Floydiana holds many a creature—wild, domestic, or some combination. A horse in the road, a bear in a tree, newts in the boy’s hand, a crow decorating a ceramic bowl, a cat bagged, a bluebird rescued from the wood-stove, a tag-along Shetland, a deer-smashed hood…. The book has mentioned the deer tick, its virulence inverse to its size. And of course the yoga studios of Floyd hold many an animal asena: cat, cow, fish, pigeon, dog (upward and downward). In Jayn Avery’s chapter on solstice ceremonies, she speaks of “Honoring the spirit in all beings, whether a bug or a bear.” Here is a review of non-human beings of Floyd County–both real and fake.In the living room, a dull rattle? Or a clink? I looked around in hopes that a May breeze through the open window had caused the handle of a curtain-pull to graze the sill. But the window was shut. Clink-a-clink. I stared at the wood stove as if aiming a gun. After all we had done to seal the house, a bat had let itself in by the passage that smoke gets out. Its motions sounded frisky compared to last year’s moribund shuffling, so perhaps we could get it out not only alive but uninjured.
Marjory shined a flashlight through the glass and into the dimness: “It’s a bird!” She handed me the light, which I waved around until, at the back, it revealed a thin leg or two that supported a cup-sized rotundity-with-beak–no ground-hugging bat-wings. It hopped. Relieved, we wondered how to remove a bird without hurting it or letting it fly around in a panic. “Do we have any mesh?” Soon Marjory had cut a piece of green net off a costume she had made so her husband could become leafy Autumn for the Halloween dance at Pine Tavern Pavilion. We carefully pulled it down between the barely-opened door and the prison; the bird flew into it but soon found itself wrapped and immobile. As we looked through the packaging onto its wings, what should we see but blue! Doubly pleased, we carried it to the deck, unrolled its rescue-trap, wondering if the bird would be too weak or disoriented and—off it flapped! Over the woods below it made rough circles, wings beating, until it landed somewhere in the woods.
As we hiked Penn Rd., a small, dark mound of roadkill appeared in our lane ahead. Not looking forward to encountering the sight or smell, we stared as it arose and toddled around. A closer view revealed a small, curly-haired dog that wore a fuchsia collar-harness and that neither barked nor bite, just waited for us to stop tramping on its asphalt mattress.
Rounding a curve on Rt. 221 N., I noticed a pasture that sloped above me—and upon it a horse that wore a red plaid carpet. Another time a pair of equestriennes materialized above the Pomponios’ house–Robin and Leah Hairston—as if on the cover of Too Classy for You–riding from their home at the end of the old road. One November day two dozen horses and riders passed the Firsts’ house on Goose Creek Run, their origin and goal known only to the riders. In town, a horse ridden by a wide-hatted gentleman exited the drive-thru at Hardee’s. As I approached one end of Canning Factory Rd., I glimpsed this scene to the right, framed by a low bridge of Rt. 221 over the creek: a stripe of snow, a yellow-brown patch of weeds, and a dozen creamy-yellow wool-shapes.
At The Stoplight, as timers clicked and and the pages of the calendar flipped, a truck passed called Lucky Dog, and a dump truck bore a cartoon drawing of Odie; another bore a cartoon drawing of a penguin between the words Hometown and Ice. One truck hauled a CAT, another advised the onlooker to “Keep on Cluckin,” another bore the Dutch stencil of a chicken, another called itself Hoof Hauler, another declared “Off the leash!” One–a massive wrecker from Meadows of Dan–had white shark’s teeth painted on the front of the cab as it hauled a ramped sanitation truck.
As a horse trailer rounded a corner, the animal looked out the side, then flashed its rear end. On Annie Lane, I veered to miss a small turtle with a periscope neck that took in the sun. Across Rt. 221 on the steep hill, the morning sunlight of late autumn angled onto the pinto: how vividly the white and brown shapes contrasted! Skunk’s revenge can often be detected south of town on Rt. 221.
Cleaning out the wood-stove in preparation for winter, we came upon an unlucky bat, and we set the ebony jerky on a porch-rail for the grandchildren to contemplate. By now I had given up on attracting honeybees to spring-planted clover, which didn’t flower much. One bee did zip around me momentarily as if to say, “Thanks anyway, pal, back next year.”
A family hiking up Buffalo Mountain found it easy to turn back at the sight of a rattlesnake strung across the path as a high fence.
Like the skunk, some animals proclaim their existence without materializing. The massive growl-moo of a steer; screaming in a tree; frantic collective cawing that warns of a snake or hawk; a nest, hole, grounded feather, tunnel, bones, tracks, path, things gnawed, chewed, or scratched. Rope-like, hairy scat implies both pooper and poopee. A narrow, threadbare stocking uncovered in the August woodpile and pulled over a child’s finger–sign of a robust snake. Fauna implied by agitation shown by a cat, by the shadow of a hawk or butterfly, by stuff strewn around the yard, by a bird-feeder knocked off. By turned-up dirt after I buried a cantaloupe (the fruit left intact, twice). By a sudden hard thump on the back as someone, hidden in bushes and decked in camouflaged, calls a wild-turkey. By a dozen fresh eggs bought from the gym manager: “I like having the inconsistency,” declared Marjory; “One is bigger than another.”
Some fauna are implied by street names. You know about Goose Creek Run, but how about Grouse Run? Eagle View Drive? Lady Bug, Hummingbird, and Running Buffalo Lanes. Turtle Rock and Hill Drives. Fox gets both a lane and a street. Hog Mountain, Bear Ridge, and Beaver Creek Roads. Deer? Crossing, Haven, Run, and Valley. The mythical Hokie has a private drive on the county’s 2002 map. Elephant Curve, an arc that attaches to Rt. 8 in two places (and preserves its earlier course) memorializes an overturned circus-wagon. Off a dirt road you might come upon a sign for Deer Park Farm (“Shanti”). As for Dolphin Lane, it must be the headquarters of the so-called Floyd Yacht Club.
Strangely, one insect doesn’t show up in Floyd County. Leave a loaf of bread on the counter overnight, and (unlike in South Carolina) it won’t become a playground for cockroaches.
Birds-a-plenty for those who can spot and distinguish them. Our friend Reggie (visiting from South Carolina), drew up this list after walking around our property between June 22 and June 24, 2007:
chipping sparrow, cardinal, Eastern towhee, American goldfinch, indigo bunting, American crow, turkey vulture, bluejay, Carolina chickadee, great crested flycatcher, downy woodpecker, field sparrow, common grackle, mourning dove, pileated woodpecker, Eastern phoebe, Carolina wren, purple finch.
We have added hummingbird, Eastern bluebird, robin, black-capped chickadee, black-crested titmouse, and even a crane that flew over the neighborhood.
Everyone in Floyd County can tell a plenty of animal stories. Ranging from serious to light-hearted, these anecdotes recount a fuzzy butt, stingers, teeth, horns, and hooves.
“Bear in the Yard!”
Jane Cundiff once once saw a giant black dog: “it turned quickly into a big fat black bear trotting across the backyard just in front of the garden and behind the bird house. I jumped to my feet to see better and to call out to Ken in a hushed, forceful voice, ‘Bear in the Yard!’ He ran out of the room, grabbing the camera on the way, to rush to the back sliding glass door where he could get a better look. By then all he could see was a big black fuzzy butt disappearing into the woods. He tiptoed onto the porch and down the stairs motioning to me to keep an eye out in case the animal should come around from the thick woods. That was the last we saw of it. Until today. Walking down our path down by the marsh we heard a loud kerplunking splash and a big black fuzzy butt disappearing into the thickness. Maybe the same one. Maybe not.”
“Forgot to Zip the Hood.”
Chris and Andres Moreno, charter members of the Yacht Club, own Mountain Song Inn on Mystic Ln. NW (off Duncan’s Chapel Rd.). Chris, originally from Arkansas, a flight attendant for forty-three years, encountered some unruly Floyd fliers. She maintained two beehives, and one evening in 2012, casserole in hand, she beheld a swarm—a sign of a healthy hive, a cluster that had settled on a branch with the intention of starting a new hive with a new queen. Needing to keep the hive domesticated, “I put on my bee suit quick and shook the branch, put the swarm in a box. Forgot to zip the hood, though, and realized that four bees had gotten into it. I climbed up the hill but was hyperventilating—just out of breath, I thought, so I breathed into a paper bag. In the car, Andy and I got halfway to the Wells house for a movie-club party and went blind. Needed help to get out of the car and up the stairs. Felt woozier and woozier.”
A group deliberation led someone to phone Dr. Joe Baum (originally from Iowa), who lived a couple of miles away. At his home he gave Chris a shot of epinephrine. Her blood pressure had gone down to 60 over 40: “Good call,” said Joe. After an hour she recovered enough to return to the gathering. But the only show that night was Chris & the Anaphylactics.
The bees themselves would get a sad comeuppance for their hotheadedness. That same year, as Hurricane Sandy was making its way up the coast, the Morenos heard a loud noise. Andy went outside and saw a bear walking along the sidewalk. “I went out to the deck,” he recalled, “and started yelling and scared it way. Chris came down and saw footprints on the upper deck and all over. Later we saw that the animal had destroyed one beehive.” This same bear hit several hives in the area, and one neighbor put an electric fence around his. The Morenos gave away their remaining one–cells, honey, larvae, and stingers.
“The Wrong Side of the Bike.”
“It was a house in our valley,” recalled Suzie, “that we’d bicycled by numerous times. We knew of some neglected dogs. And whenever we went by they barked at us. You can’t report them to Animal Control, though, if they’re only out on the street barking. The Animal Control people were aware of the problem but you have to show the animals were being neglected.
“Dennis always traveled with Halt pepper spray. The day of the the incident we had learned that the people had moved out—renters only. No sign of the dogs, so we were feeling relieved. We rode out and back, three miles each way. I got ahead of Dennis. Still relieved, I heard them come up behind me barking—a particularly ferocious one. I got off but on wrong side of the bike—without the bike between me and the animal. It was the mother, which looked totally wild. Its face was contorted by fear and anger. It didn’t want to rip me apart but lunged at me and bit me, on the calf, and retreated. It was over.”
As for the aftermath, Animal Control came right out and put the dogs in isolation for ten days. The owner came by and was persuaded to give up her rights to the dogs, both of which were put down. “Mine was totally beyond redemption–not physically beaten but no nurturing.” Upon reflection, Suzie more fully appreciated what defines the relationship between a human and a dog: trust. “The story isn’t really about the dog, it’s about the people who failed to take care it properly.”
“A Loud Knocking.” Laurel Pritchard grew up in Indiana and her husband in New Hampshire.
Jim and I had just moved into our new home. We had selected the house site because of the huge white oak tree, beloved for its shade on hot summer afternoons. What we did not know was how much the deer loved it too, for the delicious sweet acorns it began to shed in September, all over the bank I had planted with a thousand ground-cover plants. Once the acorns began to fall, we were visited each night by greedy deer, whose sharp little hooves uprooted my tender babies. I pleaded with Jim to do something, anything! to discourage the feeding frenzy (though, tender-hearted as I am, I drew the line at actual murder). Having heard of “rat shot,” Jim visited a nearby gun store and purchased some .22 rounds filled with tiny pellets, with which he loaded an old pistol he’d inherited. He assured me that at that distance, the pellets would only sting, not actually penetrate. Late each evening and every morning at dawn, he would sneak to an upstairs window and fire off a few rounds, aiming only at their rear ends. The herd would flee but would return undeterred.
One night about 3 a.m. we were awakened by a loud knocking, not at the door, but on the wall of our bedroom. A home invasion? Werewolves? What else could it be? Jim (my hero) peered out the window and saw an enormous buck inches away, gobbling acorns, his horns rapping on the siding. By the time Jim grabbed the pistol and opened the upstairs window, the buck had moved to the front steps and was actually knocking on the door. From this position, Jim could reach out the window and fire from a distance of about six feet. The results were extremely dramatic. The buck became airborne and landed only once or twice before he was out of sight.
Did this deter the voracious quadruped? Nooooo. A week or so later, we saw the same buck, identifiable by a red splotch on his rear flank. Slow learner. Before next year’s acorn season, Jim built an electric fence around the area. And the ground-cover plants, unmolested, are now doing fine.
Jim adds a couple of vignettes:
One black night I went outside to take a pee—and a deer bumped into me! I was lucky it had no horns and wasn’t big, though it was bigger than a fawn. The two of us parted company quickly. Another day I was outside and here comes a deer in the back field, and gaining on it were two wolves. Gray, mouths like an alligator. I’ve seen coyotes, and they’re buff colored. In a few seconds all three were out of sight, and the wolves probably caught the deer.
A week or so pass and out the window I notice one of the goats has got out and is eating some green area around the drive path.
I am on my way outside anyway, so while taking a load to the car I approach the animal with some sweet sounds and warm energy. The animal lets me pet him/her for five minutes and I remember feeling really connected to the sweetness. I try inching it back toward the fence but can’t stop its feeding frenzy. So I go and grab a rope, thinking that I will tie it up so it can eat around where it is secured without running away.
The goat begins to act extremely weird once the tie is on, from jumping into the air and landing on its side to playing tug of war with itself. So the time has come to leave and I now have the kids in the car. Something stops me. I am concerned about the goat and want to check one more time to see if it is OK. It is still playing tug-o-war with itself, so I decide to walk the animal slowly back toward the gate while petting it. The goat seemed calm at this point. So as we walk toward the other animals I start to count one, two, three, four, five! What the…? This energy mixed with the goats moving closer completely freaks out what now I realize is a deer.
He or she gets stuck in the fence. Camera out in disbelief, I just can’t take a pic of it struggling, so I extricate it–but don’t have a good enough hold of the rope. Thirty feet of rope-burns later and we all have a laugh, especially my daughter, who reminds me of her statement, “Dada, that goat looks a lot like a deer.”
Pronounced fohnuh, these creatures might also be named fauxnimeaux. You may remember another example, the Echinotsugasaur that threatened Goose Creek Run.
One type is the Misleading Resembler. What is that creature in the gravel with green and brown legs and a head like octopus sticking up? On closer inspection, crabgrass. And how about that snake that winds its spots on a log: oh, a dead vine. How did a blue heron get into the woods? Its neck becomes a stick.
I sent the photo above to a few children and called it a turtle.
Four-year-old: “That’s not a turtle.” Smiles. “That’s a rock.”
Two-year-old (squealing in delight): “A turtle!”
Seven-year-old: “I’m not sure. Did Grandpa tell you?”
I spotted a large black serpent warming itself on the pavement of 221 at the foot of Annie Lane. Recognizing as a rubber-snake by its tread-like integument, I knew that gloves were required to handle it. Donning them, I was able to pull the heavy creature all the way up the hill to the carport, where I measured it at eight feet, then felt compelled to look down its throat. Down indeed, and dark, for the snake lunged at me and in went my head like an arm in a sleeve. I struggled to turn around and did somehow get my arm out of its mouth, where, despite the glove, I was able to type this story.
Such a likeness can work the opposite way. That leaf or clump in center of road, shaded, unmoving as we approach, almost like an animal, not quite, so just keep going. Thump-a-thump! A squirrel finally jumps, but into the bottom of the car.
Another type of fauxna is the Artifact Imitative.
Kathleen Becker uses the fiberglass horse pictured above for her business, Häst PSC. It has two functions: (1) to demonstrate her large-animal rescue equipment for the web page and rescue conferences; (2) to serve her work as a model for development of new products. While it is a “thoroughbred” horse, if real, it would weigh only about 800 pounds. Typical riding horses weigh about 1000, so the model is a bit smaller than a real one. This size is often considered to be a “cob,” taking slightly smaller halters and harnesses.
Giddy-up! A wooden horse with musical reins:
A nasomuscular team:
Another type of Fauxna is the Artifact Imaginary, Non-Symbolic. This kind ranges from the fearsome to the cuddly.
Another type of Fauxna is the Symbolic–realistic, stylized, or invented:
*Jane, a longtime teacher-abroad, explains that this representation of a Hindu God often appears in India at entrances. It is a deity of new beginnings and of Anything is Possible. “My husband Ken and I bought this one in the Old City of Delhi, where we lived 1996-1998. Each of the Hindu gods represents a face of the encompassing One God. A suggestion that each of our beings is just a tiny part of ‘way more than we will ever know.” [In 2015 Jane published Cobras, Kids, & Pyramids: Adventures of a Teaching Couple in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Egypt, a book available through Amazon.com.]
True animals, flesh-and-blood or formerly so, can belong to any zoological group. Some provide food for humans, others provide company, beauty, or recreation.
To behold a living but bizarre creature found in a woodpile: http://www.fragmentsfromfloyd.com/artsandscience/photoimage/snake-pregnant-or-great-with-egg/
For a three-decade friendship with a spotted horse, see “My Best Friend,” by Deborah Weinischke. Floyd Folks, vol. 1. Willis, VA: Free Range Press, 2015.