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What's the Point?

Okay, so we know how I’ll benefit from this endeavor. I’ll gain experience in the great outdoors that will help me write a better book set in the Adirondacks. But you, my dear reader, may well be asking, “What’s in all this for me?” Hopefully you’ll gain a little knowledge, have a few laughs, and vicariously enjoy a sense of adventure. Think of it as a modern-day Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, where you get to sit comfortably at your computer screen – much like Marlin Perkins watching from a safe distance behind some bushes. I, on the other hand, will go out into the wild, ala Jim Fowler, and do all the heavy lifting in an effort to entertain you.

            Well, on second thought…

Entries in wildlife (4)


Hippos In Lake George


One of my pet peeves about nature is, well, all that nature. Especially when that nature is in the form of untamed wildlife. Bears? Terrifying. Coyotes? Ditto. Bobcats? We’re talking nightmare material. Aggressive squirrels? Don’t get me started. 


Although one of my hobbies is collecting phobias, I prefer collecting them at home where I can worry and fret in the relative safety of my family room. But now that I think of it, it’s been a while since I cleaned beneath the sofa cushions. Hey, who cued the music from Jaws?

So imagine my surprise – and terror –when I was sitting on said sofa the other night, minding my own business, while my husband was watching a show on the Geographic Nature of Discovery Planet channel.  I wasn’t really paying attention because even shows about nature raise my blood pressure to a level that can be alleviated only by eating a bowl of ice cream. Since my pants were already feeling a bit snug, I focused on worrying about other animal-related issues instead.  Like whether dust bunnies harbor Lyme disease-carrying ticks and how some little lizard knows I’m paying too much for my car insurance.

My ears perked up, though, when I realized the show’s narrator was talking about Lake George. I’ve been swimming in Lake George for years and I have the black and white photos taken with a Brownie camera to prove it. “How nice that they’re featuring ‘The Queen of American Lakes,’” I thought. But something in the narrator’s voice told me this was no Chamber of Commerce fluff piece. After all, this is the network that takes every opportunity to remind us that we’re all just one wrong turn away from being something else’s dinner. So what was the subject of the show: killer zebra mussels? Asian clams gone bad?


Turns out, they were talking about hippos. Now they had my full attention. I was eager to get a look at the confused hippo that had made a wrong turn at the equator and ended up in Lake George’s chilly waters. So I did what I usually do when I want to get a better look at something – I grabbed the remote and turned up the volume.


To my horror, the accompanying footage made it clear that the narrator wasn’t talking about one hippo, but hundreds of them. Enough hippos to make the Minne-Ha-Ha paddle for its life.

I already have enough trouble getting up the nerve to swim in Lake George – especially where the water’s deep (okay – you can stop playing the Jaws music). My imagination gives me plenty to be afraid of, even when I try to convince myself that a super croc would rather eat a jet ski than a swimmer like me. Now I was going to have to contend with hippos, too.  Something told me it was going to take more than a kayak paddle to fight them off.


And then, as so often happens in my stories, things got worse. Turns out all the hippos are dying. Not from natural causes, or because the water in Lake George is too damn cold, but from anthrax. That’s right. ANTHRAX! Does the EPA, DEC, APA, LGA, and ADK know about this? (I left out WTF, but I’m sure you were already thinking that).


Just as I was about to cancel my summer vacation plans for the next 100 years, a map appears on the screen. They were talking about Lake George, Uganda not Lake George, NY. Never mind. I’m going to get some ice cream.


It's A Trap!

I have a problem with wild life. Correction: make that wildlife, because my actual life is pretty dull. My most pressing wildlife problem at the moment involves otters that visit my dock every night. I’ve never actually seen one of them, but I’m aware of their presence because they leave what my mother would refer to as their “calling card.” And if that’s their calling card, I assume that they like to call each other “stinky fish poop.”

That’s right – those cute little aquatic animals everyone loves to watch at the aquarium are actually sleek vessels of foul-smelling doom. Nearly every evening they torpedo my dock with droppings that smell like the scrap heap from Satan’s All-Night Sushi Restaurant and Chum Bucket Emporium. Any horizontal surface is fair game for their deposits: dock posts, kayaks, even flip-flops. And what they don’t poop on they drag into the water to play with and leave on the bottom of the lake. Thoughtless bastards.

I’ve tried various things to dissuade them from visiting my dock, including dried coyote urine, which resulted in giving the entire area a festive, unattended restroom vibe. I eventually called a guy who advertised the humane removal and relocation of nuisance animals. He told me, “Lady, it’s outside. There are going to be wild animals. Get used to it.” But I didn’t want to get used to it. I wanted to get even.

So naturally when I learned that the Becoming an Outdoors Woman program (BOW) was offering a course called “Beginning Trapping,” I was eager to sign up. At last, I thought, I’d find a way to be rid of my otter problem. And while I was as it, I might also learn how to keep chipmunks from digging in my garden.

The instructors were knowledgeable and experienced trappers. The first thing they stressed was the importance of responsible trapping and knowing the laws. Then we were told that a responsible trapper must kill a trapped animal quickly and humanely, either by shooting it or by asphyxiation. That’s when I realized that the proper use of Have-a-heart traps would not be on the syllabus. (Fun fact: otters and other aquatic mammals are biologically incapable of taking water into their lungs, so they asphyxiate rather than drown. Now you’re a shoo-in to win the next Grizzly Adams Memorial Trivia Bowl. You’re welcome.)

Once we’d covered the basics in the classroom, we hiked into the woods to observe actual trapping in action. We stopped at a place where the instructors said there were lots of signs that animals had been passing through. I looked around for one of those cute little Bunny X-ing signs, but there’s nothing except trees and rocks. I was going to raise my hand and point out it was impossible to see any animal signs with all this nature in the way. Then I remembered I couldn’t find my way back out of the woods following my own footsteps in the snow, so I decided to keep my mouth shut.


The instructors took out a trap and placed it in what they said was an ideal location. Again, I chose to defer to the experts, because at this point I couldn’t tell a rock from a hard place. Then it was time to bait the trap. My mistake was in thinking that by baiting a trap you would want to use something enticing to lure an animal to the trap. But there’s not a jar of Jif peanut butter or empty tuna fish can to be seen. Which was a good thing because all that hiking had made me hungry and I may have been tempted to go for the bait – trap or no trap.

Instead, one of the instructors whipped out a small vial containing a dark yellowish-green substance that looked like the reason penicillin was invented. She removed the cap, told us to smell it, and like a lemming with a craving for Kool-Aid, I blindly obeyed. An action I immediately regretted.

“What does it smell like?” she asked. I really didn’t know, because – on the plus side – I’d never smelled anything like it before. On the minus side – it was hard to think because I was too busy trying to find a way to reach inside my skull and rip out my own olfactory nerve so I’d never have to smell anything else. Ever again.

The instructor informs us that it’s beaver castor, made from the anal scent glands of beavers. You can buy it over the Internet, or you can also make it yourself. It can get expensive though because first you need a beaver. Then you have to buy it dinner. Otherwise it probably won’t let you anywhere near its anal scent glands. The effort might be worth it, though, because beaver castor glands are also used in perfumes (Axe body spray, anyone?) and is approved by the FDA as a “natural flavoring” (our government hard at work – bon appétit).

  It’s hard to imagine any animal being attracted to this scent. But maybe the idea is that once an animal gets a whiff it loses its will to live and willingly crawls into the trap to die.

Turns out, there’s a lot more to this whole trapping thing than Wile E. Coyote and the Acme Trap Supply Company would lead you to believe. So I guess my dock otters will live to see another day. I’m just going to have to get used to watching where I step.





Spiders. I hate them. Yeah, yeah, they eat bugs (in an incredibly gross way that actually has me sympathizing with the bugs), which helps keep nature in balance as part of the circle of life, blah, blah, blah. I still don’t like them. And I think it’s safe to say that most people this side of Charlotte’s Web would agree with me.


            I know there are people who study spiders for a living. They’re called arachnologists, which is an ancient Greek word that means “crazy people.” (Or else it means “Taco Bell had no job openings” – it all depends on which Greek to English dictionary you use.) How else do you explain scientists who devote their entire careers to studying spiders? Unless it’s all part of an evil plot to receive millions of dollars in government grants to conduct research to determine whether spiders creep people out.

            Well, I’ve been creeped-out plenty. Spending my summers on a lake, I’ve seen lots of dock spiders over the years. At least that’s what we called them in my family. We were on a dock, we saw a spider and we put two and two together and came up with the idea to call them dock spiders. We’re simple folk, after all – not high-falutin’ arachnologists.


  All I know for sure is that the spiders on our dock are big and fat and have an uncanny knack for spinning a web right at face level – no matter where your face level happens to be. Short, tall, it doesn’t matter because one of those bad boys will be staring you right in the face the minute you step into our boathouse. I’m a live-and-let-live kind of gal, especially when squishing something that big would be so ewwy. So the spiders and I reached a truce some years ago whereby they got to build their webs in the rafters and I resigned myself to walking in a permanent crouch position whenever I’m on the dock.

And things had been working out just fine between us. Until the other day when I spotted something on our dock post that was roughly the size of a Smart Car. I raced to put two and two together – I was on a dock, this was one freaking huge spider – but this time I kept screwing up the math. How could this creature be related to the pale, anemic imitations I’d been calling dock spiders all these years? Had I missed the news of a nuclear accident? And could Godzilla be far behind?

            Quickly snapping a few pictures using my camera’s zoom function that I’d later sell for big bucks to News of the Weird, I then raced to my computer and searched the internet under “What the @#%&?” Gruesome pictures that looked suspiciously similar to our hairy, eight-legged intruder began popping up. The captions all said “dock spiders.” Curiously, most of the images came from sites in Canada, which left me wondering about this spider’s immigration status. Not that I would be foolish enough to ask to see his green card.

            I know it’s hard to get an idea of his size from the pictures – you’re just going to have to trust me on this. A real scientist, like, say, an arachnologists, would hold up a ruler or something next to the spider to get a sense of scale. Let me remind you that I was using the extreme zoom feature on my camera. And, yeah, I could have held up a quarter so you’d have something to compare him to, but this guy no doubt would have eaten that quarter and then demanded more where that came from – this time in fifties and hundreds. Before you know it, I’d have been drawn into some nasty spider extortion scheme. And if this spider were the front man, I would hate to see the muscle.

            So, for now, I’ve given up going on my dock. Water access on lake front property is overrated anyway. And someday soon I hope to have the nerve to come out of this crouch because my legs are getting tired.



Oh, Deer!

Readers take note: if the story Bambi gives you nightmares, you might want to skip this post, but if Silence of the Lambs is one of your favorite movies then the following should be your cup of venison tea (or chianti).


The carnivorous side of me was getting cranky after sampling nothing but green leafy vegetables in the Essential Edibles class at Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) on Friday afternoon. So I figured the Field Dressing Game class on Saturday morning would balance things out.

Word on the street (or trail, in this case) was that the Silver Bay staffers were snickering because they thought Field Dressing Game was an actual game where one person was “It” and the rest of us raced to come up with the best combination of L.L. Bean boots and Smartwool socks or Patagonia hiking shorts and Northface vests. But I knew we’d be dealing with deer in this class so I prepared by bringing the proper clothing. I just wondered how I’d get a deer to stand still while I put the clothes on him.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the deer would be offering no resistance during class because they were dead. You read that right: dead. Which got me to wondering exactly what the rules of this game were. But I figured that either the stakes were a lot higher than I realized or else someone was a really bad loser.

The instructors, Lou and Angie Berchielli, both outdoors people extraordinaire, batted nary an eyelash as they hauled out what we affectionately referred to as “the bucket o’ deer.”


Bucket o' Deer: It comes with an order of fries and a small drink.


Come to think of it, the deer weren’t batting any eyelashes either. What the deer were doing was giving off an odor that was very attractive to flies. I was able to take my mind off both the odor and the fact that the flies landing on the deer were the same ones I was swatting away from my face with this one overwhelming thought: “what the hell did I get myself into?”

Okay, so I've never gone hunting and have no plans to do so in the future. So taking this particular class was a little like putting the cart before the horse. Or, in this case, the knife before the deer carcass.

The BOW brochure had described the class as “hands on” – I just didn’t think they meant my hands. But it wasn’t long before I was handed a knife and began reenacting a scene from Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman.


That's Dr. Quinn, I mean me, making the first cut. Despite my best

efforts, the patient remained dead.


I’ve got news for you. The smell of the deer on the outside was nothing compared to the smell of the deer on the inside. Lou gave us a mini anatomy lesson as we removed various organs and discussed whether you leave them for the animals in the woods or take them to either eat yourself or give to other people (presumably to friends who don’t rate high enough on your gift list for fruitcake).

Once we’d divvied up the innards, we hung the deer by its hind leg, skinned it, and learned how to butcher and store various cuts of meat – now given a deceptively quaint name that sounds like something you might actually order off a restaurant menu: venison.



AFTER: Yes, the maniacal grin on my face is a little disturbing, but if there's any justice, this is the deer that just ate my hosta.

Lou and Angie also showed us how to dress goose, fish and rabbit (none of them offered any resistance, either). By then it was time to get out of the pouring rain and head to the dining hall for lunch. I had no idea what was on the menu, but I was pretty sure I’d stick with a salad.


Angie shows us how to cut and wrap a venison roast. That's me on the left, deep in thought. Remembering what I learned in the Essential Edibles class the day before, I ponder whether to serve the roast with a wood sorrel reduction or just go with my old standby - burdock root concasse.