Close encounters: Humorous and unusual wildlife stories

Close encounters: Humorous and unusual wildlife stories

A cartoon squirrel hangs from a wire and stares at another squirrel staring at it from above the wire.

Illustration by AnnMarie McCallister

About a year ago, I shared a few true wildlife tales in this column, and I asked readers to send me theirs. Though I received more responses than we have room to share, I wanted to pass along some of the best.

Squirrels seem to entertain a lot of electric co-op people. For instance, Betty Pearson, a member of North Western Electric Cooperative, says, “I saw two squirrels running toward each other from opposite directions on an overhead line. When they got close to one another, one of the squirrels dropped to the underside of the line, and as soon as they passed, it returned to the top of the line, and both squirrels continued on their way. All of this happened with neither of them slowing their pace — I wonder how they decided who would take the low road?”

Carlene Beck, a member of Firelands Electric Cooperative, was sitting in a vehicle with her granddaughter, Hannah, at a railroad crossing with the gates down, when her squirrel encounter took place. “We waited and waited, but no train appeared,” says Beck. “Finally, we saw a gray squirrel running up the tracks. After the squirrel passed us, the gates went up and we were on our way. I’m impressed that the railroad company is so sensitive to the plight of squirrels that it makes sure they have safe passage through the crossings, but I certainly hope the highway engineers don’t follow suit, because none of us country folk would ever get anywhere!”

Pat Schulze, a member of Pioneer Electric Cooperative, had a memorable experience with an owl. She was trying to catch a few minutes of extra sleep one Saturday morning — as the mother of six kids, who could blame her? — when her 3-year-old son came into the bedroom and announced that there was an owl sitting on the chair in their family room. “I told him it was probably just Daddy’s stuffed grouse,” Pat remembers. A few minutes later, however, her youngster returned to the bedroom. “Mommy, the grouse just turned its head and looked at me, then flew over to the couch!” Pat has no idea how the small owl got into the house, but she was able to throw a blanket over it and release it outdoors.

Keith Crabtree, a retired employee of Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives, says, “Many years ago, I lived in Wooster and was a member of Holmes-Wayne Electric Cooperative. One night, a deer ran in front of my van, and I couldn’t avoid hitting it. I dutifully called my insurance agent to report the accident. Just four days later, I hit another deer, only this time with my car. When I called my insurance agent, she said that I had already reported the accident, to which I replied, “No, the first deer I hit with my van; I hit a second deer with my car.” There was silence on the line for a few seconds, which gave Crabtree the chance to say that he had learned a valuable lesson: It’s a lot cheaper to hunt deer with a gun or bow than with a vehicle.

On the other hand, maybe not — at least, according to C.M. Umstead, a member of Pioneer Electric Cooperative. He was driving what he calls his “redneck ATV” (a riding lawn mower with the mower deck removed) to his deer-hunting blind early one morning. He had a handheld GPS unit to show him the way, but when he turned it on, the battery was dead. Umstead tried finding the blind on his own, but as it was still dark, he got lost in the woods, and so he decided to take a little nap while awaiting daylight. He wears false teeth, and before going to sleep, he says he placed his lower plate and the GPS unit on the motor cover of his ride. At dawn, he fired up the machine and was on his way to his blind when he hit a bump and both his denture and the GPS bounced off — only he didn’t realize they were missing until he got to the blind. “That deer-hunting trip cost me $1,800,” he says, “and I didn’t even get a deer.”

Finally, Lynn and Galen Neal, members of South Central Power Company, occasionally have encounters with uninvited flying squirrels that find their way into their rural log home. One such nocturnal critter awakened them four nights in a row before they could locate it. “I was dozing on the couch when I saw the squirrel run across the living-room floor and dive under my husband’s favorite recliner — in which he happened to be sleeping,” Lynn says. When she whispered to Galen, “It’s under your chair,” he was immediately awake. Lynn says the next 20 minutes were filled with the squirrel frantically climbing walls and repeatedly soaring to the floor before they could shoo it out the door, unharmed.

W.H. “Chip” Gross is Ohio Cooperative Living’s outdoors editor. Send him an email at