Ruby is doing that growling thing again. It’s not her normal grumble at all. She’s all frizzed up as she stands on the deck with an aggressive posture. She lifts her nose to sniff the air with a purpose. Something is in the woods. Something new.
All ten hens are screaming bloody murder at once. They usually freeze and go silent. This is different.
The goats are in the same alert place. All three run in wild circles and stop on some cue to stare in the same direction for long seconds. Pearl, the head goat, leaps up onto our concrete goat mountain and stamps her foot repeatedly. Wait a second — has anyone seen the cat? Where is Garfield?
MamaRed, an oversized and rusty-colored coyote we spot occasionally on the road, is always suspect, because she’s always around. We worked on coyote-proofing the fencing for years because of the coyotes. The cougar that killed a goat about a mile from here is heavy on our mind. That’s been a couple of weeks ago. We don’t really worry about the bears.
But it makes us wonder about Hansel, Gretel and Batman. They’re out in the woods.
The kids are 9, 7 and 5-years-old, they have a fort in the forest between our neighboring houses and they like to spy on us. We see their bright red shirts darting from bush to bush, and hear them giggling as they watch our 22-year-old son build a new back deck. They know they are welcome on our trails.
“They’re just now getting into the woods and we’re moving,” their mom told me this week, when I told her about the mysterious noises around here and how Sage the goat had actually growled. Then I stopped in my tracks. “Moving?”
“At the end of the month. To save money. It’s not our first choice, believe me.”
I am stricken. We love these kids.
The next day, Hansel and Gretel appear at our front door to return an egg carton. They are here saying goodbye, or at least one of many goodbyes, and I get them all to myself since the Bearded One and His Majesty have gone to Home Depot for lumber and cement.
I give the kids another dozen eggs and a jar of jam. Then we walk around to the deck building site and I show them where the former deck stairs gouged the 150-year-old cedar tree next to the house. Gretel bends down and runs her hand gently along the scar. She says they don’t know anyone in their new neighborhood. Hansel says he goes to work on the new rental house with his dad, and Gretel says, ah, excuse me, she goes to the new house and works, too.
“Tell her what happened last night,” Gretel says excitedly.
“OH, BOY,” Hansel says and rolls his big brown eyes. He tells how the whole family went to Godfather’s Pizza for dinner, and there was an old lady, maybe 70 years old, who had fallen on the floor with blood on her face! They had come to her aid and called 911.
Gretel nods enthusiastically. Then she tells me that before that they went to a ton of garage sales and got a 1000-piece Lego set. Hansel even knows the price. Ten dollars. A very very very good deal.
Finally we talk about the fort and the woods. They’ve heard the coyotes, and seen the deer and the owls. But have I seen the bees??? “I’ve been stung at the fort TWICE,” Gretel says grimly, lisping between her missing teeth. “Want to see?”
She means see the fort, she says, and I squeee with happiness. I have just been invited to see their inner sanctum. The fort!
“I’ll follow you,” I say, and Gretel heads for the gate. Hansel brought his bike, so he’ll ride around and meet us at the fort.
Gretel carries the eggs and jam and leads the way across our backyard, past the potato garden, and I open the gate for her. She marches ahead of me up our trail, chatting away but I can’t really understand her.
Finally we turn off onto the fort trail and I see it. A huge old stump.
Their sanctuary, complete with its own bee colony. Gretel turns and smiles big, showing it off, but then they start to swarm.
Something in the woods, indeed. Bees.