Friday, April 18, 2008

Great White Hunter

I've commented before a little about what life is like when you grow up an Air Force Brat.

Life in a military family tends to be small-town life. You typically don't see big military facilities right smack in the middle of urban centers--although there are some exceptions, like the Bay Area bases in California (Onizuka and Moffet) and Pearl Harbor come to mind. But bases often need a lot of land, and they generate a lot of noise (both of these being especially true of Air Force bases), so they tended to get placed out in the boonies--miles from major population centers, and surrounded on all or most sides by open land.

So as an Air Force brat, we often lived right on the edge of open range. And when you live right on the edge of open range, you sometimes have unexpected visitors, which can put a twist in an otherwise ordinary day. This picture, from Eielson Air Force Base (in Alaska) illustrates:

You don't want one of those getting sucked into your intake.

I remember as a kid (before third grade) living on base at F.E. Warren AFB, Cheyenne, Wyoming--and waking up on occasional mornings to see herds of antelope that had happened to wander near our quarters during the night. (And I remember attending evening services at church one night, where one of the attendees showed up with a dead moose in the back of his pickup truck, after a successful hunt earlier in the day. Being the curious sort, I checked it out... and then wound up walking through the lobby of the church with blood-soaked hands. I'll bet that left an impression on a few people....)

And just a few years ago I had the opportunity to visit (on business) the Naval Air Station at Lakehurst, New Jersey. Again, the military base was surrounded by open forest land and cranberry bogs on three sides; and as you might expect, the place was crawling with rabbits, deer, and everything in between. Before any attempted aircraft launch, the standard procedure was to run a fire engine up and down the runway, lights on and siren blaring, to scare everyone back into the bushes. Bird strikes on takeoff are bad enough; deer strikes are even worse.

Well, growing up in locations like this tends to make one accustomed to open land. I find that I get claustrophobic in big, dense cities. I can stand San Jose reasonably well, because I'm familiar with it (having gone to college there); but San Francisco just feels tight and suffocating to me; those buildings are too tall and too close, with not enough space between them, and not enough genuine green (or here in California, brown). I tend to prefer towns that still have a lot of open, unsettled space in them; brooks and forests; natural, native plants; parks that have trails through them, but are otherwise still in the condition that God made them. I tend to see cities as places you go when you have business to do, but not to stay in; if it weren't for the fact that I have to make a living, I'd probably want to move up to the mountains or something. My idea of paradise looks a lot like the outskirts of Flagstaff, Arizona. :-)

But the place we live now is nice. It's definitely a suburb, but it's not completely filled in yet; there's still plenty of open space and parkland. And occasionally we get a pleasant surprise. Tonya and the kids went for a walk today, and as they were wandering through the neighborhood, they came upon this little guy:
That is a ring-necked pheasant. We see them around here from time to time, as well as the occasional wild turkey. Tonya was wondering whether our pheasant was perhaps injured, as it wasn't trying too hard to keep out of anyone's way. Tonya had to shoo away a couple of cats who were stalking it. She did mention that it was at least as big as the cats were, though--so it's possible it could have held its own.

Anyway, after they had gotten home, the pheasant--who was still wandering through the neighborhood--decided to pick our own nice, shady front yard as a place to sit down and take a rest. All three of these pictures were taken through our front window (the first two, through a screen).
Usually, these birds stay much farther away from people. We had one in our backyard about a year ago, and I tried like mad to get a picture of it; but it was pretty spooked, or it wanted privacy, and kept trying to get out of sight--behind the bush, behind the compost pile, so forth. When it came to the conclusion that I wasn't going away, it jumped out of its hiding place and took off in flight. They aren't efficient fliers, but their plumage is absolutely beautiful when the wings are out and the tail is back....

And I am reminded of another episode from this Air Force brat's childhood. We were stationed in Germany for four years, and we took the opportunity to visit most of the countries of Central Europe while we were there. I remember once we were driving through the Netherlands, when Dad stopped the car. He'd seen a pheasant, and wanted a picture. So he grabbed his camera, got out, and started hunting the bird. The bird was obviously used to being hunted, and always managed to stay just one move ahead of Dad. It started to look like one of those Warner Brothers cartoons, where Yosemite Sam goes to the door at the lower right, but then Bugs Bunny comes out the door at the upper left; so Yosemite Sam goes to the upper left, and then Bugs comes out the door at the lower left; and so on and so on. I seem to remember that Dad never did get a decent picture of that bird; but my Mother and brothers and I got a good laugh from the whole episode.

Anyway, it's rather a nice thing to see something like this come through your neighborhood, and even into your yard, from time to time. It helps remind you that there's a whole world out there that doesn't worry about software engineers or itemized deductions. It's almost too bad we don't have any moose around here.


Anna said...

I'm not too far from Cheyenne. Our land backs up to open space, so we see a few things now and then.
A couple of months ago, when the snow stuck around for more than a few hours, I saw a red fox strolling through.
Your pheasant is just beautiful. Good job catching pictures.

Crimson Wife said...

There can be a thing as too close a proximity to nature, however. My parents live in a rural town and one of their neighbors had a *BEAR* come eat out of her bird feeder! She called the local animal control officer but by the time he arrived with his tranquilizer gun, the bear had left.

Thanks for the "link love" BTW!

Timothy Power said...

Crimson Wife,

Maybe if we're lucky we can get our moose to chase out the bears. ;-)

Thanks for dropping by!

Jarrod J. Williamson, Ph.D. said...

Tim -- I looked at your first picture. Umm, I don't know where you were raised, but where I come from hunting a moose with an F-16 is considered a bit unsportsmanlike.

Timothy Power said...

I don't know about that. Have you seen how big those moose get? And I bet the moose could put a serious dent in that F-16 if it wanted to. They've been known to derail trains.

(I'm not making that last part up. Apparently, some of the Canadian railways once used air-horns on their trains that sounded a wee little bit too much like a bull-moose mating call. During mating season, a moose would hear the horns, think "Challenge!" and go stand its ground against the locomotives, right on the tracks. This resulted in dead moose and derailed trains, until the Canadians figured out what was happening and changed their air-horns.)

Jarrod J. Williamson, Ph.D. said...

Then you better use an A-10 Warthog rather than some pansey F-16.

Timothy Power said...

Now that's funny.

Yes, an A-10 ought to do it.