It’s been about two-months now since we’ve taken up residence here in Tennessee! I didn’t have a ton of expectations coming in… let’s just say that was because I was trying to keep an open-mind rather than a lack of research or preparation on my part. Besides, like they say: “expectations are planned disappointments,” right? Anyway, I can say that one pleasant surprise has been the abundance of wildlife in the area. We live in a charming suburb about 15-miles north of downtown Memphis. By Seattle standards this would still be an extension of the city and highly dense area. In the Mid-South I have found everything to be much more spread out and spacious. Houses here have… wait for it… an actual footprint and yards! Roads wind through wooded areas with streams and ponds. Just a mile or so north of us there are fields with crops and horses.
My Seattle brain can barely fathom the spaciousness. Last month I got pulled over for going 52-mph on an empty 6-lane highway near our home. When the cop informed me that the speed limit was only 40-mph I could barely contain my surprise: Wha?! Why would you have a road this wide and empty and it not be highway level speeds? Wait, is this considered a residential road? But it’s so… big… I kept my thoughts to myself, seeing as revealing I was oblivious to the actual speed limit on the road didn’t seem like the best way to avoid a ticket (instead I went with the: I’m new to the area, my husband and I just moved here due to his service in the military, route and that got me off with only a warning).
Anyway, all this spaciousness to say, there’s more room for wildlife in the suburbs here. Okay, so there are probably several other important contributing factors like the climate and environment, I’m no ecologist here (though I did have to take at least one ecology class for my biology major but I’m pretty sure I forgot all the useful information immediately after the final exam). I’ve already mentioned the unfortunate increase in density of bugs, so I thought I’d focus this post on non-insect or arachnid creatures that abide in the area.
For starters, there are a lot of ducks and geese near where we live (my English teacher mother is probably cringing right now that I just used ‘a lot’ as my primary adjective and in italics none-the-less… Love you Mom!). Since we’ve only been here a couple months, I’m not sure if it’s a seasonal thing, if they will stay this dense year round, or move on. But whenever I go for a walk or jog, there are groups of geese eyeing me as I pass. Of course I eye them back suspiciously as I know they can be real jerks and I don’t want to be on the wrong end of an avian attack.
One amusing anecdote is a family of four geese that are always together and cross the road in front of our complex multiple times per day. When we moved in it looked like a group of two adult and two ‘teenage’ geese. Now they all look the same. At first I thought it was cute: Oh, look at them waddle across the road together in a line. But having observed this behavior over the course of days and weeks, now I’m more like: Man, make up your mind, what side of the street do you want to be on? Can’t you find food near your pond like all the other ducks and geese? Why you have to wander off, take your sweet little time, slow down traffic, and go across the street? Jeff thinks they should be taught a lesson and wants to speed up close to them in the car. I told him that I think he overestimates the intelligence of their species and he better not hit one. They can be quite annoying though…
Less annoying and more entertaining are other animals that I have found crossing the road. One morning, as I drove out of our complex, I saw a dark mound in the middle of the road, slowed down a bit, and realized it was a turtle. It was a fairly wide road at that point, but the turtle was about 2/3rds the way across and moving at a decent pace (well, for a turtle anyway). I was pretty impressed.
Then there’s this other road that I drive regularly to and from the Navy Base that I frequently notice caterpillars crossing the street. I know, right?! Who would have thought you’d be able to see a caterpillar crossing the street when you’re driving in the car? They must be excessively large ones because I usually notice a couple inching their way across as I pass that particular stretch of road. The first time I saw one moving I almost swerved, as it was, unfortunately, aligned to be smushed by the front wheel of my car, but seeing as it is an excessively narrow road at that point I restrained myself. I can just see the cop: So, how did you end up in that ditch or swerving into oncoming traffic? Me: Well, Sir, there was this caterpillar crossing the road and uh… I’m new to the area and my husband is in the military…
I have also noticed a significant amount of deer in the area. I have seen a few around our immediate neighborhood but have observed them more regularly on the Navy base where I often jog in the morning. The base is not particularly large, about 4-miles around if I jog close to the perimeter, and it is surrounded by two controlled entry points and a tall barbed-wire fence. This ‘limited’ access has clearly not deterred several families of deer from taking up residency within its confines. One morning I followed signs to a nature trail, found a small pathway into the woods, and spotted 7-8 deer nestled under the trees. It was still early morning and most were laying down. As I approached they raised their head towards me, presumably to assess my threat level, as I tried to determine the closest distance I could get to viewing without spooking them. I’ve made this trail part of my morning loop and have yet to enter without seeing at least 3-4 deer lounging about.
One morning I saw an adorable spotted white-tailed fawn just as the national anthem was about to play. Yes, they play the anthem every morning and it was definitely a surprise to me the first morning I ran around the base. At 7:55am, just as I passed under a speaker (of course), a harsh bugle or trumpet sound blared in notification of the upcoming anthem (scaring the bejeezus out of me). Apparently this is the “first call to colors.” Then at 8:00am sharp the anthem is played and if you are outside you are expected to stop and stand at attention. Well, on one occasion, just as I slowed to stop, I spotted this fawn. I’m not sure if the little guy was startled by me, or by the music that had begun to blare, but he froze about 20-feet in front of me. I couldn’t locate a flag outside so I decided to direct my stance towards the fawn and watched as he appeared to stand attentively throughout the course of the anthem, his little white tail raised in salute. Once the song ended, I watched as the patriotic fellow bounded off.
Other mammalian creatures that I have come across include raccoons, an armadillo, and a skunk. These were not as intimate of meetings as my encounters with the deer. I spotted the raccoon via a couple glaring eyes in the dark and the armadillo may have been on the side of the road in a post-life state. The other morning I spotted the skunk after dropping Jeff at work on base and texted him excitedly that I had seen a skunk (I probably wouldn’t have been quite as enthusiastic had I been on foot). He was not overly impressed and was more just surprised that I had never seen one before. Apparently there are skunks in Western Washington (I just looked it up) but no, I had never happened upon one before. So yes, I got a little excited.
Also, causing some youthful excitement was our discovery of frogs at the park near our home. We frequently walk around this park a block or so from our apartments, and the path crosses a small stream. We had noticed tadpole-type-things (neither of us being able to confidently confirm whether or not the were actually tadpoles) in the stream at one point and not thought much of it. Then, a few weeks later, as we crossed the stream Jeff stopped and said, Look at the baby frogs. I halted and saw tiny grey hopping dots, which I had assumed were insects, but upon closer inspection, were indeed teenie-tiny frogs, no bigger than my pinky fingernail. I felt like a kindergartener observing the amphibian life cycle. Besides the frogs, this small park just outside our apartments harbors multiple species of colorful birds, butterflies, squirrels (that seem skinnier and less cute than the Seattle variety), and countless other creatures. At night there are even fireflies.
Okay, okay, I know this post is getting a bit long. I’m done pointing out the animals I’ve encountered around the neighborhood but I wanted to mention a couple odd Memphis-area traditions with creatures. The first would be the ducks at the Peabody Hotel. Yes, ducks, in a hotel. Apparently it’s a thing that dates back to some drunk dudes in 1933 who thought it would be funny to put some ducks in the fountain of a hotel lobby. We were so honored to witness the historic waddling of the ducks last month on our city tour through Jeff’s work. Twice per day a handful of ducks are escorted between their luxurious abode on the rooftop of the hotel, down the elevator (yes, the ducks ride the elevator), over a red carpet into the fountain in the lobby. And on each such occasion, hundreds of people gather in the lobby to observe and snap photos of the event. It was like we were witnessing the Kardashians of waterfowl. Did they do anything extraordinary? No, they’re just normal ducks. But they sure get royal treatment and draw a lot of attention.
The last animal-centric tradition I’d like to mention, and this might be a sneak peak into an upcoming post, is the city of Millington’s Annual International Goat Days Festival. I do like how they slipped the word International in there, as if there is a lot of competition with other goat festivals. This year’s event is coming up in a few weeks so I’ll have to update you as to what all it consists of (though I’m assuming there will be goats). And yes, of course we are planning to attend. When in Rome… right? We talked with a gal from Millington the other day and we mentioned Goat Days and she spoke fondly of the annual festival but then mentioned a bit of awkwardness when she went off to college and spoke of it as a normal event. To her friends: Wait, so you guys don’t have Goat Days…? Her friends’ response: Where are you from? And then they called her a redneck (her words, not mine). Sounds about right.
Well, thanks for sticking with me on this one. I guess I get more excited than I thought writing about all my experiences with creatures here in the Mid-South. Next weekend we’re going to Atlanta and likely stopping in Chattanooga on the return trip, so I’ll try to update y’all on that. And then, of course, Goat Days.