Wild Animal Friends -1970s

groundhog

Our friendly groundhog (Marmota monax).

In a previous post I wrote about our moose neighbors in Jolicure. We had many other animals that we lived among – none as big as the moose, but just as thrilling to see.

Our first summer in Jolicure (in 1973) we had a fat groundhog take up residence in our basement when part of the wall of the foundation collapsed inwards and we had a wide open hole to the outside. Our century old farmhouse was just barely sitting on a century old foundation made of massive blocks of stone, and the basement was literally just a big square hole in the ground. (and when the rocks fell inward they crushed our water pump –  so no water for a while til that got repaired too)

groundhog1So I guess the groundhog figured this big hole in the basement wall was an invitation to move in – and he did. It may be that he caused the collapse by digging in in the first place… we’ll never know.

It was a family crisis. What were we going to do with a groundhog in our basement? We couldn’t let a wild animal live down there – we had to be able to have access to the basement after all, and we stored our root vegetables down there.

My father considered shooting the animal, but the rest of us prevailed. Instead my mother went down there with pots and pans and made a tremendous noise until the poor intruder moved out. He found a very nice piece of real estate in our backyard by an old tree stump and stayed there for many years.

backyard mom and dad601

My parents in the backyard. Behind my father to the right is the large tree stump that the groundhog liked to sun himself on. Long Lake is behind us and beyond that is forest and marsh for miles.

In the summer you’d see my father sitting in his lawn chair in the backyard sunning himself, and alongside him on the smooth wide top of the tree stump, surrounded by mallow flowers, would lie the groundhog doing the same.

One summer evening I was all alone at home – the light was a soft golden color and as I sat in my bedroom window looking out past the lilac trees in front of my bedroom window to the field directly opposite the front of our house, I saw a beautiful lithe red fox hunting. He was jumping and leaping into the air over the old tilled remains of the field, now covered with thick grasses and wildflowers. It looked so joyful and lyrical, it made me happy inside.

red fox mrwallpaper

Red Fox leaping – image courtesy of mrwallpaper.com

There was also a wonderful porcupine who would lumber out in the evenings from the forest to the big long field by our house and nibble on the grass there. Because he was so prickly he never was fearful of us and we could walk right up to him and have a visit. Mind you, we would never try to touch him, and luckily our dog was well trained enough that we never had her get into a mess with the animal.

porcupine

Our friendly porcupine in the field of clover.

We always had a giant great horned owl that lived in the row of tall pines behind our house. In summer evenings with the windows open you could actually hear the near silent swoosh of his wings and see him in the dusk hunting back and forth for rodents.

Bubo_virginianus,_Great_Horned_Owl

Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)

We’d find his pellets containing the tiny bones of his dinner under his perch. And if you looked carefully during the day he was there high up in his pine tree.

Needless to say there were frogs – and in the summer especially, there were huge loud choruses of them along the lake edge where there were lots of lily pads and other plant growth. The marshy areas were thick with frogs too and even the mucky wet areas of ditches and the forest were homes to them. In the spring there’d be big masses of frog eggs in the shallower water – shiny and slick with little black spots in them. Then as time progressed hundreds of  tadpoles of all sizes would hatch and you could watch them develop into full sized frogs.

ermine

Ermine – image from the Canadian Wildlife Federation

We had a weasel for a few years that lived under our kitchen shed. It turned pure white with a black tip on its tail in the winter. It was so sleek and elegant and fast. We saw its tracks more often then we saw the animal – it was very wary of us and our pets.

common-loon by Roy Toft National Geographic

Common Loon – photo by Roy Toft, National Geographic. If you’d like to hear a loon call go to the following National Geographic page and click on Audio – http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/common-loon/

And for the entire time we lived there, there was a pair of loons on our lake – they’d return in the spring to nest and stay til just before winter came. They had such a beautiful haunting call. We’d see them out there with their babies every year – the mother bird would carry her crew on her back when they were tiny little fluffy puffs and not able to swim yet. When we went out on the lake with our canoe, the loons would repeatedly pop up right next to our canoe and then dive down into the deep tea colored water. It was a wonderful gift to be able to be so close to such beautiful wild creatures like that.

Being in the middle of such wilderness there were many more wild things that we encountered over the years – fish hawks, sparrow hawks, rabbits, bats, mice, shrews, swallows and more… all to be discovered, appreciated and left alone by us.

There was one tragic siting that I will also never forget though – something so disturbing I am still racked with a sick guilt and sorrow. My mother and I and the dog were hiking through the forest when we came upon a raccoon stuck in a horrible trap

Racoon in a tree wikipedia commons

Every living thing deserves respect including racoons. Image from Wikidpedia Commons.

– its rusted metal jaws were clamped shut on the poor animal’s leg and the raccoon was so frantic that it allowed us to try and release it. But we were unable to help; the trap was too strong (it looked like a bear trap – it was big and heavy and powerful – a very dangerous thing that I or my dog could have just as easily been caught in).

Rusty-Bear-Trap

A rusty bear trap – primitive and cruel.

My mother as brave as she was, couldn’t bring herself to kill the racoon and put it out of its misery – and I was near hysterical. We went home to get my father to take him back and shoot it. But he refused. He didn’t want to get into a war with any local trappers. All I could imagine was the suffering of that little helpless animal alone out there in the forest… I wish I’d had the strength to go back there myself and end his misery – but I failed.

And I will carry that with me to the end of my days.

 

 

 

Advertisements

1970s Teen Angst

house from  field011

I posted earlier about my father’s intense paranoia and how that drove him to move us to an isolated farmhouse in Eastern Canada away from the spying eyes of other people, especially people he believed were spying on him from Time magazine.

In addition to his paranoia, he also had a need to control everything in his life, particularly my mother, his money, and me. My sister moved out of the house half way through her first year of college to live in an on-campus dorm just a year after moving to the farmhouse (I know she felt the iron grip too). Though she spent time at home after that, it was intermittent.

My father had kept me from friends when I was little in New York, because he believed their parents were spying on him.

When I was a teen he exercised an even greater level of control over me just by living in such a remote location. I was stuck there miles from anyone, and couldn’t go anywhere without his approval. I had no privacy, and even if friends called me, he would frequently listen to me while I spoke on the phone located in the central hall of our house and then question me about who had called and why. Because our phone was on a party line it drove him crazy knowing that the neighbors could hear our conversations.

Jolicure, New Brunswick by Bernard Safran 1983

This painting shows the crossroads of Jolicure proper where the car is parked in the distance. To get to our house you had to keep going past the house with the green roof for another 2 miles. Jolicure, New Brunswick by Bernard Safran, January 1983 17″ x 32.5″ oil on masonite.

And he refused to let me learn to drive. I went where my parents went, or if my sister was around, where she went. I had no independence apart from where I could go on my bike or on foot.

This meant that I spent a lot of time at home alone with my crazy parents in that isolated farmhouse – it was frequently tense with my father in a fit over something, and my mother either fighting with him or walking on eggshells trying to handle him. I’d arrive home from school to find the atmosphere thick with tension – I seemed to be a neutral energy that both welcomed.

I was at times desperate to get out. At least I had the solace of the woods and fields, my dog and cat, and my cousin’s horse.

Living as we did in the middle of nowhere in the back woods of New Brunswick, Canada, had major disadvantages for my High School social life (which no doubt was just fine by my father).

red house dusk147

To get to and from dances, football games or any parties or after school stuff, I first had to get parental permission and then had to find someone to drive me or drop me off at my house which was 10 miles from the Town of Sackville where I was bussed to school. On rare occasions my mother drove me one way, but most of the time I had to bum rides from other kids, beg an invite to stay overnight in town with an approved of girlfriend (whose parents had to be met by my mother first), or just miss out. This led me to feel quite literally like an outsider, always trying to catch up and never really fitting in. (There were other reasons for my feeling different from everyone – being from New York, having two artist parents, and being half Jewish were just three of them).

And when I started dating you can imagine how that played out at home…

My first official boyfriend (who lived in Sackville) didn’t have a car and that caused some complications. He did call me every night, and I saw him at school every day and occasionally in town, and he took me to Senior Prom. He was cool – he smoked weed and tobacco and played bass and hung out with the other cool guys in school – he was a senior and I had just turned 16. We started going out in the Spring when he brought me a hand picked bouquet of flowers during lunch in the cafeteria and he declared his love for me.

violets

A bouquet of violets just like the one I received during lunch period in Grade 10.

One day he rode his bicycle 10 miles across the windy and open Tantramar Marsh along the Trans Canada Highway and down the dirt road to our isolated farmhouse, to come and see me. I was amazed at his dedication and passion.

My father caught us kissing down the hill from the house, and that was something I’ll never forget – my father’s expression: at first perplexed and then fuming. My boyfriend rode his bike back the 10 miles to town soon after. It wasn’t long after that, that that boyfriend was no more – 10 miles is quite a commitment especially with a fuming and searing father waiting for you at the end of a long and painful bike ride.

Map of Jolicure and Sackville, New Brunswick

Sorry that this map isn’t easy to read here, but if you click on it you’ll get full size. I just wanted to show you where my house was located – at the small red dot on Long Lake in Jolicure (close to the center of the map). In the left hand corner you can see Sackville. Now you can visually comprehend how far we lived from town.

To have “friends” who chat you up on the school bus and tell you all about the great things they were up to, but never invite you along, was a life lesson in itself – which I obviously understood – they weren’t really my friends. If they’d wanted me to go to their parties in town they would’ve easily included me… or to join a team that they were on “Oh, you should join the field hockey team!” which I heard repeatedly and which I really wanted to do but couldn’t because I couldn’t arrange to get home from practice even when these friends only lived a few miles away.

I can tell you from experience that trying to bum rides all the time is humiliating. More than once, I ended up in the cars of kids I didn’t know who either took pity on me or who had their own agendas for driving into the woods. You’d think that a controlling father would be more likely to drive me himself rather than let some unknown kid do it, but that way he saved money on gas, and 9 times out of 10 I couldn’t manage the rides so I stayed home.

One time my desperation resulted in being driven home by the biggest toughest looking guy in school and his “for the moment” girlfriend – who spent the entire time driving me home at high speed along the highway, and feeling each other up in the front seat of his black Firebird.

Pontiac Firebird Trans Am 1976

A black Pontiac Firebird Trans Am c 1976 – very much like the one that the big scary guy and his girl drove me home to Jolicure in one night from town. I guess I can’t blame him for not wanting to take the car down 2 miles of rutted dirt road.

They were so eager to leave me in Jolicure they dropped me off at the Jolicure crossroads and I had to walk in 2 miles along the dirt road in the dark (singing loudly and whistling to scare any bears away).

Their plan, like many teenagers, was to find a quiet spot to continue feeling each other up or whatever else they got up to.

In Grade 11, I had a new boyfriend – he was on the football team.  This time my football playing boyfriend had a car. It was a giant 70s car –  low slung, no seat belts, and room for numerous teens in it. We went on several double dates to movies, to a couple of dances, and on one or two occasions hung out with his friends in town.

We spent more time together than my parents apparently approved of. I think that one of the incidents that they most disapproved of happened during the winter of that year. We had gone to a movie on a double date, but my boyfriend had somehow managed to drop off the other couple and drive me home the back way…

giant 1970s car

A giant 1970s car similar to the one that got ditched on that cold, dark winter night, way back when.

… however, there really wasn’t a “back way” to my house except to go a very long way around the Marsh and through miles of forest on dirt roads that were in bad shape. I had no idea where we were going – it was dark and he was driving, and no doubt eagerly thinking ahead to some secret spot he knew of in the woods, when the car slid off the ice and snow covered road and landed in the ditch. God knows where… it was late, it was dark, it was cold, and I was really pissed off.

We could see a barn light in the distance so we carefully made our way along the ice sheeted road up to the farm – it was probably around midnight when we knocked on the door. “Please could the farmer pull us out of the ditch, down the road, in the woods?” The couple were in their pajamas and robes.

I asked the wife if I could use their phone to call my parents – it was getting really late and I knew what was happening at home – my father pacing, huffing, with one eyebrow raised, face beet red, thinking of the worst possible thing I could be doing –  snarling to my mother: “Jesus Christ Del!”.

On the phone I explained to my mother that the car got ditched, something which happened to my parents regularly, so they really couldn’t complain – I left out that my boyfriend had driven me somewhere remote… that would have ignited a fire storm.

And so the farmer got dressed and got out his tractor and kindly pulled out the dinosaur sized car from the ditch in the woods.

I got home, made my explanation short and went straight to bed. I was careful to never let that happen again – knowing that that time I’d gotten a free pass. What I didn’t know was that my parents were just waiting for a reason to make me end this relationship – and by the end of that summer they forced me to break up with this guy – something that I honestly never forgave them for. It wasn’t the first time or the last time that they forced themselves into my personal life, but it hurt the most really, because they didn’t trust me.

And it was just another way to keep me out there in the woods alone with them.

My father was always saying how wonderful my life was – just like an Andy Hardy movie – but the reality was that it wasn’t. It wasn’t all bad – but it wasn’t all that good either. I couldn’t wait to get away.