As darkness comes earlier to western Colorado, summer’s stillness gives way to a restless fall. The skunks start chemical wars, mountain lions assassinate kids (of the caprine variety) and bears burglarize fruit trees in our own backyards. These are signs of a changing season, one where my colleagues are all victims or gleeful voyeurs of a great unrest among wild things.
Then, there are the smaller mammals frenetically gathering food for winter storage. They’re rustling in the thickets of tall weeds along my shed. The pile of yard scraps looks dead and decayed, but it moves and scratches and whispers when I pass it. For two mornings, Associate Editor Sarah Gilman lost sleep when grumpy skunks sprayed her dogs in the middle of the night. Housedogs don’t have to work for their winter survival, so skunks already resent them, but when they interrupt skunks’ house hunting and remodeling, there’s only one ending. If your dogs get sprayed, a mix of dish soap, baking soda and hydrogen peroxide works well. Just keep it out of their eyes.
High Country News headquarters also reflects the aging summer and the wilding fall. We gather for sliced melon in the common area during the afternoons. Giveaways of gigantic squash and cucumbers from people’s gardens occur almost everyday. And next door at Homestead Meats, the local rancher’s cooperative, hunters haul in their fresh-killed elk in the heat of the day for a quick butchering. About 15 carcasses hang in Homestead’s meat lockers. They’re hiring butchers now with knife skills fast enough to process over 550 animals during the fall harvest.
One evening after work, my neighbor was leaning over her balcony aiming a telephoto lens at the top of an electrical pole. A great horned owl sat on top. It swiveled its neck and stared at my little boy and me as we walked up for a closer look. I suspect the uptick in rodent activity had the owl a little giddy as it scanned the graveled alley from its hunting perch. We pulled a few ripe tomatoes from the garden and fed a grasshopper to a wolf spider near the front porch before walking inside for the evening. Outside, the critters were having a damn good time.
Neil LaRubbio is the editorial fellow at High Country News. His Twitter handle is @VictorAntonin.
Photos provided by Neil LaRubbio and Tennille Vanvleet.