Last week, I arrived home from shopping to find a llama in my driveway. He was a rather large beast, and I tried to remember if llamas spit or if that was a camel. It didn't matter; he was blocking the garage. I used my cellphone to dial my neighbor who works from home.
"Stewart, can you come down here? There's a llama in my driveway, and I don't know what to do with him. I think he's lost," I said as I watched the llama chew on my palm tree, thinking about the ice cream melting in my backseat.
"I'm kind of busy, but I'll try to break free in a few minutes," he replied nonchalantly. "Hang in there. You know how it is around here." And he hung up.
I stared at the big beast and thought about what he had said. Of course I knew how it was. Nothing was surprising in our neighborhood, a regular Wild Kingdom of the suburbs.
Our home is in the country, or that's what it feels like. Our home isn't really the country - we're only five minutes from the freeway linking San Diego with Orange County and Los Angeles. But in San Diego County, any home in which you can't see into your neighbor's bathroom while you're at the kitchen sink is considered the country.
Ten years ago we passed up buying a lovely tract house that looked exactly like every other home on the block and bought our house on Lone Oak Lane. The first night we spent in our new home was like stowing away on the jungle ride at Disneyland.
The howling started first.
"Oh my gosh, what's that?" I asked my husband as I sat up in bed wild with fright.
"It's a pack of coyotes. They must have killed something," said my husband, a regular Marlin Perkins. "Isn't this great? You don't find this in a gated community."
Wishing for a gate was pretty much on my mind that night, but over the years I've gotten used to it. It's almost comforting.
During our tenure here, we've discovered that we have more wildlife than we could have imagined.
Besides the rattlesnakes that occasionally crawl into our yard and the beautiful red-tailed hawks that nest in a tree by our bedroom window, there is the passel of wild parrots that squawk overhead every spring, vacationing nearby before heading farther south to Mexico.
Then of course there is the mountain lion that lives in the hill behind our house, which my husband skulks by following his paw prints.
"You are not Lewis or Clark. Stop trying to follow the mountain lion," I told him, worried that he might be slightly crazy. "What will you do if you find it? I don't think your life-insurance policy covers being eaten by a lion."
Another rather strange phenomenon is the chicken tree, a small shade tree in the neighbor's yard that is often full of homeless chickens that no one claims. It's very weird to see.
Just when I thought it couldn't get more exotic on the lane, a young man who works at the San Diego Wild Animal Park moved in across the street. He's very quiet, works a lot, and could very well be the perfect neighbor, except for one small thing.
He has a habit of bringing his work home.
I noticed it first when I was lying out in the sun reading, looked up, and noticed the peacock.
"Honey, look - a peacock! Isn't he cute?" I asked as I threw the beautiful green-and-blue bird some breadcrumbs.
"Don't feed the peacock, unless you're fattening it up for Thanksgiving," my husband groaned. "He'll never go home."
He was right, of course. The bird, not the smartest creature, I have since learned, was lost and stood outside our bedroom window all night moaning, "Saaaaam. Saaaaaaam."
Unfortunately, Sam is my son's name, and it freaked him out, to say the least, but it upset my teenage daughter even more.
"How come it doesn't say my name?" she pouted. "Can we teach it to say 'Aja'?"
A few days later, the peacock found his way home across the street, but he was soon replaced by a large wild turkey. It startled my husband as it jumped out at him while he was trimming our hedges, and for a moment he thought it was a deceased friend of his returning to play a practical joke.
We're all a little more aware of our surroundings these days, and we're very careful walking outside after dark.
Who knows what Zoo Boy will bring home next?
Of course, I knew where the llama staring at me through the windshield lived, so, tired of waiting to be rescued, I opened the door and confronted the animal.
"You need to go home now," I said, edging closer. I have stuff to do. Shoo, llama! Shoo!" And he did, galloping down the driveway and up his own, disappearing in a llama flurry.
Grabbing my groceries, I reflected on what a great choice we had made when we moved to the lane. No tract houses for us, no sir. We live in the country where the air is clean and we coexist with nature.
Then I spotted a mouse, screamed, and ran for the cellphone.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society