Mark Millicam

Mark Millican

Two days before the Fourth of July we rounded a bend in Tickanetley Road in Ellijay and a black shape froze for a moment in the middle of the pavement. A bear between one and two years old, as amazed to see us as we were to see it, quickly decided to keep going.

I had hit the brakes and was looking down for my suddenly-errant cellphone to try and get a photo, while Teresa kept tracking the bear. The ursine pedestrian scrambled under a wooden fence, turned around and put one paw up on the bottom rail, looking at my wife. This part I missed, but that's her story and she's stickin' to it.

By the time I found said phone and climbed the bank for a picture, the bear was long gone.

As we drive the backroads en route to my soil inspection sites, we see a good bit of wildlife. Last week on the ridge atop Cherry Lake subdivision, we saw a small reddish critter in the road around 30 yards in front of us. I slowed and began to ease up, and we saw it was a red fox.

That was the second red fox I'd seen in a month; the other was on a road on the outskirts of Cohutta in northern Whitfield County. Years ago, I'd heard or read that you don't often see a fox during the daytime unless it's extremely dry. That would seem to belie our rainy summer this year.

In the last three months, I've been helping an old friend a few days a week who has a small remodeling business. Much of the work is around Chickamauga Lake northeast of Chattanooga, so there's wildlife there as well.

A couple of weeks ago while taking a break on my tailgate, I watched as a chipmunk skittered up the edge of a driveway under the shade of a white oak and a shagbark hickory growing side by side. He had the best of both worlds regarding nuts, and it made me think of the shagbark we had in our yard as kids, and how "hicker nuts," as we called them, were so hard to crack it wasn't worth your time to try and get the meat out.

A remodeling coworker is also the same age as my boss, one year older than me, and is an old friend, too. In fact, we all played football together in high school. And for you reading friends, here's how you tell you've progressed in life -- you get two 66-year-olds and a 65-year-old debating the merits and drawbacks of over-the-counter painkillers for creaky joints. I'm an Aleve Liquid Gel man and stickin' with it after a hard day.

Just slowly nod your head if you've been there.

Speaking of old acquaintances and nuts, it makes me think of our grandson Rocco's visit to see us back in June. This 2-year-old is really stringing words together to make sentences now, and when he was sitting in my lap I quizzed him on some forest creatures we could see from our porch in Beaver Forest. There were too many deer, of course, and the newborn fawns, and then I asked him what the gray, bushy-tailed critters were.

"A squirtle," he said. It was so cute, I had to ask him again. "Squirtle."

Gran and I had to chuckle, and she feigned umbrage, since squirrels have not been our friends in the past. However, at our home in Varnell our next-door neighbor began feeding a stray cat or two and then there were kittens. He told me oftentimes when he opens his door in the morning the feline predators will have deposited a dead squirrel on the top step to prove they deserve continued provision.

Evidently they're not chowing down on their catch, it's just great sport. Which, truth be known, is fine with us. We haven't heard the skittering of bushytails along the rafters in the attic lately, seeing as we now have mighty rodent hunters living in the neighborhood.

Well, I could continue to describe the numerous wild turkeys we've seen, the hawk flying away with a snake writhing in its talons, the ducklings forcing cars to slow down by the fishing pond or how a blue heron plunges into the lake with a loud splash to spear an unsuspecting fish. But I think I'll search the fridge and see if I can find some meat scraps for the cats.

May they ever hold the upper paw over the "squirtles."

Mark Millican is a former staff writer for the Daily Citizen-News.

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