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Thursday, Sep 18, 2014
Steve Otto Columns

Otto: Learning to deal with the critters in the woods

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Our mountain place is in an Audubon sanctuary populated with everything from bears and bobcats to coyotes to the mysterious Blue Ghost fireflies that don't really fly but hover in a ghostly net in the woods after dark.

The dark side is that the woods are - well - dark. They are especially dark about the time the dogs need to go for their nightly constitutional and again in the morning. We usually wait until the last gasp of daylight before going out. Unfortunately, Tennessee, our older Lab mix, came down with some kind of stomach virus that dictated going out around midnight and then later about 3 a.m.

This was also the same week the area newsletter said to be careful because a large bear was climbing around people's yards late at night.

So there we were (the Frau had to come along with our other dog to avoid the general panic of being left alone) standing out on a path in the forest waiting for (A) the dog to do her thing or (B) that giant bear to make an appearance and cause all of us to do something.

It's amazing how loud it is out there in the dark, especially with a flashlight that only seems to work when you shake it. I wasn't sure if those noises we heard were the bear, the coyote or maybe even Sasquatch.

Turns out the loud noise was a rain squall that hit just about the time the dog was getting ready to do her thing, which she did, and we hustled down the path back to our place, safe from the critters of the night.

v v We've learned that if you were to ask a native about strange critters in the mountains, you would almost certainly hear about the "halfbacks," those residents of the North who moved to Florida and then came halfway back to North Carolina to escape the steamy summers. Drive on any of the two-lane mountain roads and eventually there will be a line of cars stuck behind a halfback who believes in going the speed limit.

The locals have come up with a number of ways of controlling the infestation. The most common is the elimination of road signs at intersections telling you which way to turn. This works especially well in the mountains where your GPS keeps insisting the best way to take that one-lane road up the mountain is straight ahead.

Tourist traps are the most effective method of slowing down halfbacks. It's pretty much impossible for a flatlander to speed past a place advertising "Grandpa Possum's hand-crafted weather vanes."

The way nobody here in Florida appears interested in doing anything about the clogged traffic, I'm wondering if maybe we could take a few lessons from the mountain folk and set up our own tourist traps.

Wait, we already do that.

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