended, head on high, and squawking like a banshee. Gretel had witnessed the whole thing and kept approaching him with her head level and extended toward him, cooing reassuringly, but he would have none of it! “Skuaaaaawk! Ark! Agggggh!” and other crazed vocalizations accompanied him as he stomped off a few feet, flapped his wings vigorously, and finally tucked them in, wiggling his goose-butt in a most emphatic manner.

“They’ve outgrown that baby pool,” Anni observed dryly. “We’ll make them a better goose pond in the Spring. And the new one sure won’t freeze over!”

Puzzled, I asked what she meant and Anni went on to describe a design she’d obviously been toying with, one that would combine a bit of digging, some cement, and the clever use of the constant flow of 72-degree water from the aquifer that provided an unlimited supply of fresh water to the house.

Fast-forward to the Spring and the unveiling of the new goose pond. A couple of neighbors and friends gathered around, beer cans in hand, as Anni carefully swiveled the PVC pipe that routed the flow of the spring, and water cascaded down into the cement pond. The geese were standing by, and soon approached the scene of wildly splashing water as the pond slowly filled.


The crowd-pleasing moment arrived, as the geese unhesitatingly jumped right into the pond and began excitedly swimming around in circles, flapping their wings, dipping their heads, and shaking their goose-butts with abandon. It was a moment to remember, marked by triumphant geese honking and the hoots of the delighted humans.

Video snippet: Anni with our geese in the pond

Video snippet: Geese greet Anni



A Shot in the Dark

Another nighttime chicken emergency: once again, loud squawking outside the front door had us out in the dark, in the summertime, in our underwear. Flashing our big spotlights into the trees near the house, we spotted a large Barred owl as it took off from a tree limb and flew out of the light. A Bantam rooster soon tumbled from the limb, sprawled on the ground near our feet and started running in tight circles. Its head was strangely cocked over its back and flapped in an alarmingly non-natural way.

“I think it’s neck is broken,” Anni breathed. I stood there and tried to say something or react in some useful way, but I couldn’t think of what to do. I’d never seen the proverbial “chicken running around with its head cut off” and I must admit, it was a horrific sight.

We finally got organized and decided we needed to put the poor rooster out of its misery. Anni suggested that we whack it with a shovel and she headed over to the barn. I called out for her to bring the hoe instead.

So then we had to decide who was gonna do the deed. We each had perfectly good reasons why the other needed to be the executioner. Meanwhile, the rooster was still scrambling around, even as its vocalizations were getting more faint.

We had to act fast and quit talking about it, the poor rooster was suffering. I said I’d do it but only if I used a pistol. So Anni went in and got the old .22 revolver I’d been given by a family member. The thing was horribly inaccurate and as I popped away at the rooster, shot after shot went astray. Seriously, you could stand four feet away from a paper plate, aim and miss the thing.

The more I missed, the more I got pissed. Anni wasn’t helping with her dry observations about the usefulness of my Army weapons training and my fancy shooting badges. The situation was getting grim. Luckily, the rooster was getting weaker and moving slow enough that I could get closer and place a shot point-blank.

It fell to Anni to dispose of the rooster as she saw fit, I was done for the night. I took my shaky self into the house and went to bed, after making a mental note to clean that crappy pistol the next day. Or maybe throw it away.

We kept several weapons on hand. Target practice was a good idea and fun too.

We kept several weapons on hand. Target practice was a good idea and fun too.

The whole issue of our “failure” to protect the domestic fowl on the property was coming to a head, but we honestly didn’t have a ready answer for it. My frustration level grew each time we experienced an incident but, beyond rounding up all the flock and giving them away, we were caught up in a paradigm. And it didn’t help that K would call us several times during the year to inquire about how his wife’s chickens were faring! We felt like we had to hang in there, to do our best and after that, well, it was up to the lake gods.

Martha and the Vandals

The loss of a few Bantam chickens made us think of getting some bigger chickens. Our reasoning was two-fold: they’d be trained to come into the chicken pen at night for protection and, being much larger than the Bantams, would less likely fall prey to hawks or owls. We bought four Rhode Island Red hens and named them Martha and the Vandals. Not really sure why, it just stuck.AnniChixGretelThe four big hens fit right into the flock, and were soon grazing the lawn and hanging out under the trees during the day. At night, we’d shoo them into their enclosure and let them out the next morning. Often they’d lay large eggs with bright orange yolks. The eggs were rich and we found them to be very strong tasting but golly they made huge omelets and with enough onions and tomatoes and the like, they weren’t bad.

For months all was well with the flock until we came up short one hen. We kept our eyes peeled but she went missing for several days. We’d just about given up hope for her when, one fateful day, we were out in the back yard grilling burgers with a handful of visiting friends. All of a sudden we heard loud squawking and thrashing noises beyond the trees at the edge of the lawn. As we headed over to the tree line, a big red hen came racing out onto the lawn, flapping her wings and screaming crazily, scattering tiny feathers as she ran around in circles and darted about the lawn.

We quickly grabbed a long-handled fish net that was leaning against a tree down near the lake and with the help of a few people, we chased the panicked hen until we netted her. Feathers had been obviously ripped painfully out of her head, her tail, a wing and a section of her body. The poor thing was bleeding where the feathers had been snatched out and was clearly in shock and pain.

We were all in shock too, and as we hovered over the mangled hen, we discussed what could have done this to her. A dog? Nope-  we would have known if there were strange dogs in the neighborhood, and all the known neighbor dogs left the chickens and geese alone. Maybe a gator? Nope- she came out of the woods, not the lake, and gators didn’t hang out in the woods. Then, maybe, a raccoon? Yeah, maybe but boy, that would need to be one big, mean ‘coon to do this kind of damage.

The hen eventually calmed down a bit and we determined that there wasn’t too much we could do to help her. She’d lost a lot of feathers but otherwise seemed able to walk and dart about, her eyes and legs were undamaged, so we put her up in the pen to keep an eye on her progress.

After a couple of days, she seemed normal and it appeared some feathers were growing back, so we let her out of her jail so that she could eat bugs and scratch for pebbles and hang with the flock.

Hansel and the Raccoon

Lynn Defends

Hansel could be a tyrant!

One evening at dusk, we were unloading the groceries from the car out front when we heard Hansel squawking  and raising hell down near the lake. We shot through the house to the back porch, grabbing spotlights and sticks as we went.

Anni turned on the big outside lawn light and the porch screen door slammed shut with a bang as we headed toward the edge of the pool of light. Sweeping our spotlights down toward the lake, we spotted Hansel, apparently on top of some animal.

“My god I think Hansel’s beating up on a ‘coon!” Anni called out. I couldn’t quite make out what her spotlight was illuminating because my light was on Gretel a few feet from the fracas as she stood off, hissing furiously, her neck fully extended horizontally and her tongue sticking out with the force of her anger.

Anni told me to come up to her but no further. I was arguing about how we needed to go to the rescue when she said “No, wait, I think Hansel’s got that ‘coon licked!”

What a scene! Hansel was balanced on the back of a large raccoon with one wing extended and touching the ground to steady himself while furiously beating the ‘coon with his other wing. Hansel had crooked his wing so that the bony “elbow”  was exposed, and the sound of the rapid blows he rained about the ‘coon’s head carried across the lawn to where we stood rooted to the spot, amazed.

“Go!” “Yay- get ’em, Hansel!”, we shouted encouragement as Gretel crept closer, hissing and honking and flapping her wings threateningly.

Suddenly, the ‘coon managed to shrug Hansel off its back and in the blink of an eye darted across the lawn and into the darkness under the tree line.

We decided to stay where we were because it was clear Hansel was still in fighting mode, and even Gretel’s cooing did nothing to calm him down. He strutted around, flapping his wings, stretching his neck on high and honking mightily.

“That’s his Tarzan call,” Anni said and we laughed to break the tension. What an intense scene to witness! We were very proud of Hansel and the way he protected his goose, and we thought Gretel did a fine job supporting him. At least she, and we, had the good sense to let him finish what he’d started. I don’t doubt we would have jumped in if needed, but we knew enough about the strength of wild animals to know that someone would likely have come away injured, so we were glad that Hansel had whipped that ‘coon’s butt.



Guard Snake

We had this sort of love-hate thing going with the snakes on the property. Actually, it was more like those we tolerated (non-venomous) and those we steered well clear of (rattlesnakes, coral snakes, moccasins for the most part.) However, we did end up encouraging a truly large, fat, 3-foot long rat snake to live between the walls of the house and up in the “attic” space above the drop ceilings in the two bedrooms and bath that were added onto the cabin.

The reason we tolerated this snake was rats and mice. A few months after moving in we finally got around to checking out that space when we were running some electrical wire to upgrade the system. Lo and behold, there were huge rat traps and mice traps and enough droppings to make clear that the attic was inhabited by rodents, or had been not too long ago.

About the same time of this discovery, Anni spotted a large, fat rat snake slither into a 4-inch hole in the wall of the 4th bedroom, which we used as an art studio and home office.

“Well, at least we know now what that hole was there for,” Anni said, scratching her chin as we stood in the office studying the hole.

We figured that if we nailed a square of hardware cloth over the hole, that might keep the snake up in the attic and out of the house. It was a quick project, but we didn’t kid ourselves that the snake would probably come and go as it pleased. We were after all living in a log cabin built in the 1940s and it surely had all manner of gaps and holes that the snake might discover. But we decided that was OK because now we knew that snake, and all we had to do was not panic if we saw it, give it plenty of space and keep mum about it when we had guests.

We discussed whether Echo the lab or Cami the cat would mess with the snake but we decided it was too big for either of them to take on, and so we left it at that.

Fast-forward to a cold, pitch dark night when Anni was staying at the cabin alone and got in very late from working in Ocala. You have to imagine a cabin with the interior temps the same as the outside (in the 50s), no heat, no fire in the fireplace. The dog and cat had long since gone to sleep in the big fluffy dog bed at the foot of Anni’s waterbed.

Exhausted from a long day, Anni brushed her teeth, put on her PJs and crawled into her nice warm, heated waterbed to settle in for the night. That’s when she felt something at her feet move. Telling the story later, she had us all in stitches as she described lying still and thinking about what that might be- couldn’t be Echo or Cami, they were on their bed. Couldn’t be her date, she’d come home alone. (OK that’s a joke.)

She rolled over gently and turned on her bedside lamp. Under the covers at the foot of her bed was a lengthy, fat shape and it was slowly writhing – just like a snake. Just like a big, fat rat snake.

Pandemonium ensued, as Anni leapt from the bed, the waterbed bladder undulating crazily, propelling the snake out from under the covers and onto the floor, and causing Cami to take off like a scalded cat. Echo barked like crazy and chased the snake around the base of the bed while Anni snatched at Echo’s dog collar, trying to pull her away before Echo got bit in the nose.

The snake found refuge between the back of the bed frame and the wall, with Echo on one side peering into the opening and barking and Anni on the other side with a flashlight in her hand, pondering her next move.

As she tells it, Anni grabbed Echo, drug her into the great room, closed the bedroom door, and saw the snake crawl quickly through the other bedroom doorway to the short hallway beyond. Anni followed and peeked around the doorway, only to see the snake disappear into the office at the end of the hallway.

Anni quickly closed the office door behind the snake then raced back through her bedroom, into the great room, over to the other office door, closed that one and Voila! The snake was at least confined to the office– where it stayed until the next day, when Anni crept in, removed the hardware cloth from over the hole in the wall, and crept back out again. She decided she didn’t need to go looking for the snake in the jumble of items in the office closet, surely the reptile was curled up there and would go back to its old hole and home to its attic.

Anni said she never did spot that snake again, and figured it was so traumatized by the event that it either went away or made up its mind to live happily ever after in the attic.

Oh, and we never did have any real problems with rats. Ever.