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The Certainty of Critters

Angela Gillaspie



"Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." ~ Benjamin Franklin

This statement is undoubtedly true for most folks, but there is a certainty in my life that the majority of folks including the honorable Mr. Franklin don't encounter very often.


Good ol' Ben came really close to acknowledging varmints as the third certainty when he declared that our national symbol should be the cunning wild turkey. It's a good thing he didn't look too closely at other critters to find the brave and daring dung beetle or the talented turkey buzzard or our money would have buzzard holding a hickory switch instead of a bald eagle holding an olive branch.

I've had bugs buzzing into my eyes, worming into my food, and hatching in my house, and beasts purring in my lap, chewing on my Corn Flakes scampering across my floors and slithering on my porch. My life's certainty with things scaly, slimy, and fuzzy started when I was just a skinny little thing in a varmint-blessed town.

I grew up in Cohutta, Georgia, a very rural town that has critters in the air, land, water, and in Granny's cornmeal. Cohutta is nestled in the hills and hollers of north Georgia and is about a half mile south of the Tennessee state line. There are actually two Cohuttas in Georgia the town of Cohutta and the Cohutta Mountain wilderness area (located in Murray County in the southwest section of Fort Mountain State Park). This explains why I've found two Cherokee translations of the word "Cohutta."

Depending on the source, Cohutta is gahu'ti, gahutayi, and gwahu'ti. The first Cherokee translation means "shed supported by poles" or "mountains that hold the sky" and is the perfect description of the Cohutta Mountain wilderness, which is a part of the Blue Ridge Mountain range. These tall mountains really seem to hold up the sky or shed. The second translation is simply "frog" or "frog place" and this is a pretty accurate description of my Cohutta hometown, given all the critter encounters I've had there.

Here's what I think happened when our Cherokee forefathers found my hometown, "frog"

Once upon a time, long, long time ago Scratching Bear and his fishin' buddy Stomping Possum were on a hike looking for meat and berries when they came to a place that had red clay, blue springs, numerous ponds, and oodles of frogs. Scratching Bear said, "Hum Scooby lana do wap who kana gahutayi!" (Loosely translated: "This place has many blue waters and big frogs!")

Stomping Possum replied, "Gah hooch, loobie scunub dal loo shun umb gahutayi yum yum!" ("Yup, look at all that cold spring water and those delicious frog legs!")

Scratching Bear then declared, "Shal yeh ew un gofr trons dee nar doit bukey Gahutayi!" ("Hey we ought to put up a sign naming this place Frog Place!")

Whether or not Cohutta is a frog place or a shed on poles, it doesn't change my history of critter encounters or the fact that varmints outnumber the Cohuttians a gazillion to one.

Cohutta has many more springs, creeks, and other water sources than average - which lends to its generous frog, turtle, toad, muskrat, fish, mosquito, and sneaky-neighbor-slipping-under-the-barbed-wire-to-poach-your-catfish population.

One of my earliest critter encounters was with these little half-inch frogs. I couldn't walk through the yard or ride my bike without nailing several frogs. My two sisters thought if you touched frogs, you'd get warts, so they were horrified of touching the mini frogs (although they poked quite a few with sticks). I, however, had a wonderful time seeing how many frogs I could put in my pockets. My sister never could prove who put the frogs in her dresser.

Another sureness of my varmint certainty was when I tried to leave the house. Sure it was easy some times, but others I'd be tackled by various dogs and cats trying to slip into the house. We always had to crack the door, stick a foot out and then do this side-to-side shuffle to keep the animals from running in.

Gypsy, our ferocious and much-loved poodle, also had this thing about running into the house. One fateful morning she navigated through my feet and took off for my bedroom, ran through the hallway, and slid under my bed. She wouldn't come out no matter what, so I just left her there until Daddy got home that evening. Daddy called for her, but she wouldn't budge, so he moved my bed. That released a really funky wet dog smell and the reason Gypsy wouldn't leave. She had a litter of half poodle-half Irish setter pups. I don't think I've ever seen Momma so mad, well, until I hatched those praying mantises in my room, but that was two years later.

There were other animals that tried to run in besides the dogs and cats. Once a rooster and even a goat found their way to my home and tried to get inside. The rooster was a big off-white Leghorn that must've escaped from one of our neighbors' coops. He was tame, and believing he was a dog, he chased the cats, wanted to be petted, and ate dog food. The rooster was quicker than the other animals and he always knew how to get through my legs to get in the house. I never figured out why the animals wanted in the house because as soon as they got in, they ran back to the door wanting out.

The goat was a different story. Daddy acquired a goat, he said for "eating" (eww). Either Daddy lied about eating the goat or the seller lied to Daddy.This goat wasn't a baby, but an ornery tough old Billy goat. No matter where Daddy tied it up, it got loose and always seemed to find me right when I was eating. It would stare at me with those bulging eyes and chew so so slowly. We shared many deep goat thoughts (and meals).

That goat wasn't the only hoofed critter to plod across our yard with all the farms nearby, I didn't quite know what I'd wake up to see most mornings. Most of the time it was either our horse Thunder or my cousin's mean little Shetland horse Peanut and the other times it was cows and an occasional pig. Daddy made us stay inside while he and some other relatives corralled the pigs because these pigs weren't those cute little dog-sized oinkers, but were behemoth cow-sized monsters that left nothing but scalped earth in their wakes. It's no wonder I never ate pork.

Outside, my critter certainty is about 99.9%; indoors barring birthing dogs - you'd think I had only a slight risk of a varmint encounter. Wrong.

About the time I was learning to drive, flying squirrels were exploring their option to move into our nice split-level cedar home. How these nocturnal varmints of torture got into our walls is still up for debate, but they moved in. Daytime, you'd never know there were squatters taking over behind the walls, but at night things changed.

Starting at sunset, these cute squirrels turned into these noisy relentless demons with devil claws. They scratched, screamed, skittered, slammed and carried on until sunrise. Daddy slept through the tortuous scratching, but the rest of us were bleary-eyed from lack of sleep. I hated to have friends spend the night because I had to explain that we didn't have a ghost, but critters in the walls.

After getting married and moving away, I really enjoyed my squirrel-free apartments. Finally after two decades of marriage and four kids, we've settled down in a beautiful two-story brick house in the middle of some wooded acreage in the country. During the day, you'd never guess what lay behind the paneling, plaster and sheetrock, until nighttime.

Scritch. Scratch. Scritch. "They're baa-aack!"

My husband and I don't know how they got in, we do know they favor the walls in my daughter's bedroom, and nothing we've done has gotten rid of them. Momma and Daddy just laugh when I talk about my squirrels. Neither of my sisters have this problem, so I reckon I'm the sole bearer of the squirrel generational curse.

I have many other examples of my critter certainty, but there is a limit to my word count here. I will describe one last critter that transcends all of the other varmints I've mentioned. This critter gets into everything and can quickly turn a household on its ear, it drains your finances, downloads viruses on your computer, gets underfoot, steals your food, fights with the other critters, and it makes an ear-splitting sound when injured. However, this critter is easily tamed, soft to the touch, smells wonderful when bathed, is very entertaining to watch, offers contentment when held, and mimics everything you do.

There are four of these critters currently at my house and I wouldn't trade them for anything. What are they? My kids of course! In this case, I'll embrace that critter certainty of mine. (But you can't make me like squirrels.)

God didn't make death or taxes, but He sure enough made critters, and for that certainty, I'm thankful.

Copyright Angela Gillespie

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