Jeff Ackerman: Musings on critters behaving strangely |

Jeff Ackerman: Musings on critters behaving strangely

It was 98 degrees as my fanny stuck to the folding chair facing the stage at my son’s eighth-grade graduation last Thursday. With “Pomp and Circumstance” pumping from the loudspeakers, my mind drifted to global warming, fires and rattlesnakes, not necessarily in that order.

Then on Monday, I heard that an 11-year-old in Utah had been eaten by a black bear, which got me thinking even more about global warming, fires, rattlesnakes and … now … black bears. I lived in Tahoe for eight years and had several encounters with black bears, but none of them ever wanted to eat me. At least it didn’t look like it when I looked them in the eyes. The eyes are a dead giveaway when it comes to bears, and the last time I looked a black bear in the eyes, it appeared he simply wanted to hang out in front of the wood stove and maybe have a cookie.

According to the black bear Web site (even bears have a URL these days), they prefer to eat nuts and berries but will eat meat “when preferred foods are scarce.”

I can only conclude that nuts and berries have been scarce in Utah this year and that the weather has had something to do with that.

As a resident of Wildwood Ridge (I live outside the gates of Lake Wildwood because there is a ban on bald people, motorcycles and pet monkeys), I have studied deer for several years now, which sounds more scientific than it is. My method is pretty simple. I walk out to my front porch, crack open a beer and wait five minutes. I’ve never once had to use my deer whistle or strap on my fake antlers (which always draws a citation from the Homeowners Association).

Lately I have noticed some very strange deer behavior. On Sunday, for example, I went out to put chemicals in the swimming pool and there was a large buck doing laps. I swear on my mother’s eyes. He had one of those floatation devices and he was just kind of kicking back, his hooves dangling just under the surface. I fired a warning shot with my paintball gun and he looked up and gave me one of those deer-dropping looks, which most anyone who lives in the Wildwood area recognizes. It was almost as if he knew I wouldn’t shoot a paintball gun into my own swimming pool.

That incident followed news that three deer had cornered and eventually eaten a neighborhood cat. It might have been the first ever evidence directly linking deer to missing cats, much to the dismay of practically every resident of Wildwood and its areas of influence. Many had previously blamed mountain lions and coyotes for the hundreds of missing felines and poodles.

Then there are the rattlesnakes. A couple of weeks ago I got an e-mail from a guy who trains dogs to avoid rattlesnakes (something their mothers should have taught them). He does that by using real snakes and real dogs, which is why I will not be taking my dog Ben to Rattlesnake Academy anytime soon. Ben is part black lab and part Australian shepherd, which means he is constantly using his nose to either sniff or push you. He has become my jogging buddy and we run through the hills above Wildwood, an area old-timers still refer to as Rattlesnake Hill. The grass along the dirt trail is up to my chest these days, and I know there are probably hundreds of snakes just waiting for me to stumble. Ben doesn’t stick to the trail, so it’s just a matter of time before a snake eats his nose. I called the vet and asked if I ought to carry some snake venom with me, but he said it really isn’t necessary. “Just make sure Ben is running ahead of you,” he said. “Better him than you. I doubt he’d die from the snake bite, and you are more likely to get killed driving 100 miles an hour to the vet than you are from a snake bite.”

The vet is a smart man.

As a former gambler, I’m willing to lay whatever you’d like on the odds for a major local fire (or two) this summer. The conditions are about as ripe as I have ever seen, and I have seen a few ripe summers in my 56 years on the mother ship. The experts have already posted the “Extreme” signs in front of the fire houses, which is something they generally don’t do until late July or August. That’s a problem for those of us who have chosen to build wooden homes in the trees, weeds and tall grass we fondly refer to as the Gold Country.

I’m not saying Gore is right, mind you. I have been to North Dakota in the winter and have had my tongue stuck to a frozen doorknob (don’t ask). But there is no question that something is causing critters to display some very odd behavior, and I can only conclude that it is weather related. There is no other way to explain why a skunk would attack a family of quail in broad daylight.


Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union. His column appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 477-4299,, or 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.

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