• Penny Harter


The more quarantine days that pass, the more we are becoming unknown species to one another, especially now in these days of little physical contact. But we can stop by the roadside to share time with others.

Muskrat Encounter

On yesterday’s ride when I stopped by a small, historic country church, a scared muskrat waddling on the driveway suddenly scrambled into a hole in the stone foundation.

Hearing my description of the animal, a friend says it was probably a muskrat, though I only saw a critter’s brown furry behind quickly wriggle into hiding, obviously knowing where to go.

childhood memories

of houses that were mine—

ghosts in the windows

Once home, I pursue muskrat lore, learn that they usually live no more than about three years, unless in captivity when they can make it to ten. And the swampy woods and river around that church make it prime muskrat territory.

Muskrats are largely shy, chew trees, are mainly vegetarian, have poor hearing, sight, and smell, mate underwater, and communicate by excreting musk. Also, when eaten they are a good source of Vitamin B.

My father’s uncles down in the Carolina swamps wore coonskin caps. I knew those caps were from raccoons they killed themselves, skinned, ate, and wore. How sanitized my life is, especially now when picking up boxed, canned, or shrink-wrapped food in a market parking lot.


my mother said when she

pulled off my tee-shirt

Along with singing:

Bye, baby Bunting,

Daddy’s gone a-hunting,

Gone to get a rabbit skin

To wrap the baby Bunting in

This was my first muskrat encounter. How many lives are out there that we hardly meet in our daily busy–ness? With pandemic time at hand, I have now met muskrat—not as delicate and alluring a species as the deer I’ve loved seeing, yet here among us, sharing territory with our species.

returned long ago

that vintage fur coat found

in a thrift store

(c) 2020 Penny Harter

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