|photo by Stefani Hutchison
Bay Critters Dancing
by Helen K. Beard
I was once an armchair naturalist. My kitchen window was my favorite place to observe the variety of wildlife that visits my backyard. I greeted each sighting of a blue jay, cardinal, bunny or squirrel with an enthusiastic sigh. Even a black snake skin, brought to me by my son, was a thing of beauty.
Occasionally, my family and I would venture out to safe havens to learn about the local wildlife.
Emboldened by visits to area nature centers, we even took a Patuxent River boat tour. But these events were exceptions to my routine. I considered myself an environmentalist and supported the cause in any way I could, but my favorite view of the great outdoors was from behind glass.
When we decided to adopt a dog, I knew that I would have to change. A dog must be walked. A dog must play. A dog must have fresh air.
My family instantly fell in love with Krista, and we adopted the one-year-old shepherd/beagle mix from the Tri-County Animal Shelter in Hughesville. Now, we all wanted to do everything we could to make her happy. Everyone fed her, brushed her and played with her. Everyone would also have to walk her.
So, dressed for weather and wildlife, I took my turn at doggy patrol.
As my new friend and I exited the front door, the early morning sun had already cut through the nights drenching rain clouds, and steam was rising from the driveway. The heavy, moist air tasted muddy and bitter on my tongue. Two days before, it had been cool and sweet. Maryland had once again changed her mood.
Krista pranced off the porch to the side yard with me, in my half-laced heavy rubber boots, clunking behind her. My feet were hot, but they were dry and safe. The rest of me would not fare so well. Despite my armor of straw hat, sunglasses, sweatshirt and long pants, I felt like easy prey. Being a newcomer to this outdoor life as well as to Chesapeake Country, I had not yet learned to cope with its most abundant class of creatures: bugs.
Krista and I were quite a pair. She stood regally pointing: nose quivering, right front paw curled, tail and ears at attention. I, in jittery contrast, bobbed and swayed like a drunken sailor in a vain attempt to dodge every manner of winged insect.
Horseflies, mosquitoes, moths and other flying fiends dive-bombed me in waves, but they quickly learned to avoid Krista. The occasional Kamikaze that took her on was dispatched with a snap of her jaw. She treated them as though they were part of her personal menagerie, brought forth to amuse her. She bound and leapt for them, pulling me behind her as she caught them in mid-air.
I survived that first encounter with Chesapeake Countrys smallest critters and have learned to brave the great outdoors. A dog must be walked.
The bugs, my canine companion and I have become a daily spectacle. She jumps at and pounces on her early morning feast; I follow, twitching and weaving against the onslaught. We are a strange new mix of Maryland wildlife: Bay wolf, Bay bugs and Bay loon in our crazy-odd dance across the yard.