And then Henrietta showed up

Offer critters shelter and they will come

When we bought our three-hectare ranch (approximately seven-and-a-half acres) about 13 years ago, the land had been ravaged by nature and man, the victim of decades of erosion and overgrazing.

We decided to let two-thirds of the land lie fallow, a gesture that in current eco-speak in Britain is called “rewilding”— to set aside large chunks of an estate’s acreage and let it revert to whatever nature thinks it’s best.

Our decision was neither as grand nor completely eco-virtuous. Truth is that we couldn’t begin to clear two hectares let alone keep it mowed, plus we also wanted to create a security and privacy buffer around the house.

Our modest rewilding, though, has taken off beyond expectations and now we have two hectares so densely populated by wild vegetation, bramble and critters of all kinds that it’s become a mini sanctuary that continually surprises and pleases us.

Last week Félix spotted our latest visitor, a Mexican gray fox standing on its hind legs, stretching to take a drink in one of the bird baths. Since then we’ve put a water bowl at the base of the bird bath, but the elusive visitor hasn’t returned.

Hello gorgeous: A Mexican gray fox. (Photo by Mark Buckler)

Though not endangered, these foxes are not a common sight. Stew and I had seen one near the Atotonilco church, shortly after we’d moved to San Miguel, and we still remember an animal about a half larger than a domestic cat, sporting a luxuriant grayish tail.

Before the most recent fox encounter, we’d spotted possums, rabbits, mice and snakes plus dozens of different species of birds—my favorite being roadrunners (beep-beep your ass!), vermillion flycatchers and orioles— that come daily to the feeders outside the bedroom and the kitchen.

And judging from a smell I noticed last night, a skunk may have taken up residence here too.

Indeed, it’s become a routine and joyful moment of grace to have a cup of coffee on the terrace early in the morning and witness a color and sound show that is increasing daily in volume and numbers, as some of the visitors have started to nest in the trees close to the house.

Encounters between our three dogs and two cats and the wild visitors that venture out from the surrounding bramble are not always peaceful. Our ginger cat Fred, despite being neutered and normally somnolent in appearance, has turned into a stubborn hunter that brings “trophies,” sometimes live, others not quite. Last week he showed up with a tiny rabbit we pried away from him and tried to revive. Sadly, the bunny didn’t survive the night.

The good news is that Fred seems to be settling down and gradually trading napping for hunting. Must be feline middle age or sheer laziness.

A couple of years ago, our large dog Lucy showed up with a swollen snout that made her look as if she had two golf balls stuck in each side of her mouth. It turned out she’d been bitten by a rattlesnake. Gladys, another dog, was nipped by a brown recluse spider, a nasty customer that almost killed her. Vets here don’t carry any anti-venom shots, so we were lucky these two dogs survived on their own.

On Thursday, Félix brought with him a surprise addition, a small chicken Stew named Henrietta and which I didn’t expect to get along or survive an encounter with our domestic fauna. The chicken belonged to Félix’s mother, who’d grown tired of it picking and pecking through her flower beds.

Meet Henrietta: A cluck-cluck here, a peck-peck there.

Initially, Félix placed her in a large dog crate with some seed and water. On the second day, he tied a piece of string four or five feet long and a small piece of wood to one of the chicken’s legs, so it could wander but not too far.

On the third day, Henrietta was cut loose, oblivious to any danger from the dogs or cats which ignored her anyway. The dogs and cats ogle at her with some curiosity but no apparent ill will.

Though he won’t admit it, Henrietta’s unexpected arrival has kindled Stew’s secret fantasies of a coop for a steady supply of decent-size eggs. He’s dreaming “jumbo” eggs rather than the smallish eggs sold in Mexican grocery stores.

For that, we’d need to consult with our good friend Carol who has a large and fully equipped ranch near us with stables and horses, plus a Waldorf Astoria-level chicken coop that another friend built for her.

For now, Henrietta is confidently wandering in and out of the weeds, pecking and digging holes, stopping by periodically for a drink of clean water in a bowl we leave for her. Félix assures me she is probably laying eggs somewhere.

But where?

9 thoughts on “And then Henrietta showed up

  1. Jeannie

    You probably also have raccoons and coatis in addition to the skunks. We have all three on occasion and your place is much wilder than ours. They came to eat out of Ella’s self feeder. John had to make something to block the feeder at night. Ella did not appreciate the night time thieving visitors. The coatis are very cute. No rattlesnakes here, thankfully, but early on we came across one small and one very large coral snake in our garden.


    1. I am impressed! The only coatis I’ve ever seen were in Costa Rica. No raccoons here either, though they must be around. Rumor has it that Carol’s chicken coop was John’s creation. Got to get over to Carol to check on the surviving Great Dane and the chicken coop. Al


      1. Listen to Stew. A proper chicken coop means you can get breeds that lay large brown eggs, and then you’ll want to pick up a couple hens that’ll lay pastel eggs. Both will make a great sideline to the honey sales, and the revenue will come up handy now that AMLO has reduced your pensions by 10%.


        1. Dear Jen: Martha Stewart doesn’t live here, no on rainbow colored eggs. Instead what Stew dreams about are big, fat hens that will lay jumbo eggs. I am staying out of that, just as I have stayed out of the honey business. which so far has generated as many losses as honey.


  2. babsofsanmiguel

    Loved this post!  Made me miss my “nature sanctuary” up on the hill although I never had a fox! or chicken!!  But, I did have the coatamundi who fell in the fireplace twice!  What adventures. Hopefully Henrietta will blossom and let you know where the eggs are…………ha!  Never a dull moment in your lives.   A fox is waaaaay cool. Hopefully we will connect soon.  I’m heading to Texas on April 2nd.  I’m riding up with Bill and Treyand they are going to drop me off in Austin, somwhere!

    Barbara San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

    415 124-9450 Mx Cell 713 589-2721 Vonage

    “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing”                                            Helen Keller


    1. People keep talking about coatis and we’ve never seen any here, though Costa Rica was lousy with them. April 2 riding to Austin? Good for you, I think. It should be beautiful up there, plus not so hot. We’re taking off on a trip next week, for three weeks. We’ll have to reconvene when we’re all back here.


  3. That’s a handsome looking fox. We see his English cousins on a regular basis round here. Sometimes trotting from garden to garden. More often dead by the side of the road.

    I wish Henrietta all the best in her egg laying endeavours.


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