Monday, Jan. 04, 2010
Dear Diary:

There are days when I make the Keystone Kops look like a crack anti-terror squad.

These days sap my will to live.

One of the joys of living in the woods is that we get to see a lot of wild animals. One of the banes of living in the woods is that we get to see a lot of wild animals. I'm looking at YOU, Bambi, you hosta eating piece of &%!(@!.

Late this fall I decided to be a bit more proactive than normal and put chicken wire cages around two azaleas and one high bush cranberry in the hopes that I can keep marauding deer away from them this winter. These cages are terribly ugly and make my eyes bleed, but if they save the plants I've decided that a bit of ugly is alright.

One of the things the spousal unit and I joke about is how unaware we are of the sundry critters that visit us. Many creatures pass through our yard, but if we're not looking out the window at the right moment, we aren't going to see them. Unless they are considerate enough to firmly plant their feet in mud, we don't know if a moose or wild turkey or even a fox has been in the yard. We are not expert trackers at all.

The snow, of course, changes everything. With snow we get a clear picture of all the wildlife comings and goings. As an added bonus, wind and new snows turn the yard into a kind of Etch-A-Sketch, giving us a clean slate for animal tracks every few days.

That's how we found out we have a flock of at least seven wild turkeys visiting our bird feeders. You can't imagine how giddy this makes me. We immediately ran out and bought cracked corn as a special treat for them.

Alas, I didn't know cracked corn is considered a major delicacy by deer. I quickly found out when the massive hoof prints started turning up in our yard. Wrong shape and size to be a moose, but very big for a deer. We figured it was the daddy of all bucks.

Uh oh.

The spousal unit, who spent a fair bit of energy building the shrub cages, was incensed by this turn of events. Every time he passed a window or ventured out into the yard, he looked for the intruder. There were mutterings about how he would run its ass nether regions back into the woods if he ever saw it.

Which brings us to late dusk yesterday.

The spousal unit was walking by the kitchen window that overlooks the bird feeder, glanced out, and saw something very substantial grazing. "%^&*@# deer," he roared. I looked over his shoulder. "That's a weird looking deer," I opined. "It's too chunky."

So we turned on the yard light to get a better look. Our visitor warily raised her head, looked at the house, decided that we were zero threat, and went back to nosing in the snow for the bits of cracked corn.

"It's not a moose," the spousal unit said. I agreed. But it didn't look quite like a deer, either. It's fur was long and it's head looked more blocky than a deer's somehow. The body, too, was more barrel like and the legs more substantial looking than a deer's.

"Do you think it's an elk?" I asked him. There's an elk farm about 20 miles from us where a local entrepreneur raises them for meat. Maybe this doe was an escapee.

"We need a picture," said the spousal unit.

That, of course, was the moment when everything went south.

My beloved ancient Nikon camera started acting wonky last year after more than a decade of use, so we replaced it with an eensy weensy Canon camera. After lugging around the weight of the Nikon so long, it was a real thrill to have such a tiny featherweight to use.

The problem with such bitty things? If you don't always put them in the same place, they are easy to lose. Am I the sort of hyper organized person who always puts things in the same place? No, no I am not.

So I had to tear all over the house for precious minutes looking for the eensy weensy camera. Meanwhile, the spousal unit fretted aloud about how wild things don't tend to stay put long and heaven only knows how long it was in the yard before we spotted it. There were pointed queries as to whether or not I had located the camera yet.

No pressure there.

I found the camera on our dresser behind a cardboard box that Miss Banana was sleeping in. Eureka! I barrelled back downstairs. The window in the kitchen that overlooks the birdfeeder also overlooks our porch, which means we were looking at the mystery ruminant through screen.

The spousal unit decided we should go upstairs to our bedroom, crack a window, and take a picture from that vantage point. Without a screen in the way, we'd get the best picture possible. By this time, it had gone from dusk to dark. Our yard light, however, bathed our mystery visitor in light.

It began to snow lightly.

The spousal unit eased the window open as quietly as he could. Our visitor lifted her head, looked up at us, and again decided we were zero threat. I leaned out the window with the camera, focussed in on her, and took several pictures. The firing of the flash didn't bother her at all.

I consulted my view screen. This is the best image I got:

Keystone Kops got nothing on me eh.

What do you mean you can't see the critter? See those two greenish dots at the bottom right of the picture? That's the reflection of its eyes when it stopped grazing and looked up at me.

Okay, so it's not the best of pictures.

Fine.

"You need to turn off the flash," the spousal unit hissed quietly.

It's not often in your life that turning points are so clearly delineated. This would be the exact point where things went from merely bad to definitely worse.

I didn't know how to turn off the flash.

That would be because a few days earlier I'd played with the camera and turned off the idiot totally automated absolutely foolproof setting (the Marn setting, in other words) so I could mess with taking pictures of Christmas lights in the dark. Had the camera been in the idiot Marn setting, I could have turned off the flash easily.

In the complex "oh yes you can take lovely pictures of Christmas lights in the dark" setting, I had no idea how to access the flash menu.

The camera manual. I needed the camera manual. STAT.

Funny thing about the manual to this camera. It is every bit as itsy bitsy as the camera. Had I put it back in the camera box after studying camera settings (as I should have)? No, no I did not. I could not remember where I had set down the manual.

And as I tore around like a mad woman looking for the manual, our unknown creature munched her fill of the various grains under our bird feeder and silently drifted back into the woods.

Trust me, I won't be living this one down for a while, eh.

--Marn

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