As with any adventure, I like details, and I like to set the stage.  You’ll just have to deal with it:

Sunday night started out like many others.  We put the kids to bed, and S had to fly the next morning, which means he has to get up around 4:30 in the morning.  Thus, he went to bed early, and I decided to stay up and watch one of my “cop/detective” shows on Netflix (it’s almost as bad a weakness as my craving for Snickers bars!  I actually got through labor by watching a “Cops” marathon on the hospital TV!).  I prepared for bed around 11, and noticed Athena barking unusually fiercely.  As I was climbing into bed around 11:30, her bark intensified to the most ferocious, snarling bark I had ever heard from her.  I was envisioning her literally trying to kill something through the fence, it was that bad!  I knew at that point I wouldn’t be able to sleep until I checked on things outside, but hated to ask S to do it with the early morning he had.  So, I did wake him, but only to let him know what I was doing.  (Of course, he went right back to sleep, so I don’t think it did any good anyway!)  Then, I tried to decide what to take as protection–a gun?  Nah, they say never take a gun unless you are really comfy using it–which I’m not.  A baseball bat?  Hmmm…don’t own one.  A “carrot stick and savvy string” for training horses/donkeys?  Perfect!  Also known as a lunge whip of sorts, it’s something I’m totally comfortable with, and if used with enough force, the fiberglass rod can definitely leave a sting to remember! (Go ahead and laugh at me now…I might as well give you permission since you are doing it anyway….)

Picturing a pack of coyotes, a couple fox, or, at worst, a bear in my woods, I then took a deep breath–not easy to find courage with that barking going on outside–and called my trusty 90 lb. pet, Will.  Now Will is trained to obey voice commands quite well, and has proven over the years that he will only bark if he senses something suspicious “out there.” He will also raise hackles and be alert if he senses something unseen, and I have seen him attack another animal that threatened him once in his life.  So, I tend to use him as my first protection.  I don’t have a clue what he’d do in a real emergency, but he gives me a little courage anyway.  Armed with my trusty pooch and my whip, I grabbed a headlamp-style flashlight, turned it on, and went out into the thick blackness of the forest to account for my critters.

I saw no reaction from Will, so first we headed to the chicken coop, seeing as how the bear has already proven he has a taste for chickens this summer (my neighbors, not mine).  Everything checked out, so we headed deeper into the woods to check the other animals.  I called to Athena.  I had to walk about 100 yards through the woods, to the animal pens, so I shined my light all over as I went.  With my light landing on Athena in the pen, I felt a little better seeing her glowing eyes and tail wagging at me.  When I got to the pens, it was clear something was up, as the goats were restlessly running around the pen, clearly a bit agitated (they would normally be laying down sleeping at that hour), but their hackles weren’t raised.  I also observed the donkeys were happily munching their hay, which I found interesting, as a prey animal would not eat if it felt a predator was nearby.  I walked in, petted everybody, felt better that all creatures were accounted for, scanned the forest once more with my light and saw nothing, and headed back to the house.   All the while, I realized the sheer ridiculousness of my white knuckle grip on my stick should a bear charge, but hey, it was better than nothing.   Right??!!

Ok, sorry about the verbosity…it’s a way I work through my own issues….stay with me, though, as the fun is just beginning!

I went back to bed, and after my little excitement, I quickly fell into a deep sleep.  The sound of a door shutting and Athena barking her ferocious bark again woke me around 3:15.  It was dark, and I instinctively reached for S.  He wasn’t there.  I immediately sensed something was wrong.  I lay there for a moment in my sleepy fog, trying to figure out if I should get up or feign sleep.  I heard someone walking around the house, and saw a light flip on.  I heard the footsteps go downstairs, and then heard S’s voice talking on the phone. Intrigued, but feeling safer, I got up and quietly headed downstairs, soon realizing that S was talking with the sheriff’s office.

After he finished and hung up, he explained to me that Athena’s bark had woken and concerned him.  He, too, realized it was an unusual bark (I don’t think he has EVER gotten up to check on Athena and the animals before–it was that bad!).  He had walked out onto our dark porch, looked around, and saw a strange, small light at the end of our driveway.  He watched it, and realized it was a dome light of a vehicle.  He shined his flashlight onto the vehicle, and saw it was a grey truck, but couldn’t tell if anyone was in it.  He then heard a vehicle door close, and the light went out.  Clearly, someone was near the vehicle, which was located on the opposite side of the house from Athena, where she couldn’t see it, yet she was still going nuts at something.  At that point, he had called the sheriff.

Within a couple minutes, a deputy arrived, and pulled up to the vehicle, which had gone totally silent except for the occasional appearance of the dome light.  We watched out our window as the deputy (who was alone) turned on his spotlight, got out of his car, and cautiously approached the vehicle.  Then, thanks to the spotlight, we saw movement in the truck, and knew someone was still in there.  We couldn’t hear much, but we could tell he was talking, and then the truck alarm sounded, and continued to sound.  The deputy began shining his spotlight into the woods all around, but focusing on my neighbor’s place across our dirt road. We surmised maybe they were trying to alert someone.  Another 10 minutes elapsed, and the alarm was still sounding.  At that point the deputy returned to his vehicle, and called for backup, and another car drove in a couple minutes later.  When the second deputy arrived, they approached the truck, and not one, but two HUGE guys were ordered out, handcuffed, and placed into the patrol vehicle.  Then, after securing the guys, the deputies both grabbed spotlights and shotguns, and went off into my neighbors’ woods, began circling their pasture, went into their barn, and generally began looking in all potential hiding places.  Finally, a deputy walked down to our house, and spoke with S, explaining that the vehicle did not belong to the guys, one of the guys was totally drunk and could hardly even stand, the other was lying through his teeth and not cooperating, other than to tell him there were still 2 people in the woods, it was part of a “ritual” they do every year, and the vehicle belonged to one of the other folks still out there.  Being a livestock owner, S’s first thought was rituals dealing with animal sacrifice, so he requested an inspection of all our critters, and our other neighbor’s house since they were on vacation and we were watching the place. About this time, Athena finally quite barking–almost as though she sensed the situation was OK now (or maybe whoever was out there ran off).  He certainly didn’t want to be running around our woods checking on critters at the same time heavily armed deputies were out there looking for someone!  The deputy allowed it, but went with S to check out the neighbor’s place first, then they returned and looked around our woods, checked on all the animals, and found nothing.   S returned to the house, the deputy met up with his partner, and they returned to their patrol cars to talk with the guys a bit more.  Eventually, a third deputy in an SUV arrived, and began driving up and down our lane spotlighting the woods.  They stuck around out there about 20 minutes, and then we could hear yelling.  It sounded as though someone had emerged from the woods and was getting yelled at about the dangers of trespassing on someone’s land in the middle of the night.  After a bout of yelling, both patrol cars left, and the grey truck remained, sitting empty at the end of our drive.

We never got any explanation, and eventually managed to fall back to sleep.  Not knowing whether the other 2 folks had actually been hauled off or not, Around 5, S woke me, gave me a tutorial of his pistol and how to use it, ensured the house was locked up securely, and left for work.  When I got up later, the night’s adventures seemed to have been a dream until I looked down the driveway, and saw the truck still sitting there.  It was a little eerie.  Later, around 9, I was doing some outdoor chores, and heard an engine start up.  When I went around the house to check, the truck was gone.  There has since been no mention of the event in the news or the sheriff’s blog, so we have no idea how it was resolved.  It has us little more on edge than usual.  Everything makes sense now, too, about my earlier inspection at 11:30.  The donkeys would have no fear of people, and people wouldn’t cause the goats to raise their hackles like a predator would.  Strange people would agitate the goats, though, as they tend to bond to people they know.  So, I am especially creeped out, knowing I was out there alone at 11:30, and with Athena’s bark, I have no doubt I was not alone out there.  Not sure my whip would have done much good with people.  Of course, it never occurred to me it would be people running around in my woods!

So, we have had our excitement for a while.  One bit of comic-relief that came out of the situation was when the deputy was talking to S, and talked about what idiots these folks were.  He explained that near every house in our Forest is well-armed and not afraid to use their guns if need be!  It dawned on us that we are sufficiently armed, our one neighbor has  a shotgun, another neighbor has a 50-cal and an arsenal, and the third neighbor is a retire army arrant officer and armed to the teeth, always with a loaded weapon within easy reach!

Everything is basically back to normal, except for a few hairs on my neck that stand on end every time I walk out to the animal pens.  S, having spent a career in the military, even serving in Kuwait shortly after we met, is quite comfortable with guns, and would have no qualms about using one to protect his family.  My grandfather worked with the GBI, and my father used to take me shooting a lot, so I am familiar with guns, but it’s been a few years since I have dealt with them, and therefore, I am a little uncomfortable.  Therefore, S has also told me he is going to use our weekly date nights to take me out to the shooting range for a while, and help me grow more comfortable with the guns we have.  Since we will be moving next year, and S won’t be with us for part of the time, it is highly possible I would need to shoot a predator at Red Gate some time.  Always better safe than sorry, I guess.