Life out among the trees is nothing if not overflowing with unexpected sights and encounters. This time a year ago I was in the habit of cataloging the different curiosities found along the Atlantic coast a few miles north of my new home under the country oaks. There it was mostly sea turtles, pelicans and pretty shells that caught my eye when not distracted by a party of tattooed septuagenarians in neon thongs. Here in the country I occasionally see barefoot oldsters in chewing tobacco stained undershirts, but the sea turtles have been replaced by gopher turtles, the pelicans by cardinals and marsh hawks and the shells by miles of green. I’ve been surprised more than a few times on walking outside, but after almost two months the surprise is momentary and followed by, “I should have expected that.” This morning I walked out the back screened porch and startled a black snake slithering past.
People like to tell stories of what’s “out there” in the backwoods of south Oak Hill and I’m still waiting to see most of them, a bit skeptical of ever seeing the giant panther with a four-foot tail that lives across the road. Still waiting too, for the first sight of a wild pig or wild turkey, but maybe one or the other will be grazing in my backyard one of these early mornings. A few days ago I left the house to pick up my mail from the box down the road, and thoughts a million miles away I suddenly looked up into the eyes of a five-foot alligator swimming past my gate not ten steps away. A big surprise, even knowing that Florida is chock full alligators. I stood watching as it leisurely wafted through the shallow water heading out to the lagoon at the end of the road. My neighbor told me later he would have jumped in and wrestled the beast to his cooking pot. That would’ve been worth a Kodak moment.
On another day I opened the slightly bent door on my rusty old mailbox expecting to find some juicy circulars, maybe a sale notice from my new favorite store, The Tractor Supply and what I discovered instead was a newly built bird nest. I told old Manny down the road about it and he said that one time his mailbox produced a baby raccoon curled up dead on top of his letter from Clearinghouse Sweepstakes.
But the biggest surprise these days is my revived John Deere lawnmower, beast of another kind that has been a plague of mechanical problems for weeks. A handful of local ‘repairmen’ tried their magic (call it foolishness) on its cranky parts, achieving either a momentary fix or further damage while I stood by watching the grass grow knee high. One thought it was the carburetor, another suspected a bad spark plug and the last pulled the whole engine apart to adjust the timing. It finally occurred to me that not one of the bunch had the slightest clue. “Thanks, fellas but I’m going to the Yellow Pages.” And as luck would have it, the first lawnmower repair listing I saw turned out to be saving grace. Two hours after my call a man picked up the John Deere, asked a couple of questions and promised to return the lawnmower the next day. True to his word, he returned the following day with a machine that now purrs.
It cost me all my 7-Eleven scratch card winnings, but it was worth it and my grass looks like 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.