It’s not exactly the Discovery Channel, is it?

It’s not unfair to say that as a kid who was brought up in a little town in North Wales, my early experience of wildlife was relatively limited. There was a vague suggestion that there were adders somewhere not that far from us, although the teachers who took us on school trips never seemed to bring along a bottle of antidote or a patented adder catching device thingy. There were those microscopic red spiders that we used to encourage onto our hands and then quickly squish in order to create a tiny red blotch on our skin. And there were a few dogs whose sole use seemed to be to make sure that you were terrified to jump any wall in an attempt to get your football back, for fear that you might lose a leg, an arm, or the ability to father children in the future.

Put simply, the bit of North Wales that I had the right to call home wasn’t a hotbed of activity for the natural kingdom. Although to be fair, the noise from next door’s budgies would have put off any self-respecting meerkat or jaguar from setting up home in our back garden.

The one thing we did have though was a hedgehog. As prickly as The Special One after one glass of pinot grigio too many, our hedgehog lived in the compost heap, and only wandered his way down to the back door when he was convinced that the pubs were closed and everybody was settling down for the night. Then he’d casually saunter down, and climb into any bintrash bags he could get hold of, in order to get some much needed food.

The problem was that the hedgehog was clearly blind, and when coupled with the three hundred or so sharp spikes on his back, his handicap didn’t exactly make him an Olympic-standard scavenger. Getting into the bags was a bit of a doddle – getting out never proved quite so easy…

Since moving to the States, I’m having to get used to a whole different range of animals. Not so much in Brooklyn, although some of the characters who hang around outside local bars smoking heavily look like they’d not be out of place in a local zoo (preferably not the petting section though, if you don’t mind?). But either a couple of hundred miles upstate, or out in Tennessee, there’s a whole new set of animals to witness for the first time.

There’s plenty of strange looking creepy-crawlies for a start, the likes of which have not been seen outside secretive genetic mutation labs in the UK. And then there’s the wild versions of many standard animals – particularly turkeys, who seem to be revelling in the post-Thanksgiving period by going out partying without their parents (and almost certainly engaging in a little too much procreative birdy business).

To be honest though, most of this strange breed of weird looking animals appear essentially to be giant hairy gerbils. There’s the slightly weedy gerbil (the gopher), the smelly gerbil crossed with a black and white squirrel (the skunk), and (as spotted this weekend in The Inlaws’ garden) the big fat gerbil who looks like he’s been on the meat and potato pies for at least three years, the groundhog.

The problem is, I can’t identify a single one of these sodding animals when they pop up in a garden. I’ve finally come to the conclusion that the problem is that they’re alive. After all, the US is the roadkill capital of the world, and you can’t drive more than 100 yards on an interstate without somebody shouting “Look, a dead raccoon!” or “ewwww, did you see that possum?”. Show me a living breathing version and I haven’t got a hope in hell of picking a vole out of an identity parade. Spread its guts over a ten yard piece of road, and I could probably identify the animal, the name of its mother, and its favourite colour.

Next time there’s an animal in The Inlaws’ garden, I’m getting on their four wheel lawnmower and heading straight for it. I’ll be like a slightly gorier version of David Attenborough before you know it, mark my words.

8 thoughts on “It’s not exactly the Discovery Channel, is it?

  1. Almost American

    Gerbils? I’d always thought possums etc looked more like overgrown rats. Of course, gerbils are rather rat-like, so I guess we’re on the same wavelength!

    I miss hedgehogs. Mostly they were dead on the road, but we did have one living in our garden that had babies. Very cute, but flea-ridden.

    Lots of wildlife around here and I’ve blogged about a lot of it. I’m notorious for misidentifying it though. The family joke – “What a funny looking donkey! Oh, sorry, it’s a moose!” The fisher cat I saw this week didn’t look anything like a donkey, but enough like a weasel that I had no idea what it was and had to Google it when I got home. There are lots of animals that look like weasels. Which of course bear more than a passing resemblance to rats, what with the pointy faces and sharp teeth and claws . . .

  2. Cocktails

    My special one swears that there is a hedgehog living in our back garden. I’ve never sighted it so obviously I’m suspicious of this claim. At least you can actually see those overgrown gerbils!

  3. Milo

    Oi, I didn’t know you harked from N.Wales too? As was I you well-bred old stick! Aberystwyth in 1976 in my case.

  4. Alasdair

    Silly Almost American !

    Don’t you realise that you can tell the polecat cousins apart trivially because, not only are they weasely distinguishable, they are in fact stoatally different ?

    (even I am blushing, right now ! (grin))

  5. Brooklyn

    Dylan:
    In light of Alasdair’s post: Does “A Brit Out Of Water” have a banning policy? If not, should it?

    Alasdair:
    “(even I am blushing, right now ! (grin))” makes it worse since it is evidence of a knowing crime.

  6. Dylan Post author

    Brooklyn – I cannot ban on puns alone, whether committed in the heat of the moment or in cold blood. Indeed, anybody with the bravery to use the phrase ‘stoatally different’ should possibly be applauded.

    The double bracket usage I’m less keen on…

    Milo – I was born in Chester but brought up in Clwyd all my life. Aberystwth’s much posher than our way though.

    Cocktails – as Almost American rightly says, hedgehogs are extremely flea-ridden, so don’t get too excited about the idea of having one in your garden. Preferable to an adder, clearly…

  7. Alasdair

    Why, Brooklyn – you are just incorriging me to badger you yet some more, with otterly familiar word-play …

    And, yes, knowing that, even as I do, some of the readers of this blog will phylum away for future use …

    Does such further punishment not indeed fit the ferreted-out so-called crime ?

    (Or is that latter risking being too pungent for delicate sensibilities ?)

  8. Stella Jones

    Yes, I’m learning fast too. My hubbie told me that possums can play dead in the road. It must be some kind of defense mechanism. The first time I saw a dead one, I just had to get out of the car and take a close look. It was the first possum I’d ever seen!
    Blessings, Star (in Tennessee)

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