Critter Encounters — Tame and Wild

I’ve had a few pets in my life: rabbits, cats, fish and dogs. And my son raised a few hamsters. Animals play a fascinating part in our lives.

When I moved to California as a young bride, I never imagined the critters that would show up in my life. Agoura, for instance, was in the Conejo Valley between the Santa Monica Mountains and the Simi Hills and there were varmints in those hills! Coyotes, especially.

Mountain Lion in California hills--not an animal to tangle with

Before I saw a coyote, however, we had a mountain lion alert! The Agoura-Westlake Village area in the 1970s was just starting to develop and nobody had alerted the wild animals they were being encroached upon. We had lots of open space in our Hillrise housing development and our home backed onto a grass and oak tree dotted hill. Since the hill was not surrounded completely by homes at that time, the mountain lion assumed it was part of his territory until a sheriff’s helicopter, after using a megaphone to warn residents below,  shooed him off. I later learned mountain lions had huge territories

Coyotes thrilled us with their yips and howling at night, sometimes having a gathering close by. It reminded me, over the years, of a scary movie or a Stephen King novel. Residents in the California hills have to watch out their pets don’t become a snack or a meal and that’s still true, despite the population growth. I’ve seen a coyote come into an unfenced or fenced back yard and come right up to a glass patio door. “What’s for dinner,” those fearless eyes seem to say.

Behind a fence, a Coyote checks things out

In the early 80s when I was editing/writing the Acorn weekly newspaper, there was a great deal of housing construction. The coyotes must have wondered what was happening—perhaps a new source of food? One resourceful critter spied a juicy toddler wandering without any supervision (new homes hadn’t fenced in their backyards yet) and decided to check her out. He had the baby in his mouth when the distraught mother came screaming after him and managed to rescue her child. It was a great story, especially since it ended well. My headline for that week—COYOTE BITES BABY.

There were wild mule deer in various areas where the hills bordered growing development. And snakes, especially rattlers, were common to see when the warmth of spring caused them to explore and enjoy the sunshine.

Big hairy tarantulas came down off the hills occasionally. I caught a couple in our pool and one time one of them came inside. My daughter Heidi was about two when a tarantula sauntered into the family room. I was spraying insecticide like crazy, afraid to clobber him, when little Heidi grabbed the fly swatter to solve the problem! He expired from poison before she could interfere.


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  2. Art Arrowsmith says:

    During that period, I was living in the Santa Maria/Lompoc area, and on occasion, would motor in my Triumph Spitfire to the desert community of New Cuama, about 50 miles to the east. Along the very curvy highway, especially after a seasonal downpour, I’d encounter those hairy tarantulas escaping the flooding of their lairs. Knowing they could leap above the height of my top down convertible, I maneuvered so as not to startle them. This, of course, made for some interesting driving, to say the least. In those days the Buckhorn restaurant in New Cuama was THE attraction. Each weekend a sumptuous buffet was spread in the bar with untold amounts of meats, vegetables and salads to entice the travelers. It was there that I had my first taste of buffalo and was captivated by its sweetness.

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