THE BORDER LIFE

Mink on the Eno River
Riverdave's Journal
April 5, 2009

          On February 25, 2009, at 9AM, I took the hand of my three year old grandson, Owen Woolford, and headed down from my backyard to the Eno River.  The remnants of two hurricanes in September had washed up a nice beach of sand on the north bank that I hoped my Manhattan raised grandson would find interesting to dig in.  I  watched attentively as he dug a tunnel in the sand, then with a measuring cup, went down to the river to scoop up water and return to flood the tunnel.  Eventually the soggy sand gave way, the tunnel collapsed and the whole cycle was repeated ad infinitum.  

          My attention eventually surrendered to a ponderous gaze down the river as other thoughts began to enter in.  But a sudden movement in the vegetation on the opposite bank caught my eye.  Thirty yards away a slender, furry, black animal scampered out of the  Mt. Laurel thicket to the river’s edge, then hopped on several rocks and submerged itself in the water without a splash.  The entire event lasted about five seconds.  Over the next minute I saw the animal’s head emerge among the rocks several times.  It then bounded out of the water with its long furry tale flying behind, raced up into the Mountain Laurel thicket and disappeared. 

          I returned my focus to my grandson who remained rapt in his sand industry. I am often prone to think of events in terms of a syncronicity - the word used by the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung to unusual describe events that on the surface seem causally unrelated, but may be meaningfully connected in a larger, but often more subtle, scheme of things.  Almost everyone who lives close to the natural world has experienced these happenings.  Although my grandson seemed oblivious to the dark animal on the opposite bank, I wondered if its appearance might carry some special significance for this child ...

          My thoughts shifted back to the phantom-like animal.  In my twenty years of focus on the Eno River, I had seen plenty of beavers and muskrats, easily identified by their wide and narrow tails.  But here was something different - a black, slinky, agile animal with a long furry tail.  Through the years I had kept an eye out for otters at West Point on the Eno but had never come across one.  I had met several people who claimed to have seen otters, especially along the Eno in Orange County.  But when I asked them for details, their description seemed weak and open to question.  I had seen many otters along the Haw River and other rivers further south, so I was quite familiar with that animal. But the darker animal that I just saw looked different.

          I then recalled that I had recently read in an Eno River Association newsletter about the discovery of a mink road kill just north of the Eno River on Guess Rd., about a mile from my house.  I was surprised at that announcement, and decided that it must have been an anomalous sighting of an individual in transit, not a resident.  With this in mind, I eagerly climbed the one hundred foot slope from the river back to my home and went straight to my field guide of North Carolina mammals.  There it was - a mink!  Besides the body shape and impish face, the telltale sign was the black coat from head to tail.  Then on March 8th, I happened upon my own roadkill mink on highway 501 in North Durham at the crossing over the Little River, the Eno’s largest tributary.

         So after all my years of close observation along the river, a critter that had been hidden from my eyes has suddenly comes into focus.  Now that I know what to look for, they will probably be turning up all the time. That is often the way it is in our relationship with the natural world.  There are so many new friends to meet out there if we are willing to expand our definition of community to include other forms of life than just humans.  And then there is the mystery of syncronicity.  The closest my grandson might ever get to a mink in Manhattan would be in the women’s apparel department of Saks Fifth Avenue!  But somehow, during a brief visit to the Eno, his wild side elicits a response from an animal I had never noticed before ...

photo from: sodahead.com