By LEON YOUNGBLOOD
There is a “first time” for everything. Love, childbirth, a traffic accident, jury duty, snake bite, voting–any experience, whether it becomes common or not, has to have its introduction. So, responding to a few casual inquiries about the family’s first encounters with our property at Briar Circle, I submit the following:
The first impression of the 20 acres we ended up buying was fairly positive. It was springtime, rainy, everything was green. Our first impressions of the Ouachitas were positive. As far as the land was concerned, tons of rubbish and debris left by the previous owner needed to be hauled off it; but this was stipulated and agreed to. We agreed to buy the land, signed the legal documents and started paying for it when the clearing work was done.
It was done, too, and though not done perfectly, it was close, and a task that had to have been monumental. I did not see the work involved, myself. A week or so after it was completed, I went back on my own, and stood by the entry gate as the real-estate man gave me the digits to the combination lock on it. He got a phone call as we were opening it, and when it was over, said, “I’ll pay it, but there are property taxes owed on the land.”
“How much?” I asked.
“Twelve dollars and fifty cents.”
I gave him the money. If I recall correctly, I signed another paper or two. It was a done deal. We walked together a last time over the overgrown roads and trails, shook hands, and he left. He did say, “If you ever decide to sell it, I hope you will call me,” but I had not decided to sell it. I thanked him and he got into his SUV, and left.
I was not alone, however. The moment–and I mean the moment–the realtor started driving away, tensofhundredsofthousands of dog flies, yellow flies, horse flies and every other variety of biting fly in a sixty-mile radius acquainted themselves, all with the happy attitude that I was the newly opened “Starbucks”, and the only one in the county.
I wasn’t open for business, however. I indicated my position with a generous application of ‘Deep Woods Off’, for I did not like biting flies and don’t like them now. This was only the beginning, however. After hiking around the property for a while, I pitched a tent, cooked a campfire dinner, made myself comfortable, but all the while feeling a certain discomfort. This was not my imagination. The next morning I found myself introduced to every prominent chigger and tick in the region. I had, in fact, noticed that in my reflection off my truck’s windows that I seemed a little pale, that morning. Now, I realize it was no doubt due to the four or five quarts of blood I lost, due to the parasitic insects. I applied more ‘DWO’, though, and took a couple of sips of the stuff to fight them from the nether regions, inside out, itching all the while.
There were more of these “tent days”, sometimes with the family, sometimes without, and they were all quite pleasant, by and large. During one of these trips, the family left early, and I was able to text them, “I just saw a bear!” This irritated my twin daughters, who protested to Mom, “Why does all the good stuff happen to Dad?” I was safe in my truck when I saw the bear, and unsafely out of it when I saw the same bear an hour later. He was a large cinnamon-brown, going through the forest like a silent bulldozer, and he did not acknowledge my presence. I felt no inclination to let him know I was there, either. I was not afraid, but I was silent and cautious. The image of the bear, strolling south to north, was postcard perfect, but I did not have a camera. It does not matter; it is a picture I will never forget.
A few months after this, our pond was built. The site had to be cleared, of course, and a hole dug, and the resulting vegetation-free zone attracted lots of wildlife. Bats liked the easy flyover, and performed their acrobatics every evening. Deer came out to check out the open space and anticipate grass that would soon provide grazing. And scorpions loved it too. I had never encountered more scorpions in my life as I have at Briar Circle. On one occasion, I picked up a bit of rubbish left by the former owner, and three-dozen of the creatures scurried from under it, all seemingly heading for me. I had previously considered scorpions to be desert inhabitants, and suppose they are. Our Ouachita variety were doubtless driven east by their larger, meaner relations who were bigoted against their inability to main or kill. They can teach a person to dance, however, particularly if he or she is barefoot. Astrologically, I am a Scorpio, but this relationship means nothing on either side. I don’t enjoy their presence and the feeling seems mutual.
I don’t mind snakes, as a rule, but to be a venomous snake on our land is an automatic death sentence. When my dog and my daughter passed the business end of a rattlesnake by only a foot, unaware if its presence, I gently reprimanded them and we then killed the snake. I do not fault him; I just want to lessen the chances of children or pets being bitten. My daughter wanted the rattles right then, but I said, “No, give it a couple of hours to make sure it’s dead.” We did get the rattles, but the next morning, the body was gone! Due to a coyote, most likely. I have heard the coyotes conversing at night from three or four different places on the mountains. The first close encounter was when one howled a few yards from the cabin, late at night. I did not investigate or howl back.
I’m proud to say, I’m fortunate enough to have seen a mountain lion around 1:30 in the afternoon two summer days in a row. I was driving, and the first time, he was running ahead of me. The next day, driving the same stretch, I saw him in profile, crossing the road. The tip of his tail to the tip of his nose covered the entire width. This is like my first bear encounter. I did not have my camera, but it doesn’t matter. I’ll never forget that image, as long as I live.
With all of these first encounters, and all the subsequent encounters with wildlife, I confess, there is only one that genuinely, honestly scared me. I was in a thicket by the pond, speculating of something or other, when a loud sound, like an amplified blowtorch, literally surrounded me! I had no notion as to what it could be, and the instant I heard it, I also heard a ruckus in the shrubs, bushes and tree branches. Suddenly, I saw a black spot in the confused blur, and figured I had violated a momma bear’s personal space and needed to contact the undertaker.
It was a turkey. I had seen plenty of turkeys, but this one flew in from somewhere, crashed into the forest just above my head, and scared the willies out of me, and other than fighter jets, I’ve never seen anything that made an entrance like his. I’ve never been able to look at a Thanksgiving table since without thinking of him.
These are not all the first time encounters and new experiences at Briar Circle, but they will do for now. Hope you get out and enjoy the outdoors.
Click HERE to support the Journal.
To submit a story or information, please send an email to [email protected].