Who needs a zoo when you live out west?

Before we began our tour of the national parks and all the terrifying, man-eating animals they have to offer the unsuspecting public, we had seen more wildlife in the wild, outside our door, underfoot and often surprisingly beside the road in the last year than either of us had seen in a lifetime.
I was the wildlife spotter as himself, the driver, was usually watching the road, although sometimes I had to do that as well.
“LOOK OU . . . oooff!” and the rest of the air was slammed out of my lungs as the brakes were applied with some force and the seatbelt snapped ‘round my chest. “You did see that car, didn’t you?”
“Of course!” he replied hotly. I think not.
The creatures we had seen, on and off the road, so far:
• Two tarantulas, one in the middle of the road, so large that he defied traffic. The other one was encountered in the desert and came within an inch of his life as himself was about to step on him. Picture us in freeze frame. Do we back up slowly? Keep still? RUN!?

Honestly, he was big enough to cause a traffic jam!
Honestly, he was big enough to cause a traffic jam!

• Two caterpillars, rather handsome in their black and tan furry coats
• One snake, black with yellow racing stripes
• Chipmunks, everywhere if you stand still long enough
• Deer, thrilling at first, then the sightings were so numerous we could hardly utter an “Oh look.”
• Bald eagles, previously seen only on the backs of bills, mainly dollar bills
• Red-tailed hawk, sitting on the goal post at great niece’s soccer game refereeing the game and watching for off side
• Assorted birds we’ve named LBCs (little brown chaps)
• Cormorants, herons, egrets and numerous ducky-type water fowl all unidentified except:
• 100’s of Buffleheads. Examining the bird identification chart and lacking the ability to distinguish the difference between dozens of ducks I said, “Let’s just call it a Bufflehead. It’s a cute name. No one will know if it isn’t.” In fact, they were Buffleheads, as we read further; they were common in Oregon at that time of year. They are dear little black and white ducks with big, big heads – so named because they looked like buffalo heads.
• Grazing elk and fighting elk. Clack, clack, clack. Just like in the wildlife films.
• Starfish and blue, green and pink anemone clinging to the rocks at low tide, displayed for us Jaws-phobic beach combers who would never see them otherwise.

• Ronald Raccoon and his wife. You see there is a benefit to drinking wine. Don’t listen to those government warnings. You’ll never know what you’d miss. Walking to the bottle bank after dark through towering Douglas firs in order to dispose of the evidence and navigating by flashlight, two pairs of golden eyes appeared ahead on the path. We peered into the beam of light and could just make out their little bandit-mask faces and zebra-striped tails. We’d never have had that brush with nature if we drank water or iced tea. You may be poo-pooing our fascination with nature at this point as I understand Brooklyn and many other urban and suburban areas are overrun with pesky raccoons but they are only native to North America, we’d never seen one and they are cute.
• And lastly, on the flashlight walk, “Carol look! A skunk!” And so it was – dressed in a luxurious black coat with his bold white stripe illuminated and pointing his stinky bits at us.
“Have you ever seen a skunk before?” I whispered, alarmed, lest I incite him to spray us.
“No.”
“Well how did you know it was a skunk?”

“Pépé Le Pew, the cartoon character!” he murmured. Oh of course. What a couple of city slickers we are. We knew enough to stay out of range though. Pew!!!

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