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COLUMN: Nature and nighttime intruders

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By VINCE LUECKE, Editor

Looking back, it wasn’t that close of a call, though the nighttime encounter could have been disastrous.

Returning home Thursday night, I found an intruder on the sidewalk leading from the garage to my house.

It’s not unusual for me to find wildlife around my hilltop home in New Boston. There’s a red-tailed hawk that routinely flies from the neighbor’s place on the other side of Indiana 545 to the gum tree below my house. It’s a fat, healthy bird and I’ve watched it sail across the sky throughout the year, looking for rodents and rabbits. It’s amazing to watch the bird sail on the air currents in summer, scanning the fields below. I wonder what it must be like to possess such keen eyesight.

Pulling into my driveway at night, I often find rabbits scampering around the garage or yard. I don’t know if they’re looking for food or amorous adventure, but they are there most nights.

If I had the gumption to cook rabbit stew, I’d be like a long-dead neighbor who used to live on the other side of town. He set wooden traps for the rabbits. But I don’t think I remember how to skin a rabbit and while it wouldn’t bother me to put a rabbit in a pot, I’d rather watch them.
I found an opossum wandering around the yard one night, an ancient-looking, awkwardly moving animal about as large as any I’ve seen.

But on Thursday night, two skunks stood between me and my door.

The first was standing squarely in the middle of my sidewalk and I mistook it at first for a cat. But I have no cat and the occasional neighborhood stray runs whenever it sees me.

This nighttime intruder had a wide streak of white and I retreated onto the soft lawn as soon as I saw what it was. It’s a good thing I stepped to the right because a few steps to the left, circling in apparent anger, was another skunk, nearly all black. I remember Jeneen Wiche, our gardening columnist, mention that skunks mate in late winter and I figured I had apparently interrupted a night of love. I guess I’d be mad, too.

I detoured around to a side door, thankful the animals hadn’t take the opportunity to punish the intrusion with a blast of musk. I turned on my porch light and watching from my window, saw the skunks ramble off together in the direction of the garage.

As I await spring and the yellowing of forsythia bushes and greening of grass, I’m content for nature to take her course as the land prepares for a new season of growth. The rabbits, opossum and skunks of the world and the fat hawks mate, live and die behind the scenes of my busy life. If I had more time, I’d see more but even the occasional run-in at night is welcome.

Speaking of run-ins, I had the misfortune of having a large owl crash into my car a couple of weeks ago while traveling home. I feared the incident was some bad omen because I’ve always heard that birds carry bad tidings and the solitary hoots of an owl or whippoorwill at one’s door were thought to signal pending misfortune.

I’ve heard owls in the distance at home and on the farm and the harmony of the little whippoorwill seems too pleasant to bring any disaster.

I had hoped the owl, which was perched on the side of the road and flew directly in front of my car, was only injured. But there it lay the following morning, crumpled on the side of the road. I wasn’t speeding since the road from Troy to New Boston is a deer playground at night.

A View of the City

Thanks to members of the Tell City Fire Department for allowing me a ride in the ladder of its new fire truck. Firefighters trained with the truck, purchased used from a department near Louisville last year. The ladder extends 102 feet and it smoothly lifted me and a couple of other passengers a good 85 feet above the station at 12th and Mozart streets. The “bucket” at the end of the ladder is self-leveling and was smoother than most elevators.

The truck has already responded to a couple of runs and provides protection to not just Tell City but the whole community. It was hard getting good photos of the city at night so I’m hoping for a daytime lift during an upcoming training session.