Racing Homer

Kit of flying pigeons

Last Friday was a weird wildlife day. First, there was the raccoon encounter.

Then a few hours later, the pigeon showed up.

Not a typical pigeon, perched atop the barn cupola or fluttering inside our silo. This one was loitering in the driveway, gazing expectantly at the house. A pigeon with purpose.

Martin and I were packing for a weekend away and were running late, thanks to the raccoon episode. As I snatched the kids’ toothbrushes from the bathroom, I spied the bird out the window. He didn’t appear to be injured; he was standing there, occasionally pacing back and forth in sentry-fashion. Waiting.

“Hey, what’s the deal with that pigeon out there?” I asked Martin.

He watched for a moment. “No idea, but if he stands there much longer, he’s going to be cat food.”

We all headed outside and approached the bird. He wasn’t particularly frightened. He cooed and held his ground until we were in arm’s reach. When we retreated, he’d follow. “Look, he’s got a bracelet,” Brynn said, pointing to the tiny red band around his leg.

I called Chet, our neighbor and local birder. (Poor Chet, he’d already received a dozen calls from us concerning the raccoon.) Regarding the bird he proffered this: “Try to catch him — he probably won’t peck you — and read the number on his band. Then throw him in the air to help him fly away.”

I relayed these instructions to Martin who stared blankly at me. “You want me to do what? Are you serious?”

“Come on,” I said. “After roping a raccoon, catching a pigeon’s a piece of cake.”

As you’ll see in the video below, efforts to collect said pigeon were unsuccessful. And since we left shortly thereafter, I don’t know what happened to him. But the banded bird spurred my curiosity and yielded the following trivia:

Did you know that pigeon racing is a sport, with supporting organizations like the American Racing Pigeon Union and the National Pigeon Association? I’ve never heard of such a thing.

A “Racing Homer” is a pigeon selectively bred for speed and homing instinct, both critical to pigeon racing. Competitions range from 100 to several hundred miles in distance, and “good” homers can sustain 60 mph for hours and reach speeds of 110 mph. Those who breed them are called “pigeon fanciers.”

Want to learn more? I’m sure you do. Schedule a visit to the American Pigeon Museum in Oklahoma City. Really, it exists.

Our winged visitor might’ve been a race participant who lost his (or her) way. Or perhaps he was taking a breather from his charted course.

Who knows? He gave us the Heisman when we tried to help.

 

(For you email subscribers, if the video does not appear in your blog post, copy this link into your web browser: http://youtu.be/s9VIUfN3ukE)

 

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Wrangling Wildlife

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I thought we’d weathered the storm of bad luck. The deer-car collisions, the lice infestation, failing household appliances and leaky pipes.

We’re done, I thought.

Then a raccoon waddled into the mudroom.

It was last Friday morning. I’d just returned from dropping the kids at camp when I saw the raccoon at the mudroom threshold. He stumbled in like a drunk — taking a stutter-step and falling against the door frame — before lurching forward.

Oh, shit, I thought.

A raccoon in the daytime is certainly sick. And this one? Rabid and in the “furious” stage: disoriented, uncoordinated, and biting everything in sight. He approached the first pair of shoes — my sneakers — and sunk his teeth into the spongey fabric, tearing away the heel.

I watched from a distance, feeling vulnerable in flip flops and bare legs. When he moved to the next pair — Hadley’s rain boots — I snapped to action, and sprinted for Martin’s office.

 

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Those are done, let’s try these…

 

Martin was on a business call; I scrawled a note: rabid raccoon in mudroom, EATING shoes!

“Oh crap,” Martin said, surveying the scene. “No, no! Not my good hiking boots!” he shouted, clapping his hands and pounding on the window. The raccoon was unresponsive.

I called Animal Control and then phoned our gun-owning neighbors. But they weren’t home. I ran through options; Martin nixed them.

Open the kitchen door and shove him out with a barn pitchfork? Too risky, he might attack the pitchfork and run inside the house.

String the garden hose through the window and spray him? Likely to soak all of our shoes and miss the mark.

Eventually Martin retrieved a thick, yellow rope we use for tubing. “I’m going to lasso him,” Martin announced, “and pull him out of the mudroom.”

That sounded like a terrible idea — inconceivable, impossible to execute — but Martin was determined. While he fashioned a loop, I monitored the animal’s chewing choices. When the raccoon sunk his teeth into expensive footwear, I’d hurl something at him from the porch — an empty milk crate, a citronella candle, a tube of sun block. The raccoon would pause, mildly dazed, then growl before sinking his teeth into something else.

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…like Maisie’s empty dog dish.

 

Much to my surprise, Martin’s wrangling worked. He had to stand dangerously close to the raccoon and the rope slipped off several times. But finally, he hooked the raccoon’s leg and dragged him, hissing and spitting, out of the room. (Note: The raccoon retreated under a boxwood and we lost sight of him while pulling a curious cat from the scene.)

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Raccoon removal

 

Eventually Animal Control arrived. Apparently, an emergency call reporting “a rabid raccoon in the house,” elicits a 90-minute response rate. 

The animal control guy admonished us for having barn cats — “as long as you’re feeding them outside, you’re gonna have critters.” 

Then he told us to get a gun.

Actually, he said, “I strongly urge you to purchase a firearm. A 20-gauge will do you fine. And right now, they’re on sale at Walmart.”

Well, great, I thought. Let’s add that to the shopping list: orange juice, butter, bananas and a 20-gauge shotgun.

Hopefully Walmart’s got shoes on sale, too.

A few pairs were mortally wounded in action.

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Bugs Prompt Blog Break

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“Wow, I’ve never seen a grownup cry,” Hadley remarked, as I sat sobbing near a mystery leak that dripped with determination on the dining room floor and buckled the ceiling above.

An unidentified plumbing problem isn’t a cry-worthy crisis. But this incident was the final chapter in a series of cumulative, distressing events.

It kicked off last Tuesday when we discovered that the girls had lice. We learned this just as a strong summer storm knocked out the power. No electricity means no water, so we were powerless to wash sheets and treat the girls’ hair. Solution: armed with delousing products, we bunked in a hotel and attacked the problem. It was after midnight when we finally finished, but we’d made progress. Or so we’d thought.

The next day the power was restored but the washing machine broke, stalling efforts to sanitize bedding and clothes. The repairman estimated a seven-day wait for the replacement part. 

Next up? Both trucks broke down and with PigPen in the shop (amassing a $2,400 bill for deer damage repair) — we were squeezed with one vehicle.

And Friday afternoon — yet another day perched on the porch, sweating in the sun as I combed microscopic nits from the girls’ hair (making little progress) — Martin placed a cocktail in front of me. “Drink this,” he said.

I get it… I’ve been picking through their locks, strand by strand, for hours, I thought. And everything has gone wrong. “I’ll drink it when I’m done,” I said, swiping my sweaty bangs and hunching over Hadley’s bowed head.

“Really, take a few sips now,” he said, “because I need to tell you that there’s a leak in the dining room. And I’m going to have to cut open the ceiling to get at it.”

And there you have it: broken cars, broken washer, broken house, insect infested kids. Emotional breakdown.

Fortunately, unabated crying spurs family to action. On Saturday, my mother took the kids to be professionally deloused (yes, such services exist) and Martin secured a part to fix the washing machine and the Big Rig. All this while I played four straight softball games in league tournament. (We advanced to the quarterfinals, but were eliminated the next morning.)

No matter. After last week’s misery I can report today: the kids are fixed, ditto the washing machine and Pig Pen. It’s time to resume the blog and other elements of normalcy.

As for the accompanying tent photo: in an effort to limit lice spread, we booted the kids out of the house to sleep. But when we issued the go-ahead order to return to their room, they refused to vacate the campsite. They’ve slept in the tent for four nights running. The chair also pictured was employed for safety; Sunday evening Martin tethered the tent to the chair during a violent, gusty thunderstorm that threatened to send the camp structure airborne.

Remarkably, the kids opted to sleep in the tent, through the storm. The next morning I met a bed-headed Brynn, pawing through the cereal boxes in the kitchen and I asked her, “Weren’t you scared out there with all that thunder last night?” I asked.

“No,” she mumbled with a shrug. “It was loud but I  just went to sleep.”

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