Animal Kingdom


     The baby deer didn’t know what to make of me as I pedaled uphill toward it.
     I was surprised it hadn’t toppled over from the weight of its ears. And those enormous black eyes. Give me eyes like that and I’d never have to work a day in my life.
     Then its survival instinct kicked in and it wheeled and bounded away into the woods: kick, float, tilt and disappear.
     First week of summer in Vermont, on a 20-mile ride in the hills.
     Hello, red fox. Same fellow I see often by the Massachusetts line, I imagine. It’s hard for me to tell foxes apart. I know he’s a chicken-killing, egg-sucking sneak thief, but who cares? Wouldn’t we all be, with a tail and a casual prance like that?
     Two electric yellow goldfinches dove from the forest in a swirling fight, then were gone.
     Then the raggediest, bedraggliest pathetic looking critter that ever disgraced my eyes crawled into view. What in God’s name? It looked like a skin graft rejected for eczema. All of a sudden it blew up into a fat lovely porcupine. I could have pedaled closer for a better look but I didn’t want to. I thought I heard my Mom calling.
     You flatlanders may think I am rolling a bunch of bike rides into one, until I reach 600 words and can go home, but that is not the case. It was just a day in the Vermont hills in early summer, on a well-oiled bicycle.
     Cardinals are easier to hear than to see. I heard plenty of them Wednesday but saw just a pyrrhuloxia, which is sort of an amateur cardinal, a little snazzier than a female redbird, but not in the same league as a Northern cardinal male.
     The turtles were out at Weatherhead Hollow Pond, nine of them lined up on a sunny log, most of them resting their chin on the back of the turtle before them. As my shadow flicked by, eight of them jumped, faster than turtles can possibly move, and disappeared into the water. One turtle stayed on the log, wondering what happened. There’s always one turtle like that. I call him Bruce.
     Frizzell Hill is a mile long at 8 percent slope. It’s only a 410 foot elevation gain, but there’s no cover, and it’s hot. I subject myself to it because I saw a ring-necked pheasant at the top twice. That’s an astonishing bird. They don’t make paint in those colors, or gemstones either. I can see why his harem follows him around. I’d do it, if I was a bird. The top of Frizzell Hill is the turnaround point on the 20-miler.
     Not much happened in the next 9 miles, because it’s downhill and I was going fast instead of looking around. I saw the beaver dams, but no beaver. I saw the great blue heron hiding in the weeds, but didn’t stop to chat.
     Half a mile from home I got a surprise when a mink darted into the reeds at a nameless little pond, carrying something in its jaws. First mink I’ve seen in the wild. Vicious little bastards they are, terrorists of the animal kingdom. They’ll kill anything. It was nice to see him, though, to know he’s there.
     What is it about animals that makes a day better, just because you’ve seen them? I don’t know what it is, but it works every time.

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