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Archive for the ‘fauna’ Category

Coyote Hill: the haunting, 1

These snowbound Connecticut woods are alive.

You can’t tell me it isn’t so. The criss-crossing tracks of animals small and large lie right at my feet, and over there. And look, there.

All manner of creatures have been here. Not long ago, after the snow stopped falling, they were here. They are still here, they are close. They are hidden. Perhaps with animal timidity or with feral wisdom, they are watching as I walk this trail, move off into those woods. Rhea runs happy, wide circles around me, lost to me in these haunted woods for five minutes at a time, then ten. She comes bounding back, happy as a dog ever was, intensely alive in these woods along with me. Along with the rest of us.

There is a haunting here. I can see it, the tracks don’t lie. There a good-sized White Tail Deer has crossed my path, or I have crossed hers. No, there were two, there’s another set just to the right, following its leader.

Rabbits, lots of them, Rabbit Nuggets no doubt to the coyote that ran down here and then veered off to the left. This Bobcat was alone, moving slowly from the looks of it, track edges standing out as though impressed with care into their noiseless, snowy cushion.

Haunted. Not unsafe, just alive. So quiet. So beautiful. So very unalone.

As we come to the top of the hill before the firebreak, just short of where we stood with Johnny, Lauren, and Jude and pondered whether to cross the muddy stream or call it a day and head back, just there I see across the little stream’s valley a movement. Clear as day now, a lone coyote navigates the woods at a respectable clip. I see him before Rhea and get her on a leash, then immediately her eyes pick up his course and zealously watch her canine cousin who is more free and more imperiled than she in her safe life with the big stinky bed and the food dish that is hardly ever empty.

He is beautiful, or she. A dog-sized creature, wild as a lion on the Serengeti, right here in this snowy New England forest where an old dude walks while his dog runs. Wild. And beautiful.

Coyote Hill. That’s what I’ll call this place. I’ll remember him, just there, across where the un-iced snow will make its exuberant, Springtime bubbles when I can point the place out to someone who walks with me into this forest.

A whole pack of them, maybe it included this one who traces diagonals crossed the wood-shadowed snow, devoured Morris, the big buck that died in the woods just behind our house. They left only a few meager, white bones, just enough to make us marvel at how full these woods are. How alive at night, when a man snores beside his wife. Or she beside him. How haunted.

I have been thinking about haunting lately. Those two big deer Rhea chased last week, deep into the woods on a ten-minute trajectory before her domesticated nature kicked in and she came back to her human. They were right there, those deer, unseen until they moved but no less alive for their stillness.

That coyote, up on Coyote Hill.

And those three that crossed behind the house during the snowfall as we were having our breakfast the other day, German-Shepherd like, wary, slow-moving, as though heading home sheepishly after a night’s drinking went on a little too long, preferring to remain unglimpsed, not knowing we were having them for breakfast, leaving their coyote highway in the snow for us to discover before lunch.

Haunted. Haunting.

I stand in the Connecticut woods, snowed under, quiet as a tomb, and I think about this haunting stillness. How alive it is.

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I have watched dreams die.

Personally, matrimonially, and vocationally, I have become acquainted with the acrid smell of death. Yet I am not defined by death—as much to my own surprise as to anyone else’s—because I have heard in time the giddy laughter of resurrection. Time after time.

I cannot explain why my life is joy rather than gloom, generally so at least, without recourse to the loving arms of Providence. I settle easily into solidarity with the prophets and singers of Israel’s memory, as with the abiding astonishment of a crucified Messiah’s unlikely followers when I read the things they wrote, the words they’ve left. Those people feel like long-lost cousins or well-worn friends. Absent for years, we pick up immediately where we left off.

My dead dreams have come to life. Personally, matrimonially, vocationally. If the aroma of death still lingers, it is retrained and repurposed by the lively breezes of dreams reborn in dimensions, textures, and colors superior to the original.

I cannot explain this, if I may repeat myself so soon, except as evidence gently presented of loving Providence. A further, tentative, redundant declaration: this pattern in my life surprises me more than anyone. ‘The lines…’ —oh, those ancient poets again— ‘…have fallen for me in pleasant places.’ They gave out their words ahead of time and here I sit, repeating them as though my own.

This truth is not easy for me to put into words, rumbling along in the heart as it customarily does at an almost inaudible volume. It is perhaps not so much for speaking out or writing down. But it does nurture its own expectation that death is not privileged with the final word. I think I now accommodate the blows of fresh, new deaths with the barely surprised smile of suspicion that this, too, is only for a moment.

Which is why I find myself coming to write on this crisp morning of blue New England skies about a deer named Morris.

We bought a home in Portland, Connecticut not a month ago. This is its own story of dreams reborn, two of them at the least. But that is not my story exactly, not now, not this morning, not with a strangely potent grief for a dead deer weighing down my heart in a way that makes me feel foolish, naive, overwrought. And compelled to write about him.

One of the harmless little fantasies I’ve carried about for too many years to count is having a backyard that, as my Latin American friends would say it, gives to the woods and to find deer wandering into that backyard for me to contemplate and admire. It’s a sentimental notion, the mark of a small-town boy become a city guy who doesn’t sufficiently understand that deer eat everything you’ve planted, bring their ticks with them, and are generally a nuisance to be warded off with stuff you buy at the Tractor Supply.

But I do know this about my little dream, which is why I’ve never pursued it. Life was differently shaped than wood-bordering yards, it seemed. But I had taken the measure of this abiding dream well enough to name it to close friends, to a wife, and to myself. They smiled benignly, sometimes dismissively, about my little deer dream. Life is not like that, I sometimes thought I heard them think, and even if it were, that’s just a little bit childish at your age.

Then it happened. Not a month ago we took possession of our beautiful new-old New England home—ah, there’s another story—with its backyard giving to the woods and a first conversation with neighbors turning to how that’s a veritable deer highway back there because it runs to the river and deer need water, particularly after a night of dodging bobcats and coyotes and sharing their woods with bears, fisher cats, red foxes, and lots of other deer.

Dreams stirring, dreams awakening, dreams reviving, dreams reborn.

Then came Morris. On that first night in our new home—only a week ago—the motion-sensitive light on the back of our new home’s crown came on to show us a beautifully antlered buck exploring our back yard. Clearly something was wrong with this animal. Its left front leg hung uselessly and unsupportive, causing this gorgeous creature to lurch painfully about in search of, well, he really loved early Winter’s paltry remains of pachysandra, gobbling as though there were no tomorrow.

In spite of his injuries, which became grotesquely visible as he began to return from his daytime hidings in the woods behind us, he had a jauntiness about him that made it impossible to see him as a pest, an intruder, just an animal.

He became Morris.

Morris was in clear decline. Soon he was investing some daylight hours in lying beside the house in obvious distress. Our dog Rhea and I would occasionally sally forth to view Morris more closely, to make his acquaintance, one might say.

Uncharacteristically, Rhea kept a respectful distance. So did I. When Morris would see us approaching, he’d lurch as best he could in the other direction, sometimes back into the woods, sometimes just far enough to eye us warily from what might have passed for a safe distance if we had intended him any harm.

I called the police to see what one does. ‘We let nature take its course’, came the voice over the phone, surely a voice that commented to a colleague about ‘another city family up on Karen Drive’ after he’d let me go. Ah, Nature. Red in tooth and claw. I wished I had ammo to pair with the one weapon I own in order to put Morris out of his misery, but after a notorious school-shooting tragedy this New England state puts classes and fingerprints between a hunter and the ability to purchase ammo. It takes weeks.

Morris didn’t have weeks.

Two days ago, I found Morris on the ground, back in our woods—I claim them now, though not with title—lying prone between two fallen trees. He had collapsed or lay down and was unable to extricate himself. I knew the end had come. He looked at me with frightened eyes as I approached, struggled a bit to pull loose from his accidental captivity and flee. He didn’t have the strength.

I pulled one of the trees off of him in the vain hope that he’d be able to get up after I’d done so. But for what what I hoping? Morris was going to die.

Yesterday, he looked at me when I approached in my painful, self–inflicted duty to ‘go check on him’. This time, his eyes seemed plaintive, not frightened. He didn’t kick, didn’t struggle.

This morning, the coldest of the impending Winter, I wandered out. The life is gone from Morris’ beautiful, traumatized body. Clearly, a vehicle had hit him hard, probably only days ago. His lifeless eyes are open, staring. They are glorious eyes, eyes designed and created, eyes now devoid of life.

I cannot say why this has been such an emotional experience for me. My hunter friends will be laughing, my fishing friends asking ‘But you kill and eat what you catch, don’t you?’

They’re right. This was ‘just an animal’. But his nobility, his helplessly injured vulnerability, his proximity, his antlers rattling against the house as he gobbled pachysandra, the way in those first days he kept disappearing and then showing up from behind a new tree when you least expected him. These have fallen on me like an avalanche, making me…well…leading me to sit here and write down these thoughts instead of bending my shoulder to the harness of so many waiting tasks.

I had a dream of deer creeping into a backyard I would never own. Yet I have a backyard like the one in my dreams, now. It gives to the woods. On our very first night in this new place, Morris came creeping—creeping, lurching, creeping—into that yard and captured our hearts.

He arrived as to an appointment.

Why has Providence resurrected my little, inconsequential dream in the form of a mortally wounded antlered buck? Why has this all happened so very close to our windows, indeed in our very own space, if ‘own’ properly describes anything in a world where these things are given? Why is Morris’ once majestic body lying out there in the cold, right now, right there?

Why not a doe and her fawns making a quick appearance and then gone, or an unremarkable quintet of ordinary deer in our backyard? Why not a simple story of ‘lots of deer around here these days’, an anecdote that would prompt a neighbor casually to counter, ‘Oh, I had nine of them the other night…’?

Why Morris?

Is there instruction here, a thing to be learned? Do dreams come alive wounded sometimes? Does Providence beckon us to see remote things called ‘wildlife’, ‘prey’, and ‘deer’ as Morris, who looked at me with eyes that in the end lacked the strength to be afraid?

I don’t know.

But I wonder.

And that is all I have to say about it.

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41TErMtvHSLHow does a book like this even happen?

Sue Hubbell loves her Ozarks and the people who live there, loves her bees, and by all appearances has a thing going with words and the art of stringing them together. It seems that beekeepers now join flyfishers as unlikely creators of great writing.

Who knew?

Hubbell weaves her tales of bees and sweet countryside around the four seasons of her craft. This makes for four long chapters, perhaps the only defect in an otherwise enchanting read. Along the way we learn a fair piece about keeping bees (much of it in the ‘let them be bees’ category). We also taste and feel the Missouri seasons and warm to the spirit of a woman who has learned to live so well in her adopted countryside.

The result is a book worth reading at least twice. Then, after a rest, perhaps a third time.

Somehow the book’s simple title perfectly frames the easy lilt of its prose. Nothing is difficult here. Just beautiful.

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51uijBUz+-L._SS300_As this reader approaches the end of six decades and pauses to consider the rescued dogs and cats that have shared his home and made their bed in permanent corners of his and his family’s heart, I wonder if it was because my siblings and I devoured James Herriot’s veterinary tales early in life. (‘James Herriot’ was the pen name of the real Alfred ‘Al’ Wight.)

It wouldn’t surprise. Such was the uncanny ability of Alfred Wight’s eye to capture the immensely rich nuances of man and beast in the Yorkshire hills and dales of the earlier 20th century. Over a re-read that has lasted a year or two, I marvel at the patient and slightly awed love—I think that’s the word—which fuels the gentle, acute conversations that are sprinkled across every page of All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Bright and Beautiful, and All Things Wise and Wonderful.

I’m not sure whether you need to adore animals in order to delight in these books. Perhaps so, but maybe the short chapters work their way into readers’ hearts and turn them into animal lovers. And devoted readers.

I can think of only one tribute to these readable classics that comes even close to giving them their due: I’ll just have to start reading them all over again.

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This bird house is sized to attract, in my Midwestern American region at least, House Finches, Sparrows, and Chickadees.

91lrHPub0rL._SL1500_It’s made of a lightweight wood, as befits the modest price point. The front panel swings out at the bottom in order to give access for cleaning out the abandoned nest after the chicks have fledged. There are two holes for attaching the house to a post. One, at the top center of the rear panel, can be seen in the product photography. The other is in the center of the rear panel and can be accessed with a screwdriver when the front panel has been swung into its open position. (more…)

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After a positive experience and subsequent review of a different Gardirect insect hotel, the good folks at Gardirect contacted me and asked if I’d be willing to review a second product. With this full disclosure, I launch upon this review of the most recently arrived product.

I’m impressed. (more…)

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Our Midwest backyard is full of birds, bees, squirrels, and others of God’s great creatures, but we always want for more. I first saw this concept at an Amish store in upstate Indiana and—shortly after returning home to Indianapolis—sprang for the NiteangeL product.

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It’s so beautiful—I note more than one reviewer calling it ‘cute’—that my enterprising wife has coopted it for decorative purposes. It’s now cradled in a flower-filled space that used to be a bird bath (also coopted …), so I don’t know that we’ll get all the residents that can be expected to come to it when properly hung. Apropos to one reviewer’s note that there’s no nail or hook, mine does have an insert in the back from which the Insect Home can be hung from a nail.

The workmanship strikes me as everything that was promised. Given the creative purpose that our NiteangeL is now serving, I’m contemplating buying a second one for the bugs. So far, a satisfied customer.

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When our standard single-cake suet feeder mysteriously disappeared from our backyard (the crime remains unsolved), I took a chance on this nice roofed double-cake suet feeder. The results have been good.

41RY-gXSMiL._SL500_SS80_.jpgIt took our birds (house finches, various species of woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches, cardinals) a while to figure out how to maneuver their way into the right stance for getting at the suet, probably because the roof and its overhang briefly confused them. But then it was open season. The advantage of stocking the feeder with two suet cakes seems to be in reducing the need to re-stock to roughly half as frequent a job as it was before. That is, having two rather than one suet cake doesn’t seem to attract more birds; it just means that roughly the same number of birds have more supply to work on, so it lasts longer.

The quality and workmanship are very good.

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As an avid birder and a bit of a skeptic about most marketing, I confess that I’m not sure that birds care that much which brand of suet they’re fed. We live in Indianapolis and have used many kinds of suet. The birds have not turned up their beaks at any one of them.
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So I typically order on price, taking into account that Amazon Prime membership eliminates the shipping cost.Heath Outdoor Products has been a hit with three kinds of woodpeckers, countless chickadees, nuthatches, tufted titmice, and a motley assortment of other birds.

Plus, its economical. We and our birds are satisfied customers and will continue to order this product at this price point.

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The thing with introducing a new dog to the pack is, you just don’t know what you’re going to get.

When the dog being introduced is a little black fur ball of uncertain origins and the anxiously awaiting family members are big Rhodesian Ridgebacks, one of whom has had his eyes surgically removed, you really don’t know what you’ll get. (more…)

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