My Barn Cats

Low maintenance rodent control.

Rodents are a fact of life in rural areas. They were in the garage — and sometimes in the house! — when I lived in Arizona. They were in my hangar there, got into my RVs, and made nests in my cars and motorcycles. Here in Washington, they’ve gotten into my RV and Jeep. I’ve never seen evidence of them in my shed or big garage, but they must be there. After all, rodents are a fact of life.

When I say rodents, I’m mostly talking about mice. Sometimes they’re adorable little mice the size of my thumb. I’d catch them live and release them far away. Until I started catching multiple mice each day. The novelty wore off and I resorted to traditional snap traps. Can’t use poison because I can’t worry about Penny eating it or poisoned mice. And the sticky traps are downright cruel.

Vole
Image of a vole from Wikipedia by user Soebe.

Here in Malaga, we also have voles. They dig up the ground and, if they get into your garden, can kill your plants from the roots. That’s one of the reasons my planters have chicken wire bottoms — to keep the damn things from getting in from below. Penny successfully caught and killed one last year and I suspect she’ll do it again this year.

While I normally wouldn’t mind rodents outdoors — after all, they are part of the ecosystem — they tend to attract snakes. And while I don’t mind non-venomous snakes like bull snakes, I do mind rattlesnakes. I killed three of them in my immediate yard last year. It’s unfortunate, because I really don’t like to kill anything, but I don’t want to worry about Penny or my chickens — or me, for that matter — getting bit.

That’s where the idea of “barn cats” comes in. The Wenatchee Valley Humane Society (WVHS) has what it calls a Barn Buddy Program. They capture feral cats, find homes for them, spay or neuter the cats, and hand them over to their new owners. The cats are strictly outdoor cats and owners are not expected to do much more than give them safe shelter and a steady supply of food and water.

The way I saw it, if I had cats to reduce the rodent population I might be able to reduce the number of snakes that come around in the summer months.

And it was a nice way to help out some cats that would likely be euthanized if not taken. Indeed, the WVHS does not go through the expense of neutering a cat unless an owner is already lined up for it. The reason: they only keep these cats, which are otherwise unadoptable, for about a week. Once a home is lined up for a cat, the WVHS sends it off to be neutered prior to handing it over to its new owner. It’s important to note that in the wild, if not neutered and given a safe home, these cats are only expected to live a few years.

I got my cats around Christmas time. Note that I said cats — plural. The WVHS prefers that you take at least two because they are more likely to stick around if they have company. The cats I got were a 1-1/2 year old black cat I named Black Bart and a 6 month old tabby I creatively named Kitty. I picked them up from the vet in large plastic kennels, set them up in my shed with a heater, food, water, and litter box (as instructed) and let them roam free inside for the required 3 week acclimation period.

My shed is small — just 6 x 8 feet. It’s full of garden and beekeeping equipment. There are shelves on one wall. There’s a hollow overhang over the door. The cats quickly learned to climb up onto the shelves or overhang when they heard me coming. Not only was it safer for them (in their minds) but it was also warmer since heat rises.

Kitty on a Shelf
Here’s Kitty, up on the top shelf in my shed.

After three weeks — and a few weeks before I went away for a vacation in Arizona — I installed a cat door on the shed. This would give them the ability to go in and out at will. When I knew they were using the door — cat paw prints in fresh snow was a dead giveaway — I removed their kennels and returned them to the WVHS for someone else to use. I also bought a feeder that would hold 10 pounds of dry food and a water dispenser that would hold a gallon of water.

It wasn’t long before I realized that they were spending a lot of time under the shed. Penny is actually the one who discovered this. I heard her barking from inside the shed and opened the door to let her out — but she wasn’t in there. It took a moment to realize that she wasn’t in the shed but under it, likely barking at one or both cats. I got her to come out and I think she hurt herself doing it because she was sore for a few days afterward. Since then, she often goes to the cat’s entrance to their undershed domain but doesn’t try to go in.

I’d occasionally see Kitty inside the shed, up on a shelf — especially when I still had the heater in there. But I didn’t see Black Bart at all and I worried a bit about him.

Understand that these are still completely feral cats. If they see me, they run away. They don’t know their names and, even if they did, they definitely wouldn’t come if I called. Although I suppose I could make some effort to tame them, I prefer not to. There are many predators in this area — coyotes, eagles, owls — and although they have the shed for safe shelter, I don’t expect them to live very long. For that reason, I’d prefer not to get attached to them.

Still, the water was drunk and the food was eaten so I knew they were around somewhere. While I was in Arizona, the litter box got quite disgusting, but I think that was actually a good thing. When I returned, dumped it, and refilled it, I soon realized that they were hardly using it at all. When the weather gets a little better, I’ll take it outside and eventually do away with it. They did their business outdoors before they were captured, they can do it outdoors again when the litter box is gone.

Based on Penny’s behavior, I knew at least one of them was living mostly under the shed. I assumed they came out to hunt at night.

Lately, however, I’ve been spending a lot more time up in my living space over the garage as I finish up construction. I often take a break in a chair by the window and look out over my property and the Wenatchee Valley beyond. Over the past two days, I’ve caught sight of both cats wandering around near the shed. On Friday, Kitty explored the inside of the cabinet installers’ cargo trailer. On Saturday afternoon, Black Bart sat sphinx-like on the concrete “porch” of the shed while Kitty wandered around the weeds nearby.

My Barn Cats
I shot this photo of my two barn cats out in my garden from my living room window only a few hours after writing this blog post.

It was rather comforting to see my barn cats out and about on a nice day — especially since they’d obviously become a pair and were roaming, at least part time, together. It was a sort of reminder of the success of the program. I admit that I’m tempted to get another two cats and set them up in my garage, but I’d rather wait until I’ve moved my furniture and boxes into my new home upstairs. Then I’ll give it some thought. (I don’t want people to think I’ve become a cat lady.)

As for rodent control, it’s too early to see what kind of difference they’re making. It’s still winter here and the temperatures have been getting down into the low 30s and high 20s lately. The ground is hard and the voles aren’t coming up to the surface. Or maybe they have been — just long enough to make a tasty snack for a barn cat?

Hiking with the Dogs

As strange as this may seem, I have more stamina than two young golden retrievers.

I’m dog sitting for some friends in Arizona. In my charge are two golden retrievers: 1-1/2 year old Birdie and 6 month old Don Don. Of course, Penny the Tiny Dog, my 6-1/2 pound chihuahua terrier mix, is also with me.

I’m a huge believer in off-leash walking. Why would anyone put their animal on a leash if it can safely run free without bothering others or endangering local wildlife? In the Arizona desert, that means choosing a path on just about any back country trail or dry wash. Since the house I’m staying at is on a huge dry wash and Don Don is next to impossible to get into the car, it made sense to simply walk from the back yard out into the desert and down the wash.

Desert Wash
Although it’s not the most scenic place for a hike, a “wash” — or flash flood runoff channel — is a fine place to let dogs run off-leash and do some fast-paced hiking.

Trip ComputerI’d done the walk last week when my friend Janet was in town with her dog. We’d walked about three miles — almost all the way into town and back. Today, I did almost the same walk alone with the dogs. Total trip was 2.58 miles in under an hour. My Gaia GPS trip computer shows the details. You can see the steady but gentle downhill walk and the climb back. Elevation change was only 74 feet — no big deal. You can also see where I rested along the way back.

I had three goals:

  • Get some exercise. I’ve been slacking off this week, not doing nearly as much walking as I should. I kept up a quick pace, aiming for 3.5 miles per hour moving average. (I achieved 3.2.)
  • Get some color back into my skin. For the first time since 2012, my skin has returned to the sickly white color it had when I spend most of my time indoors, often in a cavelike Phoenix condo. Fortunately, it was sunny — for the eighth consecutive day in a row — and in the 70s. I put on a tank top and shorts for maximum exposure and put my hair up in a high pony tail to prevent it from shading the back of my neck.
  • Get the retrievers tired. These dogs have a lot of energy to burn off. Getting them worn out would be a great way to ensure a peaceful afternoon.

The dogs were a funny group. Birdie pretty much stayed near me for most of the walk. Don Don wanted to explore, but because he’s still a puppy, he’s afraid to go out on his own. Penny is fearless and loves to explore, especially if there’s birds or rabbits to smell or chase. So Penny took the lead and Don Don sort of blundered after her. Once in a while, Birdie would explore with them — especially when she saw Don Don getting good sniff of something on the ground.

I kept walking as fast as I could on the sand. And it was sand — sometimes deep sand. Fortunately, the rain that fell here the week before last was sufficient enough to form a sort of crust on much of the wash surface. It was broken only by a week’s worth of 4WD traffic and the footprints of others. In addition to the tracks Janet and I had made with the dogs the previous week, I saw tracks from horses, deer, and dogs or coyotes. I kept to the hard, crusty sand as much as possible. It was easier to walk on and I was able to keep up that good pace I wanted.

As I walked, the dogs would disappear from view. Every once in a while, I’d call out, “Penny, Don Don, Birdie, Penny, let’s go.” One by one they’d come back into view — usually Birdie, then Don Don, and usually Penny. Penny was always last. She had far more important things to do than come when I called her to make an appearance. But she always came so I didn’t bother putting her on the leash I’d brought along in case I had to tie them up.

Penny did a lot of running under the low bushes and trees that grew in and along the wash. Don Don often tried to follow her but was simply too big.

It was warm with a nice breeze on the walk out. The sun was ahead of me, to my right. The temperature was perfect for my tank top. And although the sun felt strong, I didn’t feel as if I was getting burned. (And indeed, I did not get burned. My skin seems to remember the sun very well.)

We walked as far as a set of power lines strung across the wash. I turned around and started back, consulting the trip computer to see how far we’d gone: 1.25 miles. Perfect.

It was warmer on the way back. I was now walking with that gentle breeze, so I didn’t feel it. The sun was at my back left side. As I walked, I began working up a light sweat.

Penny the Tiny Desert Dog
Penny kept motoring along.

The dogs, in the meantime, were definitely tiring out. Well, the big dogs were, anyway — Penny kept her fast pace, never stopping once. The retrievers now stuck together. They’d walk a bit ahead of me, then drop down to the ground in the shade and look up at me as I passed as if asking me to take a break with them. I kept walking and they’d eventually get up, catch up, and repeat the same process. Birdie was panting hard and it was easy to see why — she has a very heavy coat of fur.

Tired Dogs
These were some seriously tired dogs after less than a mile and a half of walking.

I stopped twice along the way for a total of less than 6 minutes non-moving time. The second time was in the scant shade of a large mesquite tree. The two big dogs rested, panting hard, while Penny explored the underbrush. Then we were off again, more than halfway home.

We didn’t pass a soul, either in a vehicle or on foot, in either direction. The only other animals I saw were quail and rabbits, including a rather large jackrabbit.

Our Track
Here’s our track, presented by Gaia GPS on a hybrid topo/satellite map.

I admit I was glad when I found the spot we’d entered the wash 50 minutes before. I was hot and tired and a little worried about the two big dogs.

When we got inside, they went right to their water dishes. I had to coax them out of the nice cool house and into the backyard. Then I got them over to a hose, turned it on, and hosed them off a little. Birdie seemed to like not only getting hosed down but drinking out of the hose. Don Don wasn’t as enthusiastic but did let me get him a little wet. And Penny, of course, wanted nothing to do with it.

Back down at the guest house, I filled a big water dish for them and set it down outside my door. Birdie and Don Don stretched out in the shade while Penny and I went inside. Penny drank and finished her breakfast. I had some lunch.

Within an hour, all four of us were dozing.

About the Header Images

A quick summary of where the current images were taken and who I was with.

You may not realize it, but I shot all of the photos that appear in the header on this site. There are currently more than 90 of them and they’re set up to appear randomly. Each time you visit this site or click a link to another page here, the image up top should change.

I noticed just the other day that although all images were shot within the past 10 years, the vast majority were shot when I was alone. That made me realize how much I traveled by myself, even when I was married, and how the places and things I saw were beautiful or interesting enough to capture an image of.

Anyway, here are the images, with summaries.

Alfalfa

Alfalfa

This was an alfalfa field near where I spent my summer in Quincy, WA. I think I shot this in 2008. Alone.

American Coot Family 1 & 2

American Coot Family

American Coot Family 2

I shot these two images at Quincy Lakes in Quincy, WA in 2008. Alone.

Bark

Bark

Birch Bark 2

I like photos that show texture. These close up photos of bark were shot at Quincy, WA in 2008. Alone.

Barn Roof, Wagon, and Waterville Farmland

Barn Roof

Barn Wagon

Waterville Farmland

These three images were shot on the Waterville Plateau near Douglas, WA, probably in 2009. I was with my wasband.

Basalt Cliffs

Basalt Cliff

I’m pretty sure this photo was shot while repositioning my RV from Washington to Arizona by way of Glacier National Park with my wasband — one of the last “vacations” we had together — in 2009. I think it’s at Palouse Falls.

BC Mountains Pano

BC Mountains Pano

This was shot from a cruise ship on an Alaska Cruise with my wasband in 2007. Our last day on board took us between Vancouver Island and the mainland.

BHCB

BHCB

This was shot at Quincy Lakes in 2008 or 2009. I assume BHCB is an abbreviation for the type of bird. Alone.

Birch Leaves

Birch Leaves

I liked the way the sun shined through these leaves in the late afternoon. Shot at Quincy near the golf course in 2008. Alone.

Blue Heron & White Heron

Blue Heron

White Heron

I was kayaking with my dog at Lake Solano in Central California in 2014 when I shot these photos of herons.

Bowman Lake

Bowman Lake

This was shot at Glacier National Park in 2009 while traveling from Washington to Arizona with my wasband.

Bryce and Bryce Dawn

Bryce

Bryce Dawn

These two photos were shot at Bryce Canyon in 2011. I’d gone there with a client in January on a photo flight for this 360 interactive panorama: Bryce Canyon in Winter, Utah, USA.

Cache Creek

Cache Creek 1

Cache Creek 2

Cache Creek 3

Cache Creek 4

These four images of Cache Creek were taken from my helicopter’s nosecam on an early morning flight up Cache Creek in Central California in 2014. I was alone.

Cascades

Cascades

This image of a ridge and cloud-filled valleys was taken from my helicopter’s nosecam on a flight between Wenatchee, WA and Hillsboro, OR in 2012. I blogged about the flight here and shared video from the flight here. It’s notable not only for the perfect weather and amazing scenery, but because it was my dog Penny’s first helicopter flight — 90 minutes long! And yes, that is Mt. St. Helens in the background.

Cherry Drying Cockpit

Cherry Drying Cockpit

This is a shot from a GoPro camera mounted in the back of my helicopter during a cherry drying flight. It was probably taken in 2011.

Close Up Wheat

Close Up Wheat

This closeup of wheat growing in a field in Quincy, WA was shot in 2009. I was alone.

Combine

Combine

This aerial shot of a wheat combine at harvest on the Waterville Plateau in North Central Washington was shot in 2011 during a flight between Wenatchee and Coeur d’Alene, ID. My friend Jim was flying his helicopter; I was on board with a camera.

Corn

Corn

I like patterns. This field of young corn plants in Quincy, WA was capture in 2009. I was alone.

Cows in the Road

Cows in the Road

I was on my way up to my old Howard Mesa, AZ place one bright winter day when I came upon these cows following tire tracks in the road. When I approached, they just stopped and stared. I took a photo before continuing, herding them along with my Jeep. I can’t be sure of the date, but I expect it was around 2003 or 2004. I was probably with my friend Jeremy.

Cracked Mud

Cracked Mud

I shot this alongside the road to Alstrom Point on the northwest end of Lake Powell in Utah. It was probably shot in 2008. I was alone.

Crescent Bar View, Yellow Flowers

Crescent Bar View

Yellow Flowers

I shot these photo of Crescent Bar in Quincy, WA in 2009 not long after drying a cherry orchard down by the river there. I was alone.

Dandelion

Dandelion

I shot this photo of a dandelion seed puff in Quincy, WA in 2008. I was alone.

Desert Still Life & Desert Wildflowers

Desert Still Life

Desert Wildflowers

I shot these photo of hedgehog cacti blooms and California poppies near Wickenburg, AZ between 2009 and 2011. It was probably on one or two Jeep outings and I was probably with either my wasband or my friend Janet.

Fern

Fern

Patterns and textures again. This was shot in Alaska sometime during a cruise with my wasband in 2007.

Float Plane

Float Plane

I shot this image of a float plane taking off at an Alaska port while on a cruise with my wasband in 2007. It was shot from the balcony of our stateroom.

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

This image of the Golden Gate Bridge was shot during a trip to San Francisco in 2011. Not sure if I was alone — isn’t that odd? — but I was probably there for a Macworld Expo speaking gig.

Glacial River Rocks

Glacial River Rocks

I shot this closeup of rocks in a river bed while on a trip to Denali National Park in 2007 with my wasband.

Golf Balls

Golf Balls

Attach a GoPro to the bottom of a helicopter with the lens pointing down. Then hover over a golf course green and drop hundreds of golf balls. This is what it might look like. Shot in late 2011 or early 2012. My client was dropping the balls.

Grand Canyon Sunset

Grand Canyon Sunset

I’ve been to the Grand Canyon countless times so I don’t know exactly when this was taken or whether I was alone. I know it was shot before the summer of 2011.

Gyro Cache Creek & Gyro Pattern

Gyro Cache Creek

Gyro Pattern

I learned how to fly a gyroplane in the spring of 2014. These two shots were made with a GoPro mounted on the mast. In the first shot, I’m flying up Cache Creek; in the second, I’m doing a traffic pattern at Woodland Airport. Both were shot in Central California.

Hay Bales

Hay Bales

I’m pretty sure this was shot on the road between Upper Moses Coulee and Waterville in North Central Washington in 2009. I was alone.

Helicopter

Heli Header

This is a photo of my helicopter right after sunrise parked out near my new home in Malaga, WA. I shot this in 2014; I was alone.

High Tension

High Tension

This was shot in 2008 near the Chief Joseph Dam near Bridgeport, WA. I was on a daytrip with my wasband.

Hopi House

Hopi House

Another trip to the Grand Canyon. I suspect I was alone when I shot this one, possibly on a day trip by helicopter with clients from Phoenix. Sometime between 2009 and 2011.

Houses

Houses

Here’s another straight down image shot with a GoPro from my helicopter. This was Peoria, AZ in 2011 or 2012. I was alone.

Inspecting Bees

Inspecting Bees

I set up a GoPro on a tripod to record a beehive inspection in 2013. That’s me in the picture; I was alone.

International

International

This is a closeup of an old International truck parked outside the bakery at Stehekin, WA. I was there with my wasband and another couple on a helicopter trip in 2011.

Juvenile Robin

Juvenile Robin

Shot in 2008 at Quincy, WA. I was alone.

Ladders, Side

Ladders Side

Patterns again. These are orchard ladders neatly stacked at an Orchard in Quincy, WA. Shot in 2008.

Lake Berryessa

Lake Berryessa

An aerial view of Lake Berryessa in Central California, shot with my helicopter’s nosecam in 2014. I was alone.

Lake McDonald Sunset

Lake McDonald Sunset

This was shot on a trip to Glacier National Park with my wasband in 2009.

Lake Pleasant

Lake Pleasant

Another nosecam image from my helicopter. This is a dawn flight over Lake Pleasant near Phoenix, AZ. I was alone.

Maine Coastal Town & Main Fog

Main Coastal Town

Maine Fog

I shot these during a trip to Maine to visit some former friends with my wasband back in 2008 or 2009.

Marble Canyon

Marble Canyon

Another nosecam image from my helicopter. I’m pretty sure I shot this one on my way back from a Bryce Canyon photo shoot with a client in 2011.

Mini-Stack

Mini-Stack

An aerial view of the so-called “mini-stack” of at I-17 and Route 101 in north Phoenix, AZ. Probably shot in 2011 or 2012.

Mission Ridge Pano

Mission Ridge Pano

I shot this photo from Wenatchee Mountain near Wenatchee, WA during a jeep ride to Mission Ridge with my friend Don in 2014. What an amazing day!

Monument Valley

Monument Valley

I’ve flown over Monument Valley dozens of times. Once in a while, there’s a camera on the helicopter’s nose. This was probably shot in 2011. I was either alone or with aerial photo clients.

Monument Valley Wide

Monument Valley Wide

I used to do multi-day excursions by helicopter to Arizona destinations that included Monument Valley. While my clients took tours, I’d explore on my own. This is Monument Valley from the overlook, shot in 2010 or 2011.

Moonset Sunrise

Moonset Sunrise

I used to camp out at a friend’s place overlooking Squilchuck Valley near Wenatchee, WA. This was one of the early morning views from my doorstep. I was alone.

North to the Future

North to the Future

I shot this in Girdwood, AK in 2008. I’d gone up there alone for a job interview. I got an offer but turned it down. Beautiful place.

No Wake

No Wake

I shot this with my 10.5mm fisheye lens at Lake Pateros, WA in 2008. I was with my wasband.

Orchard Still Life

Orchard Still Life

These are apples culled from the trees in Quincy, WA. Shot in 2008; I was alone.

Peacock

Peacock

This is one of the dozens of peacocks strolling around at the Lake Solano campground in central California. I shot this in 2014; I was alone.

Penny Kayak

Penny Kayak

This is one of the few images I didn’t shoot. I was on a kayak trip in the American River near Sacramento with a Meetup group and one of the other members shot this and sent it to me.

Petrified Wood

Petrified Wood

I’m not sure, but I think this was shot in Vantage, WA in 2008 or 2009. I was probably alone.

Phoenix

Phoenix

Another nosecam image, this time of downtown Phoenix. Shot in 2011 or early 2012; I was likely on a tour with passengers.

Poppies and Chicory

Poppies and Chicory

Another desert jeep trip near Wickenburg, AZ. I could have been alone, with my wasband, or with my friend Janet.

Poppies Plus

Poppies Plus

This wildflower closeup was shot on a trip to the Seattle area, possibly in 2007 with my wasband and his cousin.

Quail Mom

Quail Mom

A Gambols quail hen and her chicks, shot from my doorstep in Wenatchee Heights, WA in 2012. I was alone.

Rafting

Rafting

Put a GoPro in a head mount, get in a raft, and head down the Wenatchee River and this is the result. I was rafting with a bunch of friends in 2013.

Red Wing Blackbird

Red Wing BlackBird

Red Wing Blackbird 1

Red Wing Blackbird 2

I shot these at Quincy Lakes in Quincy, WA in 2008. I was alone.

Rocks Under Water

Rocks Under Water

I’m pretty sure I shot this in 2009 at Glacier National Park on a trip with my wasband.

Saguaro Boulders

Saguar Boulders Big

I shot this photo of saguaro cacti among sandstone boulders near Congress, AZ on a Jeep trip in 2009 or 2010. I was probably with my wasband.

Sand Dunes

Sand Dunes

This is an aerial shot of the sand dunes west of Yuma, AZ. This was probably shot in 2008 on a flight to the San Diego area with my wasband.

San Francisco

San Francisco

What a memorable flight! This was on a ferry flight from the Phoenix area to Seattle in 2008. Another pilot was flying my helicopter so I got to take photos. Low clouds over the coast forced us high over San Fransisco. Amazing views!

Sedona

Sedona

The red rocks of Sedona at Oak Creek. Shot in 2010 or 2011 while on a multi-day excursion with passengers.

Squilchuck View

Squilchuck View

The view from where I spent several late summers at Wenatchee Heights. This was probably shot in 2012.

Steam Train

Steam Train

This is an aerial shot of the old Grand Canyon Railroad steam train. I used to buzz that train with my helicopter any time I saw it from the air. This was probably shot in 2007. I was alone.

Stucco Scroll

Stucco Scroll

I shot this on a photo walk at the San Xavier Mission in Arizona with my wasband and a group of photographers.

Sunset

Sunset

I can’t be sure, but I think I shot this from Howard Mesa in 2006 or 2007.

Surprise Valley Drugs

Surprise Valley Drugs

I shot this in California during my 2005 “midlife crisis road trip.” I was alone. It was one of the best vacations in my life.

Helicopter Tail

Tail Header

An early morning shot of my helicopter parked out near my new home in Malaga, WA. Shot in 2014; I was alone.

Tetons

Tetons

Another shot from my 2005 “midlife crisis road trip.” This was at the Grand Tetons.

Turtle

Turtle

Shot while I was kayaking with my dog at Lake Solano in 2014.

Two Hillers

Two Hillers

I shot this at Brewster Airport in Brewster, WA on a day trip with my wasband in 2008.

Wheat Irrigation

Wheat Irrigation

Textures and patterns. What’s not to love about them? Shot in Quincy, WA in 2008. I was alone.

Yellow Headed Blackbird

Yellow Headed Blackbird

Yellow Headed Blackbird 2

I shot both of these photos at Quincy Lakes in Quincy, WA in 2008. I was alone.

Yellow Flower

Yellow Flower

A yellow flower. Probably shot somewhere in Washington state in 2011 or 2012. I’m sure I was alone.

Yellow Kayak

Yellow Kayak

Although my kayaks are yellow, this isn’t one of them. This was shot at Glacier National Park on a trip there with my wasband in 2009.

Another Reason Why I Love It Here

Wildlife watching from the door to my front deck.

I’d been told that there were bighorn sheep in the cliffs up behind my home. And more than once I’ve heard them knocking rocks around up there as they move along the cliff face. And occasionally Penny will bark like a crazy dog at the cliffs, obviously hearing or seeing something I can’t. But despite purchasing and using a set of binoculars last autumn, I haven’t been able to see the animals up on the cliffs.

Until last week. That’s when Penny’s urgent barking caught my attention and I spotted three bighorn sheep — two adults and a yearling — in my neighbor’s front yard. I rushed Penny into the RV to shut her up and grabbed my binoculars.

Unfortunately, I got more of an eyeful than I expected. Not only did I get a close look at one of the animals, but I also got a too close look at my neighbor, who’d come out stark naked to photograph them.

Life’s different out here.

Today, more barking got my attention. And this time, when I rushed Penny into the RV, I grabbed my Nikon, 300mm lens, and monopod. Then I went into my unfinished building, climbed the stairs, and opened the door to my future front deck. I zoomed in on one of the animals grazing in the yard. Her head was down but I waited. No sense taking a picture of her back. After about a minute, I was rewarded. She popped her head up and looked right at me.

Bighorn Sheep
Captured in pixels from the door to my future front deck.

This isn’t the only interesting animal we have around here. There are also golden and bald eagles and other birds of prey that I see daily. There are quail — which have youngsters right now — as well as robins, magpies, and hummingbirds. I hear owls but have never seen one here. There are coyotes, which I occasionally see but more often hear at night. There’s elk and deer in the area, but I’m not sure if they ever make appearances near my home. And, of course, there are bull snakes and rattlesnakes.

It’s nice to live in a place that’s remote enough for wildlife viewing out my window without being too remove to take advantage of the conveniences a small city like Wenatchee has to offer. I really like it here — I only wish I’d moved here sooner.

The Rattlesnake Living Under My Shed

Is not living there anymore.

My first encounter with a rattlesnake on my property happened about two months ago.

Back then, the grass and weeds that cover my property, which I allow to grow naturally long, was still green and there were still plenty of wildflowers for my bees. I’d mowed a path to Lookout Point and to my beehives and close to my RV, but the rest was tall — some of it more than 3 feet tall! — and I saw no reason to cut it back until it died and became a wildfire hazard.

Until I saw the snake.

It was slithering out of the weeds on a direct path to my RV, probably attracted by the shade beneath it. I looked at it carefully to determine what kind of snake it was. Bull snakes, which are common around here, are friends. They eat rodents and rattlesnakes. But rattlesnakes are enemies, especially since I wasn’t 100% confident of Penny’s Arizona rattlesnake avoidance training, which was now more than a year in her past.

Unfortunately, it was a rattlesnake.

Not having a weapon handy and not wanting the damn thing under my RV, I reached down into my poor man’s hot tub, which I’d set up just the day before, and splashed water toward it. It made an about-face and headed back into the tall weeds. I got Penny into the RV, grabbed a heavy piece of scrap wood, and went after it. I tossed the wood onto it. It struck, but not hard enough to kill. The snake took off into the thick weeds over my septic field.

Later that week, I did what I should have done when I bought the place last year: I bought a shotgun and bird shot shells. Yeah, it might be overkill, but any kind of kill would make me happy. The next time I saw it near the RV, all I needed to do was grab the gun, load it with a shell from the open box nearby, and blow the snake’s brains — and everything else — out. The birds would take care of the rest.

That was the plan, anyway.

In the meantime, I mowed. As the green grass and weeds dried and the flowers feeding my bees died, I mowed them away to create a defensible space — not only for wildfire threats, which are very real here in the summer, but for rattlesnake threats. I wanted to see them coming.

About two or three weeks later, I came outside around dusk to take out the trash. I keep my trash can near my shed. As I passed the temporary water spigot, I noted a hole in the ground that I assumed was from a mouse. I stomped it to close it up and heard a rattle.

I think I must have jumped 5 feet backwards. The snake had been curled up near where I stomped and right after rattling, he took off, under the shed. The shed has a porch and the front part was open underneath at the time. Before I could gather my wits after such a scare, the snake was gone.

Not good. Did he live under there? Had he come out of the hole I’d stomped? Did he have friends?

Needless to say, I was a lot more careful when walking around in the evening.

About two weeks ago, while repositioning some of my pallets from behind my shed for use inside my building, I caught a glimpse of a snake slithering away, under my shed. This time I had time to see and count the rattles on its tail — just 3 or 4 of them. A youngster. Anyone who knows anything about rattlesnakes is aware of the theory that they’re the most dangerous.

Of course, there was no way to reach him and I wasn’t about to start firing a shotgun into the small space under the shed. I took measures to block the openings as best as I could. With skids on two sides of the little building and a new concrete platform out front, there was only one way in or out: the back. I closed up as much of it as possible, thus forcing the snake to come and go through a much smaller opening, as far away from my garden as possible.

Peacefully co-exist. That’s what one of my Facebook friends said when I mentioned the snake living under the shed.

I liked the idea. When I lived in Arizona a rattlesnake lived under my chicken coop for a while. It didn’t bother the chickens and the chickens apparently didn’t bother it. And that year, there were no mice in the adjoining feed shed. If the snake stayed under the shed most of the time and just came out to hunt and stayed away from Penny and my chickens and my garden — well, that would be okay.

But that was a lot of ifs.

Too many, apparently.

This morning, one of my chickens was dead. She’s the second to die of the original eight that I bought. As I started moving around equipment to get my ATV out for her “burial” at the far end of my property, I started wondering what had killed her. Had the snake come over to the chicken coop for a visit? Had they fought? Did a snakebite kill her? No matter how much I hoped that wasn’t the case, I had to admit that it was possible.

And then, when I saw the rattlesnake coiled up under where my little farm trailer had been parked only moments before, it became pretty obvious that the snake was not willing to peacefully co-exist with us.

I didn’t need the shotgun. I was holding a shovel.

As the snake stretched out and headed toward the back of the shed, I brought the sharp edge of the shovel down violently, cutting through the snake’s body. Again. And again. The snake was still moving, but it was pretty much cut into four pieces. Guts were coming out.

My First Kill
My friend Bob was right: who needs a shotgun when you have a shovel?

It was still moving when I used the shovel to scoop it into the recycling garbage pail sitting nearby. It’s a deep pail; I didn’t want the snake somehow getting out.

Then I went into the chicken yard and used the shovel to scoop up the dead chicken. After all, that’s why I’d been holding a shovel in the first place. I dumped the chicken onto the snake, put the pail in the back of my ATV, and headed out to the far east end of my property, which is where I left the first chicken who died. This spot is far enough from where I live that I don’t have to worry about Penny finding them. I dumped them unceremoniously in the same spot; scavengers would take care of cleanup, probably within 24 hours.

Is that the only rattlesnake around here? Probably not. A friend of mine claims they always come in pairs — although I can’t say I agree. I’ve seen solitary rattlesnakes before.

I am sure, however, that the one I killed today is the same one that was apparently living under the shed. Same size, same number of rattles. It’s a load off my mind, anyway.

Too bad about the chicken.