Thursday, June 30, 2022

The hummingbird, the opossum and the tarantula

Daily Inter Lake | May 1, 2022 12:00 AM

Few would consider southern California a hotbed for wildlife — at least of the natural animal/plant kingdom variety. We recently returned from a trip to visit family and tour a few wineries, however, and without a doubt we were treated to some unique outdoor shows down there.

We also saw a good bit of country outside of LA where our daughter and son-in-law live since they drove us up to Paso Robles wine country — between a 3 1/2 and 4 1/2-hour drive, depending on the route you choose.

After arriving at the home on the vineyard property where we were staying a couple nights, the four of us headed directly to the winery’s tasting room. As we chatted with the proprietor (a friend of our kids) a hummingbird flew in through the open door and energetically lit about the rafters of the raised ceiling. As the five of us debated the easiest, gentlest way to return it to the outdoors, it flew directly into a cobweb 10 times its size and became, quite suddenly, still. Time was now of the essence and, just as the proprietor had picked up her phone to call her husband to come with ladder and net, the hummingbird broke free, but not before nabbing a tiny insect also caught in the web. Just as the emergency call was canceled the hummingbird flew right back into the web. Finally, after another snack, it freed itself once and for all and left the premises.

On Sunday morning as I was enjoying an expansive view of the vineyard from the window, I noticed a cat-sized animal in the yard with its long snout burrowed into a small hole in the ground. Leading with its pointy ears and long claws, it mosied toward the house. Though we couldn’t see its tail, we concluded it was a opossum. I snapped a close-up of it just as it turned sideways, displaying its tell-tale prehensile tail.

Opossums, which are not rodents but marsupials, are gentle creatures who, I’m told, are clean, generally healthy, and like to cuddle. Although some people do keep them as pets, because they’re wild animals it’s generally not recommended.

As I was studying the opossum (its pace afforded me plenty of time) I happened to notice a tarantula the size of my hand tiptoeing on the lawn right behind it. The two didn’t seem the least interested in one another and eventually went on their merry ways.

Besides sampling wines from around the Paso wine country, which has more than 200 wineries (many family-owned) 40,000 vineyard acres and produces more than 40 varieties of grapes, we toured an outdoor art installation called Sensorio on the eve of the full moon. (The full moon before Easter is often called the Pink Moon, not due to its shade, but named so by the Native Americans because pink phlox is often in bloom when it appears. This April the full moon rose during the three holy seasons of Easter, Passover and Ramadan, a rare confluence which happens only about once every 33 years.)

First opened in 2019 in California, artist Bruce Munro created Sensorio’s Field of Light walking art exhibit by installing thousands of nodding lighted spheres of changing colors on stakes across 15 acres of gently rolling terrain. Together with the sharp, clear moon Sensorio made for spectacular photos.

While we took the more coastal route north to Paso, passing beach towns and then through Los Padres National Forest, the third largest in California, we opted for the inland route — known in California-speak as “the 5” — heading home, where California’s farms and pistachio groves went on for miles and oil derricks punctured the arid landscape.

It’s been awhile since I’ve been on a roadtrip with such vastly different landscapes from Montana’s — one that yielded surprises around every bend.

Community editor Carol Marino may be reached at 406-758-4440 or

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