Wouldn’t it be terrific if summer could last all year? That’s what I think some mornings when I step out on the deck, gulp in a lungful of sharp pine-scented mountain air, and look out at the seemingly endless vista of the Deschutes National Forest.
Of course, I don’t really mean it...I couldn’t give up evenings by a roaring fire, sipping hot chocolate and watching the snow fall, but it’s a nice thought. I love sitting outside, chatting with my husband or plotting a new story line, while in the background I’m being serenaded by birds, scolded by squirrels, and inspected from a safe distance by woodchucks or wild rabbits.
Regulars here have read plenty about our resident skunk. He staked out his territory under our house last year, smack in the middle of the square footage and, of course, directly beneath a peak traffic area. My husband, who is far more practical than I, wanted to summon an exterminator before Something Happened that would render the house uninhabitable for weeks. Equally unacceptable to him was the idea that the skunk might contemplate matrimony and move in a wife and family. I’m afraid he had scant patience for my suggestion that we simply avoid alarming our under-house squatter and hope he would go away. Before the question could be resolved, winter wrapped Cinnamon Ridge in its wild, ferocious grip. As the wind howled furiously and snow obliterated our views from the windows, we pictured Mr. Skunk snuggled down beside the underground heating unit and snoozing, while I instructed visitors to remove their shoes and walk on tiptoe between the great room and the hall.
A couple of weeks ago, very early, I was sitting on the deck on the side of the house overlooking the deer feeding station, sipping coffee and proofreading a just-completed chapter in Quincy Harrigan’s book, with Sam, our biggest cat, stretched out full-length beside me. All of a sudden Sam lifted his head and then, in one quick, lithe motion, rolled over on to his stomach, flattened his chin, and growled. I looked up, but I didn’t see anything. Sam did, though. In one fluid motion he oozed to his feet and belly-crawled toward the stairs leading to the lawn, with only the twitching of the tip of his tail betraying his excitement.
I put down my coffee mug and took another look. Sure enough, there was some movement in the bushes just north of the feeding station. Not much, and I couldn’t make out what it was, but there was definitely something in there. Sam is our star hunter, so I put down my pen and watched his progress.
A movement near the back of the house caught my eye along with a flash of black and white. I thought it was Sam’s mother, Peppy, coming to join in the hunt. But no...this black and white critter had a bushy tail, held erect, and an elongated head. It waddled purposefully straight for the bushes, and I suddenly realized what I was looking at. I had fond memories of watching Bambi’s little skunk friend, Flower, discovering his true love among the flowers, but it’s a different matter when the real thing happens in your side yard and you wonder if you’re going to be hosting uninvited houseguests.
Then my thoughts turned to more urgent matters. What if Sam jumped the skunk? Both he and the house would reek for days, even if he survived the encounter. Were skunks fighters? I didn’t know...but I knew Sam was. Frantically I considered my options. If I leaped up and screamed at Sam, I took the risk of alarming the skunk. If I did nothing and Sam launched an attack, he could be seriously hurt.
I was saved from having to make this call because Sam had enough sense to stop when he got to the end of the rockery. The skunk marched right up to the bush and another little head popped out. They sniffed noses, and Mr. Skunk disappeared with a final insolent wave of his tail. I haven’t seen him since, and I still wonder if they are setting up their honeymoon quarters under our ranch house. Careful inspection by several people hasn’t revealed the point of ingress, so perhaps the family has decided to spend the summer outdoors.
I hoped that would be the end of my “skunk” encounters, but as I was preparing a lecture on the book SHANE for my grandson’s seventh grade class, I heard Buddy frantically barking in the play yard. It was a warm day, and I had opened some office windows. The next thing I knew, my office smelled strongly of skunk. It gave me a bad moment because I was due to speak to my grandson’s classmates the next morning, and I did not want to go there smelling like a skunk. Fortunately the odor soon faded, and instead I smelled of my special perfume that I received from my husband for Mother’s Day.
More deer have returned, enough to keep us filling up the feed troughs twice a day. June is the month that most fawns are born, and several of the does who visit the feeding station are pregnant. Sid and I aren’t sure, but we think Miracle Girl has returned. It’s the same doe we saw last year, with the odd hair pattern across her chest, where Miracle Girl had been so terribly injured two summers ago. There is no way to be certain, but of course we want to think it’s her. She’s expecting, too, and still trailed by a yearling, evidently last year’s offspring. The bumps on his head are the start of a pair of antlers, so it’s a buck. Once the new fawn is born she will probably drive him off.
Over the years we’ve often heard owls at night, ranging from the boom of a Great Horned Owl (we think) to the squawk of a Screech Owl. This summer, a little hoot owl has taken over one of the trees near our bedroom. We’ve glimpsed him only rarely, but he makes his presence known when darkness falls by a emitting a series of beguiling little who-who sounds. I’m not sure if he’s calling for a mate or just announcing to the world that he’s happy to be alive, but I love hearing him. He sounds charming, and if I were a female hoot owl I’d definitely check him out.
I’m experimenting with growing vegetable this year. It’s still pretty cold at this elevation, and late in May we even had a snowstorm, but I refused to be discouraged. My personal assistant brought me a 60-hole seed starter tray planted with several varieties of squash, pumpkins, chard, tomatoes and cabbage, all of which had sprouted and were anywhere from an inch to about three inches tall. I set them out in the sun during the day and brought them in to the heated garage at night and made sure they had plenty of water. Unfortunately, the ground was still too hard to dig holes to plant them. Confined to their plug pots in the tray, they began to turn yellow and wilt despite all I could do.
Never mind, said my personal assistant, she would bring me some bigger starts. She wasn’t kidding. At a considerably lower elevation, and with warmer temperatures, her own starts were growing like Topsy. She lugged in a box overflowing with foot-high plants. These big guys are ignoring the still-nippy weather, stretching their stems upwards to catch the sun and trying to scramble right out of their pots. I can’t wait to make a batch of fried green tomatoes! This dish was one of the joys of my childhood and a favorite of my mother, who was a wonderful cook. I had all but forgotten about fried green tomatoes until I saw the movie of the same title. Does anybody have a terrific recipe they could send me? If so, shoot it off to CatherineDirect@aol.com, and I’ll be very grateful. And if anyone has a great recipe for fried okra, I’d be delighted to get it!
I also welcome e-mails on any subject from all of my readers. Please feel free to write to me. I’ve had one or two readers say they didn’t want to “bother me” by sending me e-mails. On the contrary, I love hearing from you, and anyone who’s written me will tell you that I always send answers. Even if you don’t happen to adore fried green tomatoes, drop me a line just to say hi and get acquainted.
I’m wishing all of you a wonderful summer and lot of good books! If you live where winter is just starting, same goes. Have a great season.