Saturday, November 13, 2010

River House Creatures

Our house on Riverside Boulevard (VAL photo)

Dear George,

Growing up on the Menominee River out in the country, we were a lot closer to nature than we’ve ever been since. Our family property was home to numerous animals, birds, reptiles, and insects who were significant parts of our lives. Here are a few of them:


Our mother kept a hanging bird-feeding station outside our dining room window which she restocked regularly. Because the birds would spill lots of the seeds on the ground, the feeding station was also of great interest to the chipmunks who lived under our house. They would scurry back and forth and gather up their food stocks. They reminded us of characters in Walt Disney’s Bambi.


Our yard had a bunch of hardwood and evergeen trees, and squirrel families built their nests high in the maples and oaks. Like the chipmunks, they enjoyed the bird-feeding station, as well as the plentiful supply of acorns that fell to the ground in the fall. My parents welcomed the grey squirrels, but the red squirrels, for reasons I no longer remember, were considered an undesirable nuisance. When we became teenagers, we were allowed to go out and shoot them with the .22 rifle (or, more accurately, shoot at them).


Country homes are privy to wild visitors, and bats were common guests in our house. Steve and I were given the job of disposing of them. The living room had a high arched ceiling, but when the bats swooped low enough we would swing at them with a broom. They were fast and guided by radar, so it would take numerous passes, but eventually we would knock the bats out of the air. Later we discovered that a frying pan was a more lethal instrument, and, though harder to hit the flying bats, it effectively disposed of them when we finally were successful.


Pine snakes lived under our house, perhaps drawn to the Norway pines in the front yard. These were huge snakes, four to six feet in length, and it was always exciting and scary when we discovered one that had ventured from its den onto the front lawn. One evil thing I did as a child was to take the carcass of a huge dead pine snake that I’d found and put it under the sheets on Steven’s bed. Justice was served when I got into bed the next night and suddenly felt the snake lying next to me.


Porcupines lived on our property, though we rarely saw them. The exceptions occurred when our Irish setter Mike would trap one in the corner of our house near Vicki’s bedroom door. We regarded Mike as a highly intelligent dog, but porcupines were his Achille’s heel, and he would wind up with a snoutful of quills most every year. My father would get him in the car, and we would rush off to Dr. Seidl to have the quills extracted. Dr. Seidl always remarked that porcupine quills were the worst thing that happened to dogs in Menominee. Porcupines were much more common and visible at Jean Worth’s hunting camp at Cedar River. Katja was shocked on an early visit to Menominee when one of my cronies shot a porcupine high up in a pine tree. A suburban Philadelphian, she concluded that we were savages. But such is life in the north woods.


Menominee County was deer country, but we would only see a white-tailed deer on our property once a year or less. The most dramatic occasion was when an adult deer fell through the soft ice in mid-river in front of our house one spring afternoon. My dad, Dick Sawyer, and Mike O’Hara tried to rescue it by pushing our rowboat over the ice to reach the flailing animal. However, the deer sank below the water before the rescuers could reach it. Everyone was very sad.


We discovered in our teen years that otter families made their homes in the river bank along our property. A man in town paid for their skins, and Steven became a dedicated trapper, employing our younger brother Peter as an assistant. I don’t think Steve got rich from the otter skins, but he did supplement his weekly earnings from the drugstore. Our sister Vicki was totally disgusted.

The river, of course, was home to its own bestiary. I’ll say something about that on another occasion.



G-Mail Comments

-Phyllis SS (11-13): Dave. I love, love otters. How could that man buy them. What on earth would he do with their skins (a rhetorical question only - I don't want to know). I am in total agreement with your sister. Phyllis


  1. Dear David - When I am trying to explain the magic of Menominee to friends - as I was trying to do for a visitor from Pittsburgh this week end - I rely on Letters for George. This entry is a perfect example. However, I wanted to access your Dad's photos to show off our respective families and I found that you must have moved Vic's photos from the label list to a different place on the right hand side of the blog that I don't seem to be able to "open" to view more than just the photo that is being displayed - currently, you and Sally "Fernethen" as Michael always pronounced it. Can I get to the other photos through the blog? Thanks for continuing to provide me with priceless reminisces! Terry

  2. P.S. I remember the day the deer drowned - it was pretty awful. Plus, Doris, Muriel and Jean were uneasy about the men relying on the row boat to prevent them from falling into the river themselves.