Just as I was beginning to feel true ownership of our little place at the river, the wildlife count has taken a new tick upward. It turns out we share this Pamlico County paradise with a wide assortment of critters. And even though I love my dogs more than I love many people, I’m not really a fan of critters.
The animal sightings began innocently enough the first time we looked at the house, when dolphins were jumping in the river. Cool, right? When I Googled how swimmable the Neuse was, a news story came up about a bear swimming the three miles across the river. Silly ol’ bear. My personal sighting log: Deer, more than I can count. More dolphins, big ones and little. Two bald eagles. One small fox, from a distance. Three turtles. Two cockroaches — er, in the South we call them more politely “palmetto bugs.” A few crabs in the water, a few blue herons stalking fish, rafts of seagulls and terns.
But things got less Bambi, Flicker, and Yogi when a river neighbor texted me last month: Another neighbor saw an alligator at the beach. My beach! It’s a little stretch of a sandy point that I consider my personal park. Walking the half mile there with the dogs, twice a day, is one of my joys of river life. I would turn Juno loose once we hit the dirt road past the marina. She’d sprint down the beach and bound up into the sand dunes like a movie extra while Amos and I walk and look at shells (if turned loose, Amos would run and run and forget where home was). All that freedom, gone now. Juno weighs all of 20 pounds, a perfect alligator meal. It creeps me out.
The same neighbor reported that the fox family living next door was pretty active. Year after year, foxes have made a den under the porch of the often vacant home. Now our yard, looking out to the river, has become the playground for the skinny young foxes. There go my carefree mornings working on the back deck on my laptop, with Amos tied to a long cord out in the grass and Juno free to poke around.
Then the snakes. I went for a run on a recent morning and saw two brown snakes, a first for me: one was large but smooshed dead, the other young and curling itself in circles on the warm blacktop. The next morning I passed a fellow early morning regular who warned me that snakes seem to be prevalent this spring. “I just killed two up ahead of you,” he told me. He stands over them and drops a rock to smoosh them. I had two equal and opposing thoughts: Is that really necessary? And, Can I always run behind you?
I’m trying to make peace with this wild kingdom, understanding that it comes hand in hand with the beauty of this remote place. Yesterday, as I getting ready to head back to Durham, I walked the yard, picking up sticks and such. As I reached down to pull out a vine creeping near the air conditioning unit, a little critter — salamander? Lizard? — darted past my hand and into one of the tiny grate openings. My first thought was not, “ack” or “gross” but, oh, kind of cute!
That’s probably my measure of wildlife acceptance: If you can co-exist with Juno and Amos, I can be neighborly. But I’m not sure the alligators and snakes got my neighborhood listserv post on this matter.