Monday, July 05, 2010

Gentle People

By Era Zistel

Era and her husband Eric owned a house on a large acreage in the Catskill Mountains. They both loved animals, acquiring many cats, at least one dog, several goats and a few rabbits. In the course of the years, and through Era's efforts mainly, they also had some wild guests too: chipmunks, pack rats, skunks, raccoons, opossums and flying squirrels. Era's affinity for wild creatures is just amazing, as she becomes fast friends with animals most people would prefer to avoid, much less have living within their own house, like skunks, rats and opossums. Most, like the skunks and raccoons, just stop by to be fed and admired but for a few years, Era had opossums living in her house until one died from a life of too much ease and comfort at which point she concluded they were better off on their own. She also had cages of chipmunks, rescued from her cats, and later a cage of flying squirrels, those elusive spirits of the forest, common but only rarely seen. She and Eric also kept goats for a while and rabbits but couldn't bear to eat them or sell them for meat, which became a problem.

It was great fun reading about Era and her critters. She has an incredible knack for communing with wild animals that almost seems like magic. It's a talent that only a lucky few have. One of the most enchanting chapters is the one about the chipmunks; charming, amusing little rodents. I also enjoyed the chapter about the pack rat and her family of baby rats. I especially like the chapter about the opossums, having had a few close encounters with opossums myself, one of which my dog attacked and wounded. Unlike the opossums in her book, my opossum played dead and I was able to pick it up by its tail and put it in a box to transport to the humane society. It wasn't much damaged, just a small wound on its throat, which the people at the society treated and they took care of the opossum until it was well enough to release. I also disturbed an opossum sleeping under an old pillow inside a tractor tire laying on the ground. I had picked up the pillow to toss in the garbage and a little opossum was curled up under it fast asleep. So I carefully laid the pillow down and left it. I didn't remove it until spring so the opossum could have a warm spot in which to sleep through the winter.
If you like stories about animals, this book is sure to please.

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