Sunrise over a Kentucky wood

I Live in a Children's Book

A few days ago I was talking with a lovely friend of mine about the area I inhabit. I don't quite want to say "the area I live in" because that implies my house alone, and this tale extends beyond any property lines connected to papers with my name on it. Above all else, what I must make plain and clear to you is that I lived in Arizona for fourteen years and my natural habitat included sparrows, hummingbirds, geckos, and the occasional javelina.

And that was about it, really. There was that time a bear got loose in the former GM proving grounds, but he was just as confused as the people who were trying to shoo him out of there.

Have you ever tried to shoo a bear out of anywhere? Neither had these people. Bears are quite used to doing whatever the hell they like and this one wasn't in a shooing mood that morning.

Meanwhile, here in Kentucky I have honest-to-goddess critters. I have a forest biome behind my house and surrounding the area. Within that biome lives a forest spirit, and whether or not you believe in such things is absolutely inconsequential to the fact that she is there. I was aware of her soon after arriving at the house for the first time. I was certainly aware of her when she was laughing at me trying to find my silly-ass pit bull in a dark tanglewood after he'd escaped the yard.

There's a fox who lives in an abandoned out building at the equally abandoned house across the street from me. I have a family of squirrels who gather nuts and plays outside my front window and around the back. There's the toad that chills out in the side yard. There's a park down the street where I go running and also happens to be the home for a small family of deer. In the woods above my house there's an opossum and I know a racoon is around here somewhere, but he's the sneaky sort that doesn't want to socialise.

I see these animals regularly. I've run into the deer multiple times. The fox across the street doesn't see me as a threat and has stood less than ten feet from me as I walked by him. The squirrels -- they're squirrelly. They see everything as a threat and they're not wrong.

I don't know how your mind works, but since I'm living around these animals, seeing them almost every day, I feel compelled to name them. In the introduction to one of his Bloom County collections, Berkeley Breathed explained why animals in his comics actually talk as opposed to communicating via thought bubbles like they do in almost every other comic strip. He explained that, when he talks to animals they appear to be listening, and that's why Opus the penguin speaks openly and plainly and no one in the comic thinks it strange.

I feel the same way.

I've talked to the fox, the squirrels, the toad, the deer, and yes, even the forest spirit. They all appear to be listening, especially the fox. He's quite curious about the two dogs occasionally barking at him through the window. If I'm going to speak to them, then I need something to call them besides "Hey, fox" or "Hi, deer."

The forest at sunrise
Marie, at sunrise.

The thing is, when I named them, they became characters, with personalities. And when that happened, I wanted to know what they might be up to.

The forest spirit, that's Marie. Since she's a forest spirit, she's as old as the forest itself and has gone by many names. But that's what she's asked me to call her and so I shall. She's very chill, especially in the autumn-time as things wind down in the trees and many of the animals take refuge in their dens. 

A squirrel running down the power line.
Wichita, the lineman.

The Chief Squirrel in the area is the busiest one. He's up early getting things done and handling the affairs of the day. His standard method of transportation around the area is the power line that runs down the street. If I'm paying attention, I'll notice the line shaking a minute or so before I actually see him sauntering down the wire. He's a lineman, and thus I named him Wichita.

The fox walking down the road.
On the road with Pierre-Joseph

The fox is Pierre-Joseph and he's very sophisticated, especially for a fox who lives in an outbuilding. Fiercely independent, but sociable. A few days ago he was sitting in his front yard, and it is his front yard as no one else is laying much claim to it, watching me help a neighbour look for his lost dog. I got the distinct impression that Pierre-Joseph hadn't seen her because, if he had, she'd be sitting next to him of course.

I bumped into Carl the toad, almost literally, while my dogs ran around the side yard. He was holding down a rock behind a bush and watching them chase each other around the yard. He gave them a look, gave me a look and, if a frog could shrug, he would have. He's kind of the neighbourhood stoner, though I have no desire to lick him and find out if he's actually made of psychedelia. In my mind, Carl sounds a lot like Steven Wright.

There's Robin the cardinal who occasionally suffers from identity issues, but she's a good bird who merely wants to do her thing in peace. Sometimes that thing is competing for space on the line with Wichita the squirrel but they seem to have an amicable arrangement.

The deer running through the park.
Leslie and her children.

Finally, the deer family and I are newly acquainted. We have Leslie, the mother, and her two kids Emily and Sarah. I startled them at the park when I came up around the running trail and they were snacking on something off to the right. I cannot understand how in the hell I managed to scare a family of skittery deer while I'm out jogging. I'm a 43 year old asthmatic running up a gravel trail. I sound like a poorly tuned steam engine that's about to lose a cylinder. You'd think they'd have heard me coming a quarter of a mile away but, at one point, I was close enough to grab one of their tales and they rushed past me. We need to have a talk about situational awareness, Leslie and I, but we'll get to that later.

Then there's the retinue of fuzzy friends I've seen once or twice, but don't know well enough to name. The albino squirrel is a rare sight, but a welcome one. She has lovely ivory coat and moves with a different grace than the other squirrels. She knows she's special, that's for sure.

I've only seen the opossum once in the woods above the house. I spotted their white face for a moment before they disappeared into the brush. Opossum get a bad rap because people think they're mean or dangerous. Actually, the standard opossum just wants to be left the hell alone and things are copacetic so long as you hold up that end of the agreement. In exchange a single opossum can kill and eat around 5,000 ticks per season, which I think is more than a fair trade for honouring their right to solitude.

In general, I look out my window every day and see a cast of characters worthy of any half-way decent kids book. Maybe something a bit Downton Abbey meets Redwall, though I joked with my friend it'd be funny if it was a Redwall crossed with a Game of Thrones situation. I think I'd prefer something more relaxed though, but with a steadier pulse than Downton Abbey which, last time I checked, doesn't have a pulse. The whole story reminds me of Eddie Izzard's joke about the standard British drama titled A Room With a View With a Staircase and a Pond.

Better yet, there are so damn many mystery books where the detective is a cat, or a dog, or a cat and a dog who are partners in the Homicide Division of the Chicago Police Department. I think it's time we had some cozy mysteries where the detective is a dapper fox, like Nick Wilde in Zootopia but with a large helping of Adam Dalgliesh and a side of Maigret. I, for one, would welcome an Inspector Pierre-Joseph mystery.

Someone should really get on that.

Pierre-Joseph était un jeune marchand
n'avait seulement que 19 ans