Transitioning to country living wasn’t as easy as unpacking the U-Haul, stocking the antique General Electric five-foot-tall refrigerator, and loading the pantry with “end of days” supplies. No, country living required knowledge that locals pass from generation to generation . . . and city folk learn by trial and error.
For instance, there is the issue of snakes. Poisonous snakes. Mary, my closest neighbor, instructed me never to work in the garden without a stick to beat on the ground. “Lets the snakes know you are coming so you don’t scare them and they don’t scare you.”
Got it. You don’t have to tell me twice.
Within two weeks of moving to the country, I cancelled my subscription to Country Living magazine. “Dear Sirs, I would like to cancel my subscription to Country Living as I have now moved to the country and see no correlation between my life in the country and that portrayed in your publication. Sincerely yours. . . .”
We needed local knowledge with a steeper learning curve. Gary and I signed up for a bear safety class. I was relieved to learn that, unlike the bears out west, known for mugging unsuspecting hikers in the forest, our local black bears are pretty well mannered. If there’s a cub nearby when you show up, its mom will bellow out a cry that says, “Up you go, honey,” and the cub scurries up the nearest trunk. Momma bear then ambles away from you and the cub. When the coast is clear, momma bear returns and bellows again, saying, “Okay honey, you can come down now.”
Also good advice was not to tempt bears with garbage or the contents of your camping cooler. It was all very straightforward and reassuring. That being said, I am staring out my window at a third-year bear in my front yard. I grab a sheet of bubble-wrap and pop it to scare him off.
Next we signed up for a three weekend hunter’s safety class. Although I had no interest in hunting, I was very interested in knowing what hunters were thinking, or not thinking, and what Virginia law had to say about hunting with bow and arrow or shotguns.
I was impressed by the very serious, detailed curriculum covering, among other things, “when to take the shot,” “when not to take the shot,” what size bear is legal (100 pounds), who can or cannot hunt on your land, how to post your land and how to get permission to hunt. Then there were the nuts and bolts of tracking injured deer and how to skin a squirrel.
I did very well on the final exam, held in a field that simulated possible hunting conditions. Life-size deer, bear, raccoons, birds were all tucked away behind trees and bushes. We each had a clipboard with the exam paper on it and a pencil. Instruction: Indicate whether it is permissible to take the shot or not to take the shot, and why? (Note: it is never legal to try to shoot a deer, no matter how close it is, if there is an elementary school 700 yards in the distance. It is also a bad idea to shoot an animal in the bushes if you can’t see what else is in the bush or behind it . . . like another hunter. I received a perfect score on the written exam and was extremely proud to be the first person to track the faux injured deer after following the simulated path of ersatz blood to her expiring plastic body.
Life in the country was a lot less threatening once we knew the rules of engagement.
That is until one day when I called to Gary in the next room. “Honey, there is a bear on the porch.” I didn’t want to sound all panicky, just because the only thing that separated the bear from the inside of my house was a glass door. She seemed to be very interested in the garbage can on my porch. It was empty, and usually just held paper recycling. Bears, however, learn to correlate things at an early age. Even young bears understand the link between the word “Rubbermaid” on a plastic barrel and the possibility of food.
“Go away bear!” I yelled through the door, which caused the bear to look up briefly and make eye contact before continuing to work on the lid.
“I’ll scare her off with a rubber shot.” Gary went to retrieve his shotgun from upstairs. I called up to him, whining in my best nature-empathetic voice, “You’re not going to hurt her, are you?” It took Gary a few minutes to return to the kitchen, loaded for bear. But the bear was gone. I breathed a sigh of relief. The porch was empty.
Then I realized, not only was the bear gone, so was the Rubbermaid trash barrel. Our eyes followed the gentle slope from the house to the stream. There was the Rubbermaid barrel. She had successfully removed the cover, and in her desire to completely investigate the interior for food, had wedged herself upside down into the barrel, and had rolled down the hill, where she landed rump side up.
Gary looked at his target, defenseless and exposed (literally). The thought raced through my head, “Take the shot or don’t take the shot?” Even though it would only be a rubber shot, Gary found the idea unsportsmanlike. Lodged in the barrel, she made an easy target . . . way too easy. The expression “shooting fish in a barrel” took on new meaning. This noble animal did not deserve to be humiliated with a round of rubber shot in her behind.
Who would ever believe this story about our life in the country? I ran to my office and grabbed our photo bag, and reached for the camera. Taking the shotgun away from Gary, I thrust the Nikon into his hands. Quickly removing the lens cap, he took aim, and I yelled, “Take the shot!”
Rose and her husband Gary live in Syria — the peaceful one, in Madison County — where their weekend fishing cabin is now their full-time address. When she is not writing, Rose is a “free-range” rabbi, serving a six-county area.