Coping with the Heat

It’s hard not thinking, talking and writing about The Heat.

Millions of people without any electricity for their air conditioners, fans and refrigerators. More than 22 heat related fatalities.

And a sense of helplessness as we watch images of firestorms sweeping across a parched Colorado landscape, violent thunderstorms spawned by clashing columns of hot air, passengers stranded alongside railroad tracks and tarmacs, families desperately seeking any form of relief from the heavy blanket of heat and humidity draped over their homes.

The cool mountain breezes we have come to depend on here in western North Carolina have proven no match for the relentless waves of hot air rolling across the country. And it has affected more than just our patterns of behavior, as the animals we share the hillsides with have had to make adjustments in their lives as well.

A few days ago our two dogs began barking furiously at a rustling in the dense underbrush of rhododendrons and prickly brambles outside our enclosed back yard. Leigh Ann and I listened from our raised deck until I asked, “Could it be ….?”

“No,” she replied shaking her head. “It’s got to be the new neighbor’s dog from the other side of the knoll.”

On cue, as if to say, “Now, wait just a minute,” a five-foot tall black bear stood up on his hind legs amidst a bed of rhododendrons and English ferns, then calmly surveyed our house and yard. Separated by just a low board fence and twenty feet of yard, our dogs wisely decided to continue their barking from the safety of our deck.

The young bear, who appeared both healthy and totally at ease in his surroundings, apparently had made a daring daylight trip down from Burney Mountain to the creek which flows alongside our horse pasture. Taking the path of least resistance, he picked his way through Leigh Ann’s flower garden, past the Black Eyed Susan’s, under our pergola and onto our asphalt driveway. He paused at my pickup truck, stood up and eyed the bag of garbage toasting in the sun in the back, but must have decided it wasn’t worth the trouble of climbing over the tailgate. With a polite glance over his shoulder at me, as I followed at what I considered a safe distance with the open door to our house always closer to me than I was to him, he dropped back down onto all four feet and padded his way down the driveway, disappearing at some point back into the woods.

And he turned out not to be the only visitor whose daily schedule had been revised by the heat. The occasional deer alongside the road is not an unusual sight in our area, but when I came home to find a herd of eight standing in our driveway in the middle of the day in their search for water, I knew the heat was changing everyone’s normal pattern of behavior. Alerted by a family of squawking blue jays, on Friday I discovered a three-foot black snake eyeing the open door to my office, then another in the shade of one of our flowerbeds. Fearing either might slip in through the door or, worse yet, be discovered by one of our dogs or cats, I swiftly but carefully grabbed each one just behind the head and walked them down the driveway and deeper into the safety of the woods.

And so we begin another week of dealing with The Heat, finding no excitement over the prospect of a mid-week Fourth of July celebration, and now making sure that we turn on the outside lights before we walk down our driveway in the dark.

Until next Monday,

Let’s hope for a cooler week.