How many critters can get under that one tree?

Jul 13, 2014


All eyes in the stands focused on a bright yellow Volkswagen parked in the center of the Big top.  Both doors opened simultaneously, allowing two clowns wearing towering top hats and oversized, floppy shoes  to step into the spotlight.  Then two more characters in bright, outsized  attire squeezed out, and then two more and two more and two more  like an out of control tube of toothpaste until there were 12 clowns crowding around that little  VW.  If those weren’t enough to dazzle the crowd, two more popped out. 

According to the internet, the actual record for clowns packed in an original Volkswagen is 17.  The circus I attended only had 14.  That feat generated a five minute round of applause and loud whistles that sent one little girl home wondering how 14 full size circus performers packed themselves into that itty-bitty car.

I haven’t been so amazed by such an accomplishment until a recent summer.  Because of scorching heat, cattle and wildlife were desperate  for shade—any cool spot, no matter how small.  I marveled at how many large cows and little calves could pack themselves under a tiny cedar tree in the east pasture.  Several good sized evergreens punctuate that plot, driving the herd  to divide into smaller groups to ooze into every inch of cool shadow thrown by those young trees.  The only things missing from the clown show I loved were floppy shoes and stove pipe hats.

It wasn’t only cattle seeking a cool place under a tree or next to a shed.  When we drove through Wyoming in late June, it was very warm.  We saw antelope lining up  single -file to rest in the lone shadow cast by a power pole.  Other practical pronghorns gathered near snow fences, maximizing those slender strips of shade.

We passed by one sun-drenched homestead where a  wobbly, old barn cast a dark silhouette.  A mule deer sporting a trophy rack crowded its massive body into anorexic dimness.  He had to turn his head sideways to rest his antlers against the rickety building to cool himself.  I’m guessing hewould have gladly traded that magnificent crown for something much smaller to achieve a more comfortable position.

Back home, my chickens scratched out holes under the skinniest of branches.  Because these birds needed to let a breeze pass, they struggled to stay in these dim hideouts.  I watched them tuck themselves into the tiniest form possible while still extending their wings to capture passing drafts.

Also in search of shade, a juvenile squirrel braved proximity to house and dogs so he could flatten his body into mud beneath the bird bath. I’d watch the little guy panting in that tiny ribbon of relief and want to summon him into the air-conditioned house. 

The dilemma was that if I asked him in, I’d have to invite those panting cows and miserable deer. Then the question would become, “How many critters would fit into my house?” I didn’t want to find out.