SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Ketchikan Lifestyle

Beyond The Gate
By Nancy Coggins


November 28, 2005

Ketchikan, Alaska - Their street is ordinary. Even their gate. But here's a glimpse of what's beyond the gate at Dick and Mary Kauffman's unbelievable and extraordinary retirement home where they produce their community outreach in SitNews.

Once you're inside the gate, the action begins.

You hardly have time to admire the vibrant greens of the huge rhododendrons or ask about all the animal holes that are at the base of the spruce trees because you're receiving an outstanding welcome in the form of a barked chorus from their four dogs. They all want to jump up on you at once, showing they appreciate your visit. Their actions say, "We're so happy to see you!"

jpg beyond the gate peacocks

Sidney and Shelly: Two-year old Blue India males. Both were born in Ketchikan.
Photographs of these two as peachicks were recently selected for publication in an upcoming book "Colorful Peacocks" by the Lerner Publishing Group.
Photograph by M.C. Kauffman

After the dogs finish barking out their greetings, the eleven geese have their turn. They are curious to find out what the fuss is all about, so with their chubby-feathered bodies, necks outstretched, they waddle up to within a couple of feet. When Mary asks them to laugh, one makes a clattering noise with his beak. He is fully participating in the fun! Then if you say, "Do it again," he repeats his kind of laughter. Then, Mary briefly pets and gently cuddles the heads of two of them.

Observing that these majestic animals allow the human touch, you begin to see the bond these animals have with Mary. You know--the kind of feeling among best friends.

Now here's a switch! It's not the groups of animals that are fenced in. It's the plants and small trees that have wire fencing around them as protection from the animals that like to nibble their succulent leaves.

After roaming around among the fenced-in plants and small trees, you come upon the mallard ducks, swimming in their pond at the far corner of the yard. You begin to wonder how much land there is--considering each animal has plenty of space!

Next on this exciting walk comes the building where the animals sleep and can seek shelter at any time. Basically, the animal pens and nests inside are in sections of what used to be the garage--with some add-ons. You notice that the outside of the animal-pen complex has an entry even big enough for the beautiful peacocks. That's right. Peacocks in Alaska! There are two adult males, with their four-foot-long showy tail feathers, two adult white females, and seven offspring. Inside, one female peacock patiently and lovingly tends to her five chicks, while a few feet away a large brown rabbit busies herself eating. The other bunnies are apparently hiding somewhere in the fresh hay enjoying a snooze.

jpg pehen and peachicks

Bobbie watches over her five chicks born in July. By November
the chicks are as large as their mother.
File Photo by M.C. Kauffman

As these animals grow, one of the biggest challenges is to modify their accommodations to fit them. Recently, the peacock perch inside had to be raised. When you start thinking about everything entailed in providing for these animals, the large scope of the task seems mind-boggling, but its complexity gradually simplifies as each phase of care is observed. Inside, the animals have access to water, food, shelter and bedding hay, plenty of room to walk around freely, and cleanliness in their haven. The peafowl also receive protection from direct sunlight by the large green leaves painted on the large windows. The painted leaves on the windows also protect the peacocks by enabling them to see the window thus preventing them from flying into one. Outside, they have also have many amenities.

All in all, you figure there must be 20 or more pet-like animals, which doesn't even include the one or more elusive cats. In addition, there are the totally wild birds and animals such as innumerable hole-digging red squirrels.

You wonder why is there no barn-like smell? First, you realize there are no chickens. Then, you recall Mary's words about the animals' pens being cleaned every day and their getting a new supply of fresh food, fresh lettuce and fresh water. And, their hay is changed daily. These factors make the whole experience with its clean animal smell very enjoyable.

This collection of animals is there simply because Mary and Dick love animals, especially helping ones who are or have been in trouble. They both have backgrounds rich in farming. Many of these now-healthy animals are here because at one time they had been wounded or abandoned. This couple, through their care and kindness, has helped them regain their strength and return to good health. Each animal, you can see, is treated as a special favorite pet.

The climax of the animal part of the visit becomes a show put on by Mr. Prissy peacock, performing his courting dance. Mr. Prissy alights from his nearly four-foot-high platform, from which his tail feathers almost touch the ground, and comes over to find out what is happening. Almost as soon as Mary asks him to dance, this peacock brings all his trailing tail feathers up into the shape of a fan. He holds that position for more than a few minutes, and then when Mary asks him to turn around, he does just that. He reveals not only his fluffy body feathers but also his foot-long gray flight feathers alongside them. He uses these flight feathers not only for flying but also to vibrate his fanned tail to make his courting noise which sounds like a rattle. The female is unresponsive, merely observing his courtship from her perch on the porch railing. However, undaunted by her current apathy, Mr. Prissy Kaku continues his courting dance and will dance day after day until she gives him the signal that she's interested and sits in front of him. He dances endless long hours just for these few seconds of their mating.

jpg peacock backside view

Backside view of Mr. Prissy Kaku with the gray flight feathers visible.
Fall Photograph by M.C. Kauffman

After the animal fanfare calms, Dick and Mary's whole vegetation-rich yard seems almost like a secret garden. Feathery and grand Sitka spruce, hemlock and many deciduous trees not only isolate their yard from the traffic noise only a few yards away but also separate it from the views of neighboring houses.

You'd think that bears and wolves would snatch the animals, but without a stream running through their property there is neither attraction nor reason for those predators to encroach. And rodents do not bother these property owners either since the wild red squirrels and domesticated cats help keep them in check.

Going inside the "people" house serves as a welcome break from so much close animal interaction. You know, wall-to-wall rugs are so much different than hay; plush couches, than perches; wind chimes, than the wind in the trees; and incandescent lights and candles, than bright sunlight. With a cat sitting in the window of an adjoining room and seemingly ignoring us, there is time to reflect and share, sitting in the sunroom.

The sunroom serves as the site from which the SitNews material is prepared and published. What a room! It's a glorious space Dick and Mary had designed to contain as many windows as possible, each bringing the outdoors indoors. The sun streams through these windows including one with large cathedral-glass shapes. Looking out the glass door, one of the peacocks is stretching his neck as high as possible to help himself to the bottom leaves of a plant that should have been out of his reach in its pedestal. Reveling in this wild splendor, you just want to stay and stay and stay. The house is truly one with nature.

Yet, according to the saying, all good things must come to an end. On the way out, alas, there is Dick who has returned from the grocery store with his truck full of boxes of lettuce for the animals. And his school-age helper is there to assist him in unloading and distributing the roughage to each of the animals. But this process with the lettuce has to wait until the young worker gives a blow-by-blow description of the animals' pens. He props the bunnies' lift-up doors to a certain height so they are able to get into their penned area at night--perhaps with the assistance of a gentle nose-nudge by one of the dogs. Then comes his complete description of all the details of how he helps clean out the pens. He talks excitedly on and on about his thoroughly interesting job. Obviously, he plays a very important working part of this home for animals that are relatively free roaming.

So, that's a capsule of the unusual retired lifestyle of the couple who records, transcribes and publishes current stories in SitNews for their readership. Now, when you read SitNews stories, you'll be able to visualize the source of all these stories--Dick and Mary's gorgeous home complete with animals they love.

Yes, that's the oasis beyond the gate.



Nancy Coggins is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.

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