Country Living Series

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Situational awareness, rural style

Over many years of various outdoor work (field biologist, farmer, general animal-watcher) I've come to appreciate the sensitive responses animals have to their environment. A case in point: watch those tell-tale ears.

This morning, for example, I went out to feed the beasties. No one seemed alarmed or agitated (thus, no predators in the area) but I did notice these two calves with their ears twitched forward, watching something.


Sparky also had her ears tipped forward.


Notice everyone's posture: alert but not alarmed. I suspected a deer, though I couldn't see anything.

I stood quietly for awhile and just watched, and finally saw the deer. Can you see it?


Even though I knew where it was, I had a hard time spotting it until it moved, since it blended so well. (It's right smack in the middle of the photo enlargement below.)


This is just a small example of situational awareness in the wild. Animals have keen senses, and it behooves us to pay attention to the posture, attitudes, and ear positions of critters, both wild and domestic.

This hearkens back to last July when I released the chickens from their coop one morning, and they stood stock still because they saw a great blue heron up a pine tree. I'll copy over the same conclusion from that post, because it bears repeating:

These short and seemingly trivial incidents (cows watching deer, or chickens watching a heron) actually have some deeper implications for people.

Modern humans living in modern society with modern conveniences have learned to ignore the internal red flags that all creatures possess by instinct. In the kill-or-be-killed crucible of nature, to ignore a potential threat may be the last thing an animal ever does.

Yet people will do it all the time. In fact, most modern Americans have cultivated an amazing ability to disregard warning signs, both internal and external. We still have the instincts, but we're often too "civilized" to pay attention to them. But I figure instinct is there for a reason, and that reason might be very important.

This is some of the advice I gave Older Daughter as she prepared to leave the nest: to listen to that still, small voice inside you saying something is wrong. It may be saying something important. God gives us those little red flags now so we can avoid big problems later.

26 comments:

  1. And always watch your back-trail (in town as well as out).

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  2. Very insightful, Patrice. Anyone who "lives" with livestock understands and watches. DH has the ability to make horses try to walk on water for him, if he asks. While I observe and understand, it is a skill (or "gift") I will never have. (Believe me, I have tried-but lack the intuitive timing.) It applies to all animals and children if understood. Trust is something that is earned when training animals (and guiding children). It is priceless. While lacking the equine ability I have fortunately succeeded with young people....Observation is where it all starts... Natokadn

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    1. I once had a heated discussion with my son's cute little mare. We had been headed down the dirt road we lived on, toward the creek with a pool she loved to stand in, when she suddenly stopped and started backing up. Nothing I could do could convince her to go forward. I looked around and saw nothing, but knew the mountain lion wasn't going to show himself if he was lurking by (we had a problem lion and he eventually caused this mare's death, despite calls to Game and Fish and despite us always a sidearm). The man who lived in the next cabin down the road was outside and he shouted that he didn't really like horses but I ought to trust the mare. I shouted back, asking if he knew something I didn't. He replied that there was an ancient angry bull elk just beyond the hedge and he was challenging most everything that it felt was a threat (later confirmed by my brother whose truck he walked in front of and who was not allowed to pass).
      I let the little mare back up, which she did willingly yet slowly and then she turned and we headed toward our cabin. I rode her right past it, just to be sure she wasn't learning a new trick, lol.
      I never questioned her again.
      sidetracksusie

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    2. "G&F"? Wow Susie. Horses and cattle were being seriously injured and killed here and they denied the cats. "Dog packs, coyotes" etc. The Chief of Wildlife said "if we have cats I'll eat my hat". They finally opened a season for 5 cats. I think all five cats were taken in less than a week. We had a season with increasing limits ever since. Natokadn

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  3. That small still voice can also be called Angel messages. While on the subject, in my area of Idaho and being a new resident in the country, the moose have moved down for food and of course the wolves have followed suit. The other day a moose walked by my kitchen window and nearly gave me a heart attack, not expecting one, but in the country it is all possible. It is amazing to see them so close, but of course I have no intention to surprise one or agitate it, I may be new in the country but not a fool.

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  4. we have what we have determined as a super alarm system - birds! we have a variety of bird feeders all around the property and a variety of birds that visit every single day of the year. the birds can hear a vehicle near a mile away and will scatter. whenever we hear the birds scatter, we stop what we are doing and pay very close attention. then after 5 mins or so we will hear a vehicle approaching up our main dirt road. they just drive by and within 5 mins - the birds are back. we once had a coyote come up our driveway and the birds scattered. we went to look and see what was up and 2 of our cats chased that poor coyote right back down the driveway. haven't seen that coyote back in over 2 years.

    birds are a great alarm system and will alert you to any changes. it's why we keep our bird feeders filled every day. it costs quite a penny per month, but less than an electric alarm system. and the birds have never let us down.

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  5. That awful feeling when walking in the woods and all of a sudden all the birds go quiet. I went to a Christian counselor a few years ago because I felt so unsettled , and couldn't shake it . She pointed out to me that I had "civilized" my inborn alert system...by talking myself into trying to trust people or situations because I felt I should be "nice" ,when my instincts said something different. And as I have gradually learned to rely on my instincts again , my unsettled feeling is going away.I had trained myself to ignore my warning system , causing me to have to be "on alert" all the time. Karen from Michigan

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  6. The queen of my goat herd is my alarm of anything amiss in the barn. If she is up on the sleeping shelf in that ears front, don't move stance....I go to looking for a snake or whatever else might have got her on high alert. Also, I know if there are fish predators around if my Tilapia won't come to the surface for their morning meal. Sometimes it's a gator, other times, an otter....animals can be great warning systems.

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  7. I live in a residential area and I also notice the birds chatter or lack of. When they are still, I stop and listen. When the red shouldered hawks start their calls I pay attention to which call. We've had coyotes (bad) & bobcats (good) walk the greenspace in back of the house and the hawks are my warning signal.
    My neighbor's dog has a different bark for cars that belong on the street, delivery vehicles and regular people/dog walkers. Since we're in Florida and usually have our doors open, I also pay attention to his bark.
    And, since we're on a dead-end cul-de-sac with only 14 homes I, too, know the sound of vehicles that belong. This came in handy a couple of years ago when someone who didn't belong 'toured' the street several times after dark and was finally caught dealing drugs at the end where there are no homes.
    Watching, listening, paying attention to the littlest details can pay off big time in our safety.

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  8. I taught child.abuse prevention programs to school children for years. The bottom line..."raise your hand if anyone has ever given you the creeps! That's all the reason you have to have to say no," or leave a situation. Then tell someone who will help you of.course. All self defense courses tell us that when we "sense fear" to pay attention.

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    1. That's the best advice for children ever.
      I had an aunt who married late in life. My little kids went to great effort to avoid him, despite his always wanting to hold and hug the kiddos at big family events. There was a divorce after a few short years and within the last 5 years, that same "creepy" man was arrested for having a plethora of child porn on his computer. There were other charges as well.

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    2. Sort of along the same line...
      I read somewhere (maybe here?) that while it might be okay to trust someone who doesn't like dogs, it's never okay to trust someone who dogs don't like.

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    3. I have read much the same thing with one addendum. This author noted that the dog may be picking up on YOUR distrustful signals about the person! The dog sees your warning reaction and amplifies it, but you may have disregarded it in the effort to be 'nice' or 'friendly'. Fortunately it is often the case that the owner sees their dog's reaction and now has a reason, so to speak, and is now alert to any threat from the person in question.

      sheilab15

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  9. If you want to be aware of your surrondings and to know if an intruder is near, get some quineas. When I was growing up Dad bought some somewhere. Not a tree limb moved that those hens were not raising cain and chatteering for what seemed like hours. A better watch dog, you can not have

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    1. Haha, well, since we live where it is very windy, that might not be such a great idea! :)

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  10. Yes, modern humans have tons of modern conveniences. Most of which aren’t all that convenient or necessary. Everywhere I go I see men, women and kids carrying some device that is either clamped against their ears or they have their faces buried in them, poking and typing constantly! They’re so oblivious to what’s going on around them that they would fall right into an open manhole or walk in front of a car or truck without realizing the danger. Those “conveniences” are perfect for the millions in our society who disregard warning signs, totally ignoring the world around them until it’s too late. I work in a bakery, and when a customer walks up with some device stuck to their ear, chatting away, we will not wait on them until they put the device away! We can’t tell if they’re talking to us or someone on their phone. When they ring the bell or wave a hand, we tell them we’ll wait on them as soon as they’re done with their call.

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  11. This is something I'm trying to work on. Thanks!

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  12. thanks for the posting ... no truer words 'ever' written .... both from you and those commenting ...

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  13. I'm glad I do not have a phone. Gave up TV five years ago. I don't have a dvd or dvr thingy. I do have several record players and the records to play on them. I do go online to play music but if need be I have over a thousand records I can play along with an inverter with deep cycle battery to hook up with a solar panel for charging if power goes out. No worries here.

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  14. That's why Louis L'Amour's characters always ride mountain raised mustangs.

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    1. Woohooo! Another Louis L'Amour fan! There's a lot of truth in what he writes.

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  15. I am an older women and have brought up the subject of situational awareness several times when I am at the nail/hair salon. I normally get blank stares even after I give examples on what to do and what not to do to keep yourself safe. Generally I get "but isn't that profiling ?". My answer is YES and you better learn how to do it correctly, the world is not getting any safer. More and more I don't think it is worth the effort to say anything. Fools will never learn.......

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  16. When an animal's behavior is out of the norm, you may want to pay attention.

    I was running out the door to commute to a job I hated just like every other morning. That particular morning, though, the German Shepherd dog decided to stand in front of my vehicle and not move. I rolled down my window and yelled at him to get his furry butt out of the way. Grrrr. Puppy, usually instantly obedient, did not move. I got out, told him I didn't have time to play this morning, and pulled him by his collar over to the side of the driveway. By the time I got back in the vehicle, he was lying down in the middle of the driveway, pressing himself flat against the concrete. Aaaaargh! I was about to drag him to the back yard and shut the gate so he couldn't block me again when suddenly I heard loud popping and cracking noises. A pine tree that had been peacefully standing there moments before on somebody else's property started slowly toppling and crashed right across the driveway where I should have been driving. After the tree settled across the driveway, he stood at alert for a moment, then walked back to the porch because the danger to the food bringer was past.

    Apparently he could hear faint noises inside the tree as it swayed in the wind that my ears could not.

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    1. So glad you are okay! I love stories like this.

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  17. Love your homepage,again. Have seen a number of things about the beautiful sunsets. Read in the newspaper about a man doing a book of the sets at Chimney Rock.

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  18. When I am in my tree stand, I watch deer react to their environment, usually lets me know when an older bigger deer coming in. Also those of us who carry, have a heightened sense of awareness when out and about..

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