Animal footnotes

My husband, Renato, and I came back to California after a 15-year sojourn in Brazil, where he was occupied with a hydroelectric project. Our hunt for a house ranged from San Francisco to Oakland. Up and down the Oakland hills we went, bad enough without being sick to begin with, Renato with bronchitis and me with pneumonia. Sometimes I cried from fatigue and discouragement. I know Renato wanted to.

Eventually, we came upon a house on Wilton Drive, 1500 feet above Montclair Village, that suited our vague desires. We hadn’t known what we wanted until we saw the place that would become our home. There was a gently sloped backyard that stretched a hundred feet, culminating in city land toward a view encompassing both bridges as well as Oakland and San Francisco. Across the road from the front there were a few houses but for the most part a meadow that graduated into pine and redwood trees.

In the years to come, that newfound woody splendor was to gift us with sightings of wildlife. One night, driving home from Thanksgiving dinner, we rounded the curve on Wilton Drive and our headlights illuminated a large animal in the middle of the meadow. A cougar! Renato stopped, and we stared, barely breathing, at this wondrous sight. The cougar just sat. After a couple of minutes, it rose to its feet, turned and walked into the woods. On another night, our backyard was lit by a scream that could only have come from a cougar. Our neighbors told us later that they were chilled, but I was in bliss.

Once, while hiking the trail across the road we were joined by a pheasant that emerged from the brush but didn’t fly off. Instead, it walked alongside us for a few feet before disappearing into more brush.

After we acquired a cat and installed a pet door off the patio, we were honored to have a young skunk visit us in the house. Why did I think it was young? Well, it was awfully small. Each night it entered through the pet door, ambled past the dining room into the kitchen, and helped itself to our cat’s chow. We stood at a respectful distance until it had finished and strolled back out through the pet door.

Of course there were raccoons. I watched them seemingly dancing in the moonlight on the patio deck. I saw a blue jay with a rider on its back. The jay was hopping about and screeching madly trying to shake off its passenger, a rufous-sided towhee. How did this come about? Perhaps the jay had trespassed on the towhee’s nest and papa or mama towhee was not going to stand for it.
And once, there was a buck with a magnificent rack of horns. Does and fawns came to our yard in the spring and ate my roses but I didn’t mind.
Fine memories, all.


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