Tuesday, June 14, 2011

In Shifts

(follow up to post on 6/3)
I don't know why I'm afraid to talk to my neighbor Thea about the commotion next door; perhaps because I talked to her last year about feeding the feral cats and skunks and raccoons and nothing came of it. My fear comes, too, from the fact that an old woman can be sharp edged as a knife, dangerous as a steel trap and unyielding to the point of chicanery. 

Don't get me wrong; my neighbor is a wonderful woman, but the busy schedule of the comings and goings of various animals has gotten out of hand. Something has to be done:

7 a.m.: Breakfast, Coyote, table set for one
7:30-8 a.m.: breakfast, seven skunks
noon-3: brunch, six rowdy crows
5 p.m.: supper again for the coyote, although in this part of the country I think you call it dinner.
5:30 p.m.-until dark: skunks in shifts, the occasional possum and raccoon

The point of my argument (to make her stop setting out food) must be in the interest of the wildlife she's feeding. I'll say in a soft spoken manner, "Thea, you're not helping the animals; you're making them dependent on the food you give them. What will happen when you're not here?"

Who will get to the bowl first?

Why would I not be here? she'll ask.

Pause, What then? Am I to say, at your age your headed for the big ballpark in the sky; anything could happen. But I can't say that; it would be too cruel.

Well, what if you get sick, I'll say. What will the animals do?  The coyote might become aggressive and attack some unsuspecting child or small pet; maybe jump over the fence and bite me for interfering with its supper

She'll shake her head like last time and say she doesn't agree with my assessment.

I'll say, Okay, you win; let the skunks fill up the afternoon air with stink, let the coyote become a stalker, let the crows caw to their hearts content. I give up, I give up. 

And she'll say, you see, what a lovely talk we've had. I'm glad we understand each other.

But it didn't go like that. When I called her at noon to talk about the problem, she was all good graces; she said she had wondered herself if she was doing the right thing. As a child during the war, she lived on the edge of a forest, and it was only natural to feed the animals during winter. I gently reminded her, an abundant harvest is always available in sunny CA; there's enough little voles and moles to fill up Dodger Stadium. She said so herself: "I have to remember this isn't Germany." So, she agreed to stop. If she couldn't feed one, she wouldn't feed any. She promised, no more food. 

But I feel a little guilty that she won't have the animals to feed. She's lonely up here on Mt. Washington since her husband died five years ago; her daughter lives in Pennsylvania and comes out only a few times a year. It must give her pleasure to take care of so many small creatures. I wonder if I've done more harm than good. 

Neighbor Thea with her daughter Karen, who lives back East.

Will I be like Thea in my old age, leathery and lonely? Will I do anything—no matter how misguided—to feel so needed?

P.S. Woke up this morning and noticed three bowls in her yard, and a possum lurking about. What the...??


  1. This is an absolutely extraordinary post, Charlotte. The number of animals dining in your backyard is staggering. And what a surprising exchange you had with Thea. Of course, it is only too ironically perfect that after your discussion, the three bowls were back the next morning. Ah well. Keep us posted.

  2. Yes, still activity going on over there, but honestly, it seems to have slowed down. A cat fight here and there, a weird cry in the night, cawing at lunch time, but so far, no coyote, no skunks. I will definitely do a follow up in a few weeks. And thank you, outwalkingthedog, for being such a strong advocate for not feeding wildlife!