Fat Gophers and Fast Mice

The other night, I lost a mouse in the studio. (again literally “Lost” not as in “it died.”

It was the day after I released the gophers, way at the back of the property. I had thought about keeping the entertaining little buggers, but they were born wild and therefore should be returned to the wild.

The same with the mother mouse. We found her and her babies in a drawer in Jimmy’s shed and I couldn’t bear to kill them. So I made up an aquarium (with a tight lid) and let her raise them.

Since Bob took off, I was going to have the glass reptarium on my table anyway (no other place to store it) I thought I could build a mouse palace for the 4 babies. I did, they have a castle with rooms, an exercise wheel and toys.

That’s where the problems started.

I scooped up Mom Mouse and released her on the other side of the fence.. (You know, the born wild rule) That went smoothly and so did moving three of the babies. The fourth, however, completely ignored the net, ran straight up my arm, over my shoulder and made a daring leap to the floor where he promptly disappeared in the maze that is my studio.

I figured that eventually, he would show up. Last night, as I was on my way to bed, he did. I swear to Buddha, he ran out and thumbed his nose at me, only to disappear again under the shelves.

“Hah!” I said as I went to get my tiniest live trap. “I’ll have you by morning”. I baited the trap with the only thing mice can’t resist….Twinkies.
This morning, the twinkie was gone and the trap had misfired. (probably due to me dropping it twice while getting it off the top shelf). I got the hammer and pounded out the dent. I reset it, not expecting to see anything till tomorrow morning.

About an hour ago, I noticed Sophie on point at the mouse trap. I picked it up. It seemed awfully heavy for a mouse.. It was. It wasn’t a mouse. It seems gophers like twinkies too.

I’m not really all that surprised that he actually got his chubby little butt up to the house from the back yard. I AM astonished that he got in the house (probably through the doggy door) and back to my studio. Right now, he is standing up like a fat little meerkat laughing at me from a hamster cage. So much for being wild.

We’ll see how fast he makes it back after I blindfold him and take him for a long ride in the car.

Oh shit. There are 6 more out there and a mouse in my studio.

I don’t think I have enough twinkies.

Fished up Kingfisher

I just had one of those great endings I always look for. You know, a happy end to a bad situation. (no, unfortunately the Karen next door didn’t move).

Yesterday a woman shows up (in a really nice car, by the way) all in a dither. She didn’t want to wait to call me , she just wanted to get here right away. (Good thing I was home). She had a bird. She had no idea what kind of bird. It had been hanging from a tree by fishing line.

As soon as I heard it trilling from the box, I knew it was a Kingfisher. I’ve raised lots of these and they stay just long enough to clean out any goldfish in my pond.

Kingfishers nest in banks of sand or clay near rivers or lakes. They dig a tunnel (I have no clue how they do this) and build their nest at the back. This unfortunately leads to people accidently digging them up when they move a sand bank or buy some fill dirt. The last batch of babies I got, tumbled out of the scoop of a back hoe and the people thought they were pinecones, till one of them moved.

They really do resemble living, moving pinecones. Their feathers have rather long sheaths covering them (I suppose it has something to do with the dirt that surrounds them) And they kind of stick out like bristles. They only way you know you are looking at a bird at first, is that long, rather sharp beak.

Once you get the dirt brushed off them, their spiky head crest pops up and you get a stern look from piercing black eyes. (They all look fierce, It’s just their “thing” I guess) The next thing you notice is that they have no legs. No legs and tiny little feet. They are not built to walk. Ever. They are built to fly and perch on branches and to dive and swim under water to catch the fish and water bugs they feed on.

The other thing I like about these birds is their coloring. As an adult, they are a deep green with a rusty red breast. They blend in perfectly with the trees they perch in watching the water.

The things i like least are their long sharp beaks and their call. To say a Kingfisher is loud is an understatement. The only birds I have ever raised that is louder, is a bucket full of chimney swifts. (Imagine a rusty smoke detector. Magnify that by however many birds are in that bucket)

I’m not even sure how to describe the call of a Kingfisher. It’s a trilling sound, but has definite overtones of a badly slipping fan belt. They call when they are hungry. They call when you walk through a room, they continue to call even after you move them to a pen outside where they can’t see you. Then when they are free, they call from all over the neighborhood, just to let you know they are there.

Kingfishers are great though, the first few days you may have to force feed them. (usually by prying that sharp beak open and stuffing a catfish nugget down their throat., but they quickly learn to grab that fish or nugget or finger as soon as it appears. You go through a lot of Band-Aids raising Kingfishers. Then suddenly, one day they don’t want you to feed them. They will fight you beak and claw to avoid that catfish nugget. You open the door to the pen and they go. They fly straight up and out, so you better not be in their way.

They never come back to you again. They just scream hello as they fly over you in the garden.

But, back to the bird in hand. I pulled the Kingfisher out of the box, mostly by his beak hanging onto my finger. He continued to gnaw on me as I examined him. A beautiful adult male, he was in perfect prime, except for one wing. His right wing looked as if it had been stripped of feathers from the joint down. There was indeed a very fine red wire fishing line tangled and wound around the remaining primary feather.

It didn’t look good, but I smiled and promised to do my best for him. She left feeling better and promised to try and catch some minnows off their dock. Before she left, she stuffed some cash in my pocket in case she couldn’t. Minnows are expensive.

The bird screamed curses at me and all my offspring as we went in the house and the magnifying light. Once I started working on his wing, he calmed down, almost as if he knew I was trying to help him, though it was most likely exhaustion. I’d never seen fishing line like this, it was almost as fine as a human hair and made of wire. It was tangled and wrapped so tightly that I couldn’t unwind it. Finally I got a darning needle and managed to slip it under the wire and clip the strands and knots with my finest and smallest scissors. (so much for the art of Japanese paper cutting). I came up on the last tangled area at the top of his wing. It took some serious finagling and a few more bites, but the wire was free.

That’s when amazing things started to happen. The feathers were intact. I brushed them back in place with my fingers and straightened them the best I could. I manipulated the wing and nothing was broken or displaced. There was some swelling at the shoulder socket, but otherwise it seemed fine.

I decided that since I already had him pissed off, I’d force feed him some intensive recovery food that comes in a packet to be mixed with water. He actually took it well. I then moved him out to the fawn pen where he could rest in the straw in peace. I only bothered him twice more to feed before dark.

After a night where I listened to the fawns bitch because someone was in their pen (even though they hardly use it any more) I went out to check him in the morning light. He was sitting up (as well as a Kingfisher can sit up with those tiny feet and no legs), he raised his crest and trilled when he saw me. I opened the door. He flew straight past me and is now eyeing the last nervous goldfish in my pond. They will both be gone in a few hours.

If all that wasn’t cool enough. When he reached that tree over the fishless pond. He lifted his head and called out in what sounded like triumph….a dozen others answered from almost every direction.

Hi guys. I’m glad you’re doing well and still around.

I guess I’d better go buy more goldfish.

I lost a goose

I lost a goose today. No. He didn’t die. I just kind of misplaced him for a few hours.

He was around this morning and then I got busy and wasn’t paying attention to him and his obviously chosen mate. The female is a bit younger and doesn’t fly as well, but the male is testing his wings. I end up retrieving him from the duck pen, from Levi’s yard, from Ben and Sam’s yard….it’s a work in progress. He can get there, but can’t always figure out how to get back.

This afternoon I did notice that he was running around the yard willy-nilly while flapping his wings. By evening, I noticed he was gone. His little mate was wandering around the yard crying piteously. I felt so bad I left the beans I was prepping to dehydrate on the counter and went out looking for him. I checked in front, Jimmy checked in back.

Just as we were coming in the back door, we heard the bell ring. A woman who lives over a mile away was on the porch. She said she had a Canada Goose in her yard and figured it belonged here. We grabbed the net and followed her home. It was almost dark, but we could see her teenaged daughter herding a goose in the driveway.

As soon as I got out of the car he ran towards me, but with so many people around he wouldn’t let me pick him up. We used the net, his dignity was sorely bruised. Better his dignity, than my head. We got his wings under control and he rode quietly home on my lap. He would groom my hair, then my eyebrows and made a fair attempt at my old lady moustache by the we pulled in the drive.

As soon as he knew he was home, he got excited and It was not easy carrying him to the back yard. I had to pull the string to open the gate with my teeth, but we got there. He called out to his mate and she called back. I set him down and they ran to each other.

The reunion was truly touching. They chattered happily to each other and touched heads repeatedly. Finally they wandered off to their wading pool for a cool drink. All was well in their world.

I looked around the yard. I could smell the blooming phlox and night flowers. The solar lights were coming on one by one and a small bat flitted about my head catching mosquitoes. The moon was just rising and it’s nearly full. I could watch stars appear one by one just like my solar lights.

I sat out there for a while simply enjoying the night. Crickets sang and off somewhere in the yard I could hear the mother peacock cooing her babies to sleep. It was beautiful and I would have missed it if not for the lost goose. I have no idea how he ended up there, perhaps he tried to follow the wild geese as they came off the mill pond and he couldn’t quite keep up and landed. They said he seemed rather determined to walk home as I suppose he is not yet ready to fly at night.

It was getting chilly and I needed to finish the beans. For some reason I reached up and felt my ear. My left earring was gone. My favorite gold hoop earrings that I wear most days of the week. I started to feel sad and then I thought…..

I’d rather see that goose reunion than have all the gold earrings in the world

Squirrel milk vs. Goat milk

I knew that possums had a fair sense of smell, but holy cow, I had no idea just how good it is.

last night the pole dancing porcupine, Moon Pie, wanted a bottle. I really wonder if she will ever give it up, but then if she does she will probably exchange it for a beer bottle. Anyway, all the other animals were asleep, including the batch of baby possums I have in the studio.

Now these possums are probably somewhere between the size of a large mouse and a very small rat and they get baby food (otherwise known as “baby meat and baby slop” on the shopping list), with goatmilk poured over it. Sometimes if I’ve mixed up extra for the porcupine, they get squirrel milk (I really want to meet the guy that milks those squirrels)

They LOVE the squirrel formula. They tolerate the goat milk.

So about 11:15 Pm. I go and make Moon Pie her night bottle. She likes it with a little Gerber sweet potato with cinnamon mixed in. (Hey, none of that cheap-assed Sprout or Meijer for my girl, that’s for possums). I sit down with her in the desk chair and all of a sudden these little possum faces pop up out of the bottom of their cage. They ended up literally, drooling through the wire. They went from a sound sleep to ‘Hey I can smell that” is 10 seconds or less.

That’s a pretty good nose.

As an experiment, I gave them two dishes of milk. One squirrel, one goat. EVERYBODY was at the squirrel dish, except for Oscar,( there’s something not quite right about that boy). Then I gave them one dish of the Gerber cinnamon sweet potato and a dish of Meijer, squash, plumb and beets (yea, I know babies eat disgusting things). Oscar dove into the squash face first and wallowed. Everybody else just licked him off later.

Then I thought, “hey, there must be something to this and I TASTED the two formulas. I’d put that squirrel stuff in my coffee instead of creamer. It was that good. Too bad it’s so expensive.

So the take away on this? 1. I’ll do about anything after midnight. 2. We need to milk more squirrels. 3. Possums have very discerning noses and 4.I think Oscar and I have a lot in common brainwise.

Counting crows

I had the best ending possible with the crow I was raising. It came to me sick. Very sick. There were three found on a golf course, all alone in the sun.
Crows never abandon their babies. For these three to be there, not only the parents, but any extended family would already be dead.
One crow was barely alive and didn’t even make it here. Of the other two, one was extremely ill and the other just hanging in there. I recognized the signs of poison. The ticks, the drooling, the head tilting backwards. They could not even stand and used their partially feathered wings to support themselves.
My best guess is that the golf course (this was just before they reopened to the public) had poisoned gophers, chipmunks or other rodents they consider to be “pests”.
The family unit of crows not only ate them, but fed them to their babies. The adults received the higher dose, the babies a bit less, so they died slower, no water, no food, hot sun. They probably fell from the nest.
I wasn’t sure I could save either of them, but they made it through the night. On the third day the sickest one died in spite of treatment. The other began to respond. Another day and he could stand. A few more and he took food from my fingers instead of pumping liquid food into him.
He was a bit odd. Most crows bond quickly to me, but I figured that since this one was nearly ready to fledge, he was more independent. He was inside for about a month and started flying from shelf to desk. Where ever a crow flies or lands or sits, it also shits. there was a lot of that going on. He liked to sit on top of the other cages and see if he could make direct hits on the occupants. The night I had to clean crow crap off my keyboard with a cotton swab, I decided he was moving outside.
His big cage went out on the porch, where he could see the other crows and wild birds. The other crows were my main worry. There is a family unit that lives out behind the house. Family units are close knit and they don’t often tolerate strange crows in their territory. Especially when they have babies. This family had three, I could hear them every day.
I suspect that at least one of the original members of this clan was raised by me a few years ago and I know that the crow from last summer was accepted into their family. I really hoped that a gradual introduction could be made.
After some time with the cage on the porch, I let the fledgling out. They usually don’t go far at first, and stay in the front yard to be close to the kitchen door for feeding. The first day went fine. I noticed last years crow was coming to the big maple tree to observe the newcomer. I prayed that he would not attack it.
By the third day of letting him out, he flew to the tree where the older crow sat. Then they disappeared. By evening. I worried, I called for the baby crow. I finally heard him answer from across the street in a wooded area. I got some food and went to him. He was just out of reach. I knew he must be hungry, but he ignored my repeated offers of food. I finally gave up around dark and hoped he would be back at the porch in the morning.
He wasn’t. He was not where I last saw him either. I did not see him all day, nor did I see the crow from last year. I thought I’d lost him.
On the second morning, I heard him in the back yard. I could also hear the other crows and their babies. I went out and could see him high up in a dead tree next door. I kept trying to coax him down and then another crow flew next to him and fed him. It was the yearling crow from last year. It had taken on the baby crow.
Now I hear 4 babies calling to their family members to feed them. He is living the life of an absolutely normal crow. He has family. One of the most important things for a crow to survive is family. They took him in. I don’t know for sure, but I believe it was because they knew he was connected to me and they recognize me as some sort of friend.
They can teach him what I can’t. They can feed him and groom him and teach him to chase away hawks and eagles from my yard. In some way, they are my protectors and my children at the same time.
Crows. They never cease to amaze me.

Good night sweet princes and princesses

The moon is coming full and it reminds me to make my list of fawn supplies. Goat milk replacer, a new bag of colostrum, a few packages of rubber nipples, 16 ounce soda bottles (someone will have to drink the soda for me) bottle brushes, canned pumpkin and of course, baby shampoo for washing fawn butts.

Almost every fawn up here in the north, will be born between this full moon and the next. It’s been a mild winter, so there will probably be many sets of twins, maybe some triplets. They are born I such large numbers that the coyotes who prey on them will be overwhelmed and over fed. It seems harsh, but it actually allows more fawns to survive.

As soon as a doe gives birth, she will clean up her fawn and get it on its feet as soon as possible. She will lead the wobbly baby to a safer place, away from the scent of the birth process. There, she will nurse it and quickly move away. Since the fawn has little scent of its own, it will be safer from predators if she is not too close. She will be nearby watching and listening though and will come back periodically to allow it to feed and often lead it to another place and hide it again.

Instinctively, the fawns know not to move. Their soft spots allow them to blend into their surroundings. Sometimes those surroundings may be surprisingly close to a house. I receive many calls each spring from frantic home owners who find a fawn tucked among the hostas or under a low hanging tree. If the fawn is lying quietly, I assure them that it has not been abandoned. Does rarely abandon their babies and a quiet fawn us usually just fine. She thinks of your yard is a safe place for her baby. Enjoy the treat.

If you find a fawn lying quietly, curled up with his nose tucked to its tail. It is fine to take a quick photo from a distance (NO SELFIES please) and then move away. It may pick up its head and give you a gaze, but will stay put unless you interfere with it. You may hear a snort from a distance and know that mom is watching your every move and wants you to leave her baby alone. Please do!

If by chance the fawn is in an unsafe place, like the middle of a two track or a construction site (believe me, it’s happened), Try and contact a rehabber before you move it to a safer spot in the near vicinity. Never move a fawn that is not in emanate danger.

A fawn that is wandering around and crying needs help. A fawn standing alongside a dead mother on the road needs help. Call a licensed rehabilitator (there is a list on line, under wildlife rehabilitation)

Every year I get in at least one fawn that was unnecessarily removed from the wild. Sometimes It is a well-meaning person who doesn’t understand the ways of nature. Sometimes, I can return them to their mothers. Most of the time, it is too late. Others are attacked by family dogs (KEEP YOUR DOG LEASHED when in the woods in the spring), once, I got one in that had been dragged through the doggy door by a yellow lab. It’s not usually pretty when a dog grabs a fawn. I’ve been spattered with blood way too often trying to save them. It always breaks my heart.

Most of the time, the fawns are found in the area where a doe has been killed by a car and someone manages to catch it and bring it to me. Sometimes people hear the fawn crying for days before they find it. Then I am dealing with a dehydrated, starving and traumatized animal and trying desperately to save it.

Then, there are the people who think they can raise it themselves. That’s not a good idea. Not only is it illegal, but it’s not as easy as it seems. If they are lucky, someone, (usually the DNR) finds out and the fawn is brought to me. Hopefully too much damage has not already been done.

Fawns need to be fed at least 5 to 6 times a day, 24 hours a day. That means getting up in the middle of the night for weeks. Fawns don’t take to the bottle easily and it can be a real struggle in the beginning to feed them. They require special formulas, they require manual stimulation with a warm wash cloth to get them to eliminate in the beginning. Then they poop and pee anytime, anywhere on whoever that feel like. That’s the reason for the baby shampoo.

I usually start them in a play pen in the house, and then as soon as possible I move them to a large, completely enclosed, outdoor pen attached to the house. The door stays closed for a few weeks, and on warm days I let them out into a small area within our fenced in yard. When they can jump that three foot fence, they have the run of the whole, fenced in ¾ acre yard. And run they do. The center of the yard is my garden surrounded by another fence (People joke that the animals run free in my yard , but the plants are caged. It’s true.) The area around the garden becomes their own personal race track and I can never keep grass growing on the corners.

Bottle feedings get further apart as the fawns start eating grass (and my hostas) and deer chow. They get peppermints for treats and till mid-July, they still get tucked into bed in their pen every night. I love that last feeding at night best. I get milky kisses and nuzzles before I go in. As I latch the door, I always say “Good night sweet princes and princesses of the forest. Dream of sunny days and cool nights, winter moons and sweet clover. Someday you will be free.”

Then in September, I lower the gates to the outside world. Sometimes they go over right away; sometimes, they don’t leave the yard for another week. They are allowed to come and go as they please, as long as they please. The very longest night of the year is the night they aren’t all back in the yard when I go to bed. I lay there listening for every sound. “Was that a coyote in the distance? Did I hear the screech of brakes?” Usually though, they are there in the morning waiting for breakfast and peppermints.

Some stop coming back within weeks, some still return until Thanksgiving or Christmas. Eventually though, it happens. I go out in the yard and call, “Babies! Where are you?”, and no one comes.

Then I stand there in the silence and say “Good night sweet princes and princesses of the forest. Dream of sunny days and cool nights, of winter moons and sweet clover. Today….you are free.

Shocking the Kid

I grossed out my son this morning. You’d think after all these years, he’d have seen it all.

I guess he’d never seen me give a squirrel CPR.

Earlier in the morning a woman had called and said she had two young squirrels that seemed fine yesterday, but weren’t doing well today. They had come up to her family earlier in the weekend and started crawling up legs at the campfire.

Squirrels aren’t supposed to do that.

Luckily, they realized that these were quite young and very hungry. They gave them bread and bits of nuts and seeds and let them drink a little water out of a dish. Last night, they made a little nest for them in the wood box outside (What? Not everyone brings random squirrels into their house like me?) It got really cold last night. The babies were cold and lethargic this morning and wouldn’t eat.

What she didn’t know, is that young squirrels who loose their mother stay in the nest for a few days waiting for her to come back and feed them. When she doesn’t, they crawl out and down the tree and walk up to anything bigger than them looking for food. Unfortunately, what is bigger than them is usually looking for food too….end of squirrel.

By the time someone finds them or they find someone who will pay attention to them, they have usually been without food three to five days. The first thing people think is that all squirrels eat nuts and seeds and bread. They don’t. Baby squirrels will nurse up to three months and sometimes longer. The only thing their system is able to digest is milk. They may not be able to process the hard foods, especially if they are dehydrated.

These were dehydrated, even though they had tried to give them water, even mixing sugar and a bit of salt with it, they didn’t realize how much and how often they would need it. The poor little things did not have the resources to keep warm through the cold night.

By the time they got here, only one was moving and that was barely. The other was cold and still. I didn’t want to tell her the squirrel was dead, so I rushed them into the house. The breathing squirrel went right into intensive care (a box on my desk with a heating pad underneath)
The other squirrel was still limp instead of stiff and since the woman said he was still breathing when she left the house…I figured I’d give it a shot.

I started CPR. You have to pump fast to keep up with a squirrel’s metabolism and after about 30 compressions, I went to give him a breath. That’s were Levi comes in. He was at the desk working on my computer.
I gave a few tiny puffs and more compressions. As I went to give him another puff of air, I glanced over at my son.

He was sitting there, mouth agape with a look of horror on his face.(Maybe it was disbelief, it’s hard to tell any more.)
He said, “MOM! You don’t know where that squirrel’s mouth has been!”
I told him, “Well I KNOW where yours has been and I still kiss you!” and went back to work.

It wasn’t long before the squirrel took a few breaths and moved a tiny bit. I tucked him in my shirt to warm him and feel if he stopped breathing again. Pretty soon, I could tuck him in with his sister in ICU.
It was absolutely amazing how quickly Levi finished up on my computer and disappeared.

Throughout the afternoon, I gave them Pedialyte and kept them warm. By tonight they were up and wanting milk. Now their tummies are full and they are snuggled next to the miracle squirrel from last week. I think they will be just fine, even if one does has a trace of lipstick over his nose.

And Levi? Well, I don’t think I’ll be kissing my son anytime soon…..and he thought all he had to worry about was Corona…..

Pandemics Don’t Wait

Pandemic or not, the babies won’t wait.

I’ve been worried the past two weeks…what if I have a house full of babies and I get sick? Who will feed them? I even considered holding off on taking any until things have calmed down.

I didn’t really get a choice.

The first squirrel came in this afternoon. The woman who found her, came as far as the porch and held out a box at arm’s length. I reached in and pulled out a baby fox squirrel and took her quickly in the house. My records may be a bit shabby this year. I barely remembered the woman’s name and that she was from Traverse City.

She did tell me while on the phone that her cat brought this baby home. I explained that there might not be much hope with the cat having it in it’s mouth, but she seemed desperate for me to try. I kind of understand that desperation.

Things seem pretty bleak and hopeless right now. The virus is in Traverse City and the cases are growing. We all feel helpless. Handwashing and social distancing just don’t seem to be enough to combat this. People are going to die. Maybe people we know. Maybe people we love. Maybe us.
I really can’t do anything about that. I can only try to keep myself and those I keep close, as healthy as I can.

I can do something about the squirrel.

She seems healthy. Maybe we got lucky and the cat never broke the skin. I can’t find any wounds and she is already taking to the formula. Tonight I came in the studio and she was snuffling around in her box and making those baby squirrel sounds that I hear, even in my sleep.

Thankfully she’s old enough to go through the night without feeding, but I know I’ll wake up and feed her anyway. It’s amazing how that works. I don’t use alarm clocks to wake me…I just wake up when a baby needs me.
We’ll know by tomorrow if the cat infected her. The bacteria they carry in their mouths kills within 24 hours. Hopefully she’ll be fine. Hopefully we’ll all be fine. Hopefully, I won’t get sick.

That’s a lot of “Hopes”, but right now we need all the “Hopes” we can muster.

Stay well. Stay hopeful. Stay kind.

Worst Mom Ever

I am the worst mom ever….at least as far as Ki Ki is concerned.
Yesterday I was out in the garden shed putting away the last of the snowmen and some fake greens. She ran in with me and wouldn’t come out. So I went off to do something else and left the door open.

Later I went into the other shed for a clean sap bucket. I had no idea that she followed me in and crawled to the back. I left and latched the door.
Around dinner time, the Keeks didn’t show. Nor did she later in the evening when she normally comes in for a nap. I was hoping that she had made a kill somewhere (not one of my chickens this time) and wasn’t hungry

. When I went to bed I wondered about her and looked out at the sheds to see if the electric candles in the window were still there and on. I figured that if she was trying to get out, she would have knocked it down. Both candles were on.

This morning. Still no Ki Ki. Sophie seemed a little lost and I was getting worried, yet hoping that she was testing her independence. I had a morning appointment and left. When I came home? No Keeks. The stupid turtle had opened the back door and I had to trudge all the way to the goose pen to retrieve him. Sophie of course, followed. I called for Ki Ki several times.

On the way back to the house I propped all 40 pounds of angry turtle on my hip and opened the garden shed again. No Keeks and nothing was disturbed. I shut the door and went back to the house.to warm the turtle. (He peed down my leg and into my boot in protest.)

Then I realized. Sophie didn’t come in. She was standing and staring at the other shed. The candle was NOT in the window. I ran out and opened the door. 15 pounds of cat bounced off my chest and tackled Sophie in a joyous reunion.

Try as I might, she would not let me pet her. She kind of snort-growled at me and sauntered off to the house to sit in front of the “Magic Box of Sustenance” (AKA the fridge). I fed her gobs of fresh burger, which she might have choked on for all the purring.

My punishment consisted of her directly knocking over all the begonia plants in the window and sitting with her back to me. It took several hours and another handful of burger to buy forgiveness, but she is now laying on the floor with one paw holding my foot.

I really wish she didn’t have her claws out. I’m afraid to move.

The wood turtle Bob.

I am worried about Bob. Bob is a wood turtle that came to me two years ago with a badly fractured shell. A DNR officer had seen a young woman driving while talking on her phone. She never even attempted to miss him, even though there was room. He pulled her over, but was unable to ticket her for distracted driving. In his frustration, he made her find the turtle at the edge of the road and see the damage she had done.
I’ll never know if it impressed her or not, but it did the officer. Even though one side of the shell was broken on both top and bottom and there was considerable blood, the turtle stretched out his head and looked the officer dead in the eye. He decided then and there that he wanted to try and save him.

When he arrived here, I had my doubts. Once the inner membrane of the shell is breached, bacteria enters and the turtle usually does not make it. As I examined him, the turtle gave me the same look. Not afraid, not suffering, just interested in me. On closer inspection I noticed that he had no toes on his front feet. No claws, no toes. There were only well healed stumps.

I’ve only seen that once before in a tortoise that someone kept in a drained cement swimming pool. The turtle spent an unknowable length of time trying to climb it’s way out and literally wore off his toes.

Now a captive tortoise with no toes is one thing, but in a wild turtle, no front toes would not allow him to dig down in the forest floor or mud and hibernate. So between the lack of toes and his unusually calm demeanor (Something I have NEVER seen in a wood turtle) I assume that he had been captive and either escaped or been dumped in the wild.

Even more convincing, was that he was found in an area with neither wood nor water. Being semi aquatic, wood turtles live near streams or shallow rivers, never venturing more than a quarter of a mile from this water source. Turtles, especially land turtles, establish an internal map of their territory. Once removed to a new one, they may spend years wandering aimlessly seeking the familiar. I never encourage anyone to relocate land turtles in the wild for this very reason.

All of this added together, brought about a heavy sigh. If the turtle did survive, he would be with me forever. By all
appearances, I put is age somewhere between 20 and 35 years. In the wood turtle world, that’s an old man. The average lifespan is about 40 (up to 58 in captivity). I figured this old man had already suffered enough bad breaks and could spend his remaining years in whatever relative comfort I could provide.

So after letting him chill in the fridge over night, (it puts them in a torpid state and makes it easier to work on), I set about patching his shell. First I cleaned the wound with sterile saline, (pressurized contact lense solution does a great job). then I took bits of medical tape and did my bet to put the puzzle of pieces back in place. I used sticky plastic food wrap to cover the missing spots. Then I started coating the whole area with layers of auto undercoating and tissue paper.

Between layers, the turtle goes back in the fridge to dry. The undercoating has a strong smell, kind of like a cross between hot rubber bands and nail polish remover. It’s not real pleasant, especially in the refrigerator. It’s bad enough to open the door and see a turtle looking back at you, but then you add the smell and we usually eat out on turtle days.

Gradually, I built up enough layers for the shell to be stable, now what do I do with him? Well, you make a playpen on the ground in the herb garden. Believe it or not he thrived. He gorged on blackberries and blossoms, bugs and worms, even the occasional bit of fish or chicken was gone shortly after it was put in his reach.

Winter came and since he couldn’t dig down to hibernate, I brought him inside and dedicated space in my studio, for a four foot reptile palace of dirt and moss, with potted plants (which he ate and dug from their pots), a basking light and a shallow pool. All winter he consumed night crawlers and five dollar a can turtle food that smelled of apples and corn.

Once I made the mistake of putting a sparrow in his tank while I got out a cage. I came back to find the sparrow shrieking and Bob hanging on to it’s wing. It was his prize and he wasn’t going to give it up easily. I had to trade it for a bite of steak. I don’t think he ever really forgave me. Neither did the bird.

Spring came and we built a fence around the herb garden with a deeper pool and lots of mulch. There were spots to sun and places to hide and everyday when I called him to breakfast he would poke his head out from somewhere to see what I was offering. Summer passed and it was time to come in again.
The beginning of winter was good, every day he waited for his worms and treats, but lately, he seems off. I cleaned his water dish yesterday and when I picked it up, there were at least a dozen worms living under it. He doesn’t get as excited when I drop in fat blackberries or melon. Today, he simply watched his worms crawl under the water dish and sat under his light.
He seems lighter in weight and well…older His neck wrinkles and when he extends it, he looks like Mitch Mc Connell. (And Mitch Mc Connell is OLD-old)

Maybe that’s it. Maybe he is just winding down from old age. Maybe, like me, he longs for spring and sunshine and grass…instead of snow and cold. Maybe he’ll see another spring and perk up and have a happy summer…..maybe he won’t.
There is one thing I’m glad for. I’m glad that I gave Bob the chance to have a few happy years. I’m glad for the company in the long winters. He’s been easy to have around. You can’t say that about just any old turtle. Bob is a good boy.