I’ve lived in the middle of the woods for almost 14 years now. Maybe some you can imagine what it’s like when you can go without seeing anyone for a week or even more. We have actually been completely snowed in with no way to get out for over five days during a bad winter. This gives you lots of freedom. Sometimes you just work in your pajamas. You can even run around nude if you are brave enough. Much of my life happens through my window glass. Right now outside we have hoar frost. It’s beautiful. Looking through each different pane of glass is like looking at a different painting of Timber Valley in the wintertime. I’ve seen a lot through those windows since I moved here and I’ve been surprised by visits from lots of different animals. I’d like to share a story with all of you simply because it makes me laugh. We need more laughter in this world. I wrote this a short time after moving out to the middle of the woods.
As I begin to write an old quote comes to mind, “Just because it happened to you, doesn’t make it interesting.” This is probably too often true of my stories but this one is a typical tale about living in Timber Valley. Being a city girl, I’m used to gunfire, traffic noise and most of the terrors of the big city, but I never thought that every day in the country would bring another surprise.
Usually about November local animals, both the forest type and the domesticated farm type start growing their winter coats. They also get kind of restless and start moving around more. They jump fences, get out of their pens and in general are just a little friskier than usual as the weather turns cold. The first snow had fallen so the woods were teaming with wildlife.
I was working in my studio when Ron (my husband) called to me and said to look out of the window. I usually ignore him when he does this because I’m usually too slow to see anything, but needing an excuse for a break I got up and looked out into the woods. I could just make out a huge outline of something. I ran out on to the deck and stood still. A huge bird (about the size I’d imagine an ostrich to be) came out of the woods making a snorty pig-like sound from somewhere in its body. As I watched, 3 more of these birds appeared, rustling their wings and running toward my front yard. I greeted them with enthusiasm running out the front door. They did the same, running quickly up to me all at once. At about this moment I realized that they were very big and had sharp beaks, strong legs and could move very fast. I kept talking to them in the voice I save only for animals (high pitched, squeaky and idiotic) as I quickly moved toward my front door. They followed close behind. They cautiously stayed outside the front yard fence. They drank from our ceramic ponds. I felt a little sorry for them. They looked and acted hungry. Ron said they were emus and he didn’t know what they’d eat but I figured they’d eat bread like other birds. I brought a loaf of bread out and they came running after me grabbing the slices out of my hand and then biting my fingers and at my sweater and ponytail. They were getting pretty riled up in a feeding frenzy. I wanted pictures (no city friends would believe me), so with 4 emus on my tail I went inside to get the camera.
Before going out to take their pictures, I called the Appleton Post Office to find out if there were any rumors of loose emus from any local farm. The postmaster (Loretta) said she’d check around and get back to me. Up here the post office is always the best way to get information or to start a rumor. I also called a few more people that I know who have connections to exotic birds or animals or just like to butcher meat of any kind. With the search on I went out to photograph the birds. I also treated them to a dishfull of dog kibbles.
After about an hour with no news, Ron and I realized that these emus just might be ours if someone didn’t claim them. They were snorting and running around and didn’t look like animals that we might want to name or to keep. Ron called Roy, our sheriff in Timber Valley. He said these probably were the “wild” emus that had been rounded up in Goldendale after they attacked a number of people on the downtown sidewalk. Roy said they had been taken to Pat Fus, a local exotic bird owner, who kept them for awhile. Pat’s husband, however, was deadly allergic to these birds (I was feeling a little allergy coming on myself by this time), so they gave the birds to Jeanette and Cliff Cramer. They were going to keep them for awhile and then butcher and eat them. Emu meat is supposed to contain no fat and no cholesterol. We’d solved the mystery. Jeanette and Cliff Cramer now owned the birds.
I called Cliff. He’s an old timer in Timber Valley and he talks very slow. When I asked him if his emus were missing he just said,”Hold on a minute while I go and look.” About ten minutes later he came back to the phone and says, “Yep, they’re gone all right!” He said he’d come right up to our cabin.
He got here in a few minutes and started chasing the emus around the gravel driveway near our house. They didn’t seem to take to him at all. He showed me the 10 stitches he had in his hand from his last tangle with them. He grabbed the tamest of the bunch. I was amazed at his strength as he lifted the emu towards the back of his covered pick up. Then it started to kick. It knocked Cliff down and scraped the front of his shin with its hard toes! Cliff was cussing up a storm. We tried to discourage him from going after them any more (we have no paramedic up here) and suggested we put the birds into our dog run until his wife could get over with the stock truck. Cliff left, rubbing his shin as he got in his truck.
It took us about an hour to herd the emus into the dog area. Our dogs (huskies) were going crazy and the biggest emu ran at the fence and tried to get at our male dog Jean Luc. The bird flung himself at the fence and went wild. I put the dogs inside the house. After the emus were lured into the fenced area, the dogs, inside now, ran and got their chew bones and went to the back window. They sat there watching the bird show just like they were eating popcorn at a Disney movie.
After what seemed a very long time, Cliff and Jeanette came back with a stock truck and their neighbor Sara. By this time the emus didn’t want to leave. They liked the Fenter hospitality. They ran around and around the dog run and would not come out. Finally Jeanette got a huge bucket of grain and they slowly followed her out of the fenced area. About this time Cliff and Ron (the macho men) picked up big branches and waved them at the birds. The birds hated this and started running in circles. We finally got one near the stock truck and actually up in the back of it when all hell broke loose. It jumped, kicked the metal door to the truck open, and ran back into the dog run. Jeanette was cussing at Cliff who continued to run at the birds with the large stick. Sara, the neighbor, was trying to calm Cliff down but he wasn’t having any of it.
I called my vet while the mayhem was ensuing and he suggested putting a pillowcase over the bird’s heads and then putting them in the truck. By this time that sounded a little too crazy to me and again a little too over the top. He also told me how dangerous these birds can be and how hard they can kick. He was preaching to the already converted. I hung up and went back outside.
One look told me that Jeanette was about ready to kill Cliff. Cliff was yelling, “I’ll get my shotgun and blow their fool heads off!” I quietly told Cliff that the”city girl” had an idea. Why not walk the birds home? It was only about a mile to Cramers’ and when the men weren’t around the birds seemed to follow the women. We got the grain bucket and started down our driveway. The birds followed single file. We walked, Jeanette and Sara in front and me in back to keep them from straying. It worked. The only difficulty we had was when the most aggressive bird went after a horse that showed an unusual interest in emus. Once that bird was back on track we got them all up to their pen at Cramers’. By this time Cliff had driven the truck home and was chasing the birds and cussing at them as they got closer to their pen. “You fuckers, you fuckers,” he yelled. They ignored him. When he calmed down they slowly, single file, walked into their pen and quickly started eating and drinking.
The emu incident had eaten up my whole day. Nothing comes easy in Timber Valley where the women are strong and the men are macho.