Creepy-Crawlies, Night Terrors, and Neighborly Neighbors

A neighbor of ours recently crept through the darkness, into our yard, and approached our front door. She had a flashlight and a platter filled with “holiday cheer” – a sugary ring of pastry encircled with various Hershey candies, along with several packets of chamomile tea. Trish and I will probably never get used to these spontaneous neighborly visits – they are so completely foreign to our personalities. The visits set us on edge, but I know the problem is ours, that people are capable and driven to commit random acts of generosity, and we have to smile and deal with it.

Now the dogs are barking and whining, I have no idea why. They didn’t bat an eyelid when the neighbor came over. They bark at random, one speaking up to express a mood or a whim, and then the other joining in because, well, the other one must be barking for a reason, right? Some strange film is droning in the background, a period piece with Hugh Grant playing the part of a French piano protégé. It’s a weird, weird world, but the wine flowing from the stacked cardboard boxes helps keep things together and moving.

I’m reading a book about Charles Manson and the murders his notorious “family” committed in the early 1970’s, written by the chief prosecutor in the case. It’s entitled “Helter-Skelter,” and it is perfect holiday reading so far as I’m concerned. That or maybe a nice bit on Jonestown: Group-think, Kool-aid, night raids. The writing is on the wall, scrawled in blood. Trish is cackling away in the kitchen – maybe she’s finally lost it for good, or found it, found something, anyway. Our wave-lengths are distant right now.

Last night I went out into the woods behind our house, ostensibly to look for the dog, Kiki. I thought I heard her, and then I thought she was in distress. It was pitch black – an overcast, moonless night. Her barks, responding to my calls, were weak and wheezy. I got it into my head that she might have been snared, in a coil of barbed wire, or caught in brambles. I drew closer to the sound; then froze. Something was not right. A massive owl broke from the darkness and buzzed my head. I screamed out, turning to run, and stepped right on the cat, Snarfy, who had been following along, unbeknownst to me. The cat screeched in pain and fear, and then bolted out from under my clumsy booted foot. I nearly went down, nearly lost control of my bladder. My heart was beating a violent rat-at-tat and my veins ran cold with adrenaline.

It turned out the dog was clear on the other side of the property, happily munching away on a pile of manure-strewn straw another neighbor had removed from their chicken coup, and dumped along the fence line.

Two interactions with neighbors in two days, one indirect, and one direct; that may be a new record for us up here at the Double Happiness Farm. Normally we go days, or weeks at a time, without a word, a wave, or a nod. I really enjoy living up here.

The cat suffered no serious injury from our run-in.

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Bob Howard has been living, working, and writing in Northern Califonria since he moved to Chico in early 2000. In January 2011, he and his wife Trish relocated to Los Molinos, 30 minutes north of Chico, where they are the proud proprietors of the Double Happiness Farm. There they grow organic food, ornamental plants and trees, and generally work to enjoy the beauty of this great region.