Sunday, June 20, 2010

Animal House

I'd like a yard like Cliff's, all secured with fence, trees and bamboo (what a fun word to say). Not just for us but for the critters who would move in, raise their young in relative safety, and lose their fear. That strange little bird in Zach's yard already seems to recognize us and knows we mean no harm, so if each year's offspring experience this sort of unthreatening environment they would join their world to yours. Peaceable kingdoms...
This year, this burgeoning summer, is different than the past 18 here. When we moved in, behind us was a scraped and scarred wasteland before the protective belt of old trees along the creek showed dark green, firmly intending to hold on despite the onslaught of fossil-fueled machines. The remnants of the old older, when this hill was wild, were just fading: we saw red and grey fox, turtles, snakes, hawks and several groundhogs (who obviously figured into the fox population's success). There was quite a deer herd, with their familiar trails from the hilltop down to water. Goldfinches were everywhere, fattening on the tall weeds' seeds with thousands of trees for cover.
All the wildlife disappeared as houses went up and streets were paved. House and street lights probably spelled doom for prey animals trying to survive another night. The goldfinches dwindled down to a couple per summer. No bluebirds, cardinals or martins.
Trees and shrubbery have grown from the scaly clay and shale surface, and a couple of good wet years have stitched together the patches of grass into a rug of oriental lushness. Many people have put out bird feeders, enabling the few goldfinches to multiply and prosper, filling the air with joyous yellow-uniformed troopers. Dogs are walked, but are not out in yards and there are not many outdoor cats. The doubled traffic since the hilltop has been covered with McMansions and the lower area crammed with apartments is probably a cruel Harvester of those little predators. I know it is an ever-present threat to us few pedestrians.
The holly tree out front in the narrow and protected walkway hosts a bird nest each year. What a joy it is to see the juvenile cardinal, wobbly and innocent, appear on the sidewalk. He looks at you and asks, Can you help me? I don't know what to do. Well, they figure it out and next year he's the proud dad of another brownish-red teenager. The crows used to perch on the garage gutter and destroy the robins' nestlings before that. A disease (I forget what) decimated the crows and jays for a few years, and we haven't seen either around much, so the holly tree sends out its graduates regularly. The robins must have found a safer place and the cardinals don't take any guff.
A tiny rabbit was on the far end of the walk eyeing the lettuce the other day. It dashed back under the generous cover of the Japanese maple when it spied me, but I hope he stays around and understands there's plenty of lettuce for both of us. And we do see a few bluebirds each summer. On a dirt lane (not many of those left) years ago between here and Mechanicsburg, I saw a Baltimore oriole. Only one, and never again. What a sight. They must know how beautiful they are, but the common, little red-headed sparrows are beautiful in their own right too.
What's different about this year other than the gradual recovery Nature has made in plastic suburbia is the ongoing tale of Drew the Shrew.
Every year we see a dark, swift little shrew scuttling about the in leaf litter under the holly and across the sidewalk (he has an enviable commute). Just this week Gilligan the Vigilant noticed two baby shrews noodling around under the holly leaves, and today we saw two adults zip across the sidewalk! After almost two decades of seeing only one tiny rodent going about his business each summer, we get to see the whole Brady Bunch.
If they think they're in Cliff's back yard and they're so safe they can cavort openly, that's a treat for us and our mighty, indoor, clawless feline hunter.

1 comment:

  1. It's funny how you said this. In Puppywoods two voles came up by the pond while I was feeding the orange ones. They surprised me but were in their element and happy playing. Total entertainment of nature without a fee. Enjoy.