Wild (and odd) Sunday 3-9-08

Fish falling from the sky last week reminded me of squirrels knocking themselves out, smallmouth bass jumping in a canoe, a buck leaping our car hood and flying squirrels in southern rain.

A posting on IBET, the birding list for Illinois, last week had me laughing and trying to remember the wackiest things I’ve seen in the outdoors. Dave Gibson posted:

Recently my wife was heading north out of the Quad cities when a fish fell on the road in front of her car. When she looked up there were eagles in the trees. Evidently one of them had dropped the fish while heading for it’s roost.

I have seen prey dropped when birds are fighting over, but don’t ever remember seeing fish falling from the sky.

But I have seen squirrels mistime their leaps from limb to limb badly enough to crash to the ground and knock themselves silly. One time I even walked up to a knocked-out squirrel and was ready to nudge it with my boot toe when it came to and scurried off.

I take a perverse pleasure in squirrels knocking themselves out because I have an ongoing battle with them over my backyard bird feeders. And somehow squirrels missing a long jump reminds me they are animals, not perfect saints that do nothing wrong in the perfect world of Mother Nature.

Imperfection has helped put jumping smallmouth into a canoe too. A few years ago, my friend Pete Riedesel and I were doing a float from Yorkville downstream on the Fox River.

While learning to paddle together and handle an unfamiliar canoe, we went broadside into the island by the bridge and a typical Fox smallmouth came flying into the bottom of the canoe.

You will have this.

And there are moments in the outdoors that come and go so fast you wonder if they happened.

Maybe 20 years ago, I was visiting my dad and we were doing some fall turkey hunting and trout fishing on a tributary of the fabled trout stream Penn’s Creek in central Pennsylvania.

In the dusk as we are driving back out of the gravel mountain road to the hard road, a buck leaped off a road bank by an Amishman’s barn and completely cleared the car. It happened so fast we looked at each other, each wondering if we had really seen it.

It looked like an 8-point, but at the same time the surprise element made it seem much bigger, more like a Boone & Crocket qualifier.

One of my more cherished memories, odd only in the sense it was the first time I had actually seen flying squirrels, came on the southern end of the Appalachian Trail.

Just after college, I was five days into hiking the AT and feeling about as sorry for myself as a person could.

It had rained hard every day. Every piece of clothing was soaked. Everything in my pack was soaked. My Vasque hiking boots, which in those days weighed enough to begin with, were soaked into the poundage of say cement blocks.

So I am sitting in a shelter watching the rain–too far from civilization to hike out and quit–all alone and crying my eyes out when squirrels start flying through the air as the light died.

They were gliding. I tried to figure out how they were doing it, and they were doing it from high in the trees, maybe as high as 75 or 100 feet. So many were gliding around they made patterns in the dying light.

I finally figured out I was witnessing flying squirrels for the first time. The wonder of the new natural moment helped me push on.

Bear stories can wait for another day.

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