Many a Christmas with many a critter

Many a Christmas with many a critter

By Rod Myers, Naturalist

The years are piling up like snow at the North Pole for many of us. That means we have many a Christmas under our belts. So without further ado, I present to you some of my past Christmases that were punctuated by wildlife or domestic pets. Some of the dates may be a little off, and I may jump around chronologically.

1957—Our family lived in a rented house next to a graveyard. When we pulled into the driveway on Christmas Eve night, the headlights shone on a ground-nesting owl. It might have had prey in its talons, but we couldn’t tell. That night, I slept with Tiger, the cat, but before I got to sleep, my uncle got up on the roof somehow and shook some sleigh bells. Of course, I thought it was Santa and yelled out the window, “Hey, Santa, it’s OK if you need to use our outdoor toilet!”

Someone told me Santa only went to the bathroom at the North Pole if he went at all. So I wanted our toilet to be the first south of the North Pole to feel Santa’s buns.

1962—That was the year when I had an imaginary Christmas pet only because my parents couldn’t purchase the owl I wanted. They sent 20 whole dollars for an Eastern screech owl to Trail’s End Zoo. Trail’s End Zoo was in the Southeast somewhere, and though they advertised having screech owls, they couldn’t come up with one. As a substitute, they offered one of those big and bulky young Great Horned owls instead, but we turned them down and got a refund. You could always count on finding a Trail’s End Zoo ad in the back of a Field & Stream or Sports Afield magazine in the olden days. I spent at least an hour a day imagining a screech owl was roosting in our Christmas tree. The bird of my fantasy would fly out of the tree at dusk to catch mice in the basement that were feeding on pigeon grain that spilled from the cage that held my two pigeons named Ace and Bluebar.

1966—Earlier that year, Dad built a pigeon coop in the garage. During Christmas vacation, I spent hours each day watching my pigeons’ behavior. The warmth of the garage fooled the birds into thinking it was spring, so some laid eggs. This gave me a chance to check embryo development each night by holding an egg to a flashlight.

1968—Christmas at Grandma’s was punctuated by the Beatles album, Magical Mystery Tour, that I got for Christmas, and four deer mice. I didn’t get the deer mice for Christmas. They were in the neighborhood, to be more exact, the woodshed. I was the only one sleeping downstairs at Grandma’s house on Christmas night. I stayed up after everyone else had gone to sleep so I could play the Magical Mystery Tour album. I had the music on low and went to the kitchen for cookies. As I put a cookie in my mouth, I looked out the window toward the woodshed, and lo and behold, there were four mice on the old steel sidewalk, running toward the house. I wondered what they were up to. Several minutes later, George Harrison’s song “Don’t Be Long” was playing when I heard a slight rattle in the stove. An instant later, four bug-eyed deer mice popped up through a burner and scurried to the plate of cookies. They nibbled a little, but then they dragged and pushed a cookie to the edge of the stove and over, where it dropped to the floor. They did this to a second cookie before I figured they were trying to break the goodies. But the cookies were too fresh and wouldn’t break. They were also too big and long to get through the opening; hence, they came. “Please don’t be long, please don’t you be very long,” echoed George Harrison’s song voice on Grandma’s old stereo. The mice hadn’t noticed me until I dashed to the stove, but now they were hiding as I broke two cookies into small pieces and set them on the floor. Then I sat down at the other end of the kitchen to see if the mice would come back, and they did. They came back six times and made six trips to the woodshed with fresh baked goodies.

1955—After spending a couple of months in Chicago’s Illinois Research Hospital, I was sent home for a week to enjoy Christmas with Mom and Dad. I was only four years old, and being able to come home for Christmas meant everything, though I had to return to the hospital for at least one more month. My Mom’s mother, knowing how much I loved flying critters, caught and saved me butterflies in the autumn. She kept them alive, and each week up until the time I went home for Christmas, brought me a jar with butterflies. The problem was, after one day, my butterflies would disappear, along with other gifts I received during visitation on Sundays. I cared most about the living gifts, so I let the butterflies loose in my room on Sunday afternoons. It’s nice to see a few butterflies that had escaped janitors, housekeepers, nurses, nurse’s assistants, mobile roommates, therapists and doctors clinging to hospital curtain rods in mid-December.

1992—My parents and I traveled to my brother and his wife’s home in rural northwest Wisconsin. Let me tell you, it was very rural. On Christmas Day while looking out a living room window, I observed two pileated woodpeckers, two bald eagles, one Rough-legged hawk and one feisty Red-tailed hawk that managed to chase the two eagles and the Rough-legged hawk away. That night, we listened to serenading wolves who were probably no more than two miles away. Oh, yeah, and on the way home, I saw a hawk owl on Highway 53 just south of Sarona, Wisconsin.

1996—From 2 to 4 p.m. on Christmas Day, my cat, named Roomie, and I sat in front of the patio door watching birds at the feeder. Roomie was sporting a new collar, and I was wearing a new pair of binoculars. Roomie could still see three times better than I. When Roomie got bored with the birds, he moved over to the kitty litter box to check for Santa remnants. Merry Christmas to all you critters out there, human and otherwise.

Rod Myers is a local resident with an interest in the environment and disability issues. He has an associate’s degree in science and a bachelor’s in fine arts. Rod is a member of the Audubon Society, the Wild Ones Natural Landscapers and Rockford Amateur Astronomers, Inc.

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