I guess you could call me a nature lover. My husband George and I can often be found on weekends hiking or bird watching. On these outings we secretly long to come across something special, which, even if we don’t have a chance to photograph it, will make an imprint on our memories. We rarely do see anything extraordinary, but recently over the span of a week, we got more than our fair share of nature’s drama. Let’s face it—wildlife in this part of the world is taking over!
On a recent bird watching workshop in Northern New Jersey included our first sighting of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo. Sounds like something out of a Disney cartoon, but the bird really exists—a large grey bird with a downward-curved yellow bill; the bird is not often seen, but it can be heard making a low kuk-kuk-kuk sound in the forest. Great find!
The next day, as our group ambled along listening for songbirds, what should we see a mere fifty yards down the trail but a big black bear. We had a staring contest with it for a while, until he or she ambled away, and we continued warily with our birding. Then, after much discussion of survival tactics if one meets a bear in the wild, our leader, scanning with his binoculars for bear eyes in the brush, said, “You know what? Let’s get out of here!”
The morning after we returned from our trip, I was relaxing on the back patio with my golden retriever Sasha. She wandered off, and moments later I heard her in the front yard, yelping and crying as though being attacked. Coyote! I thought and ran to her rescue. Calling her in, I was faced, only a few feet from the house, with a female deer, a wild look in her eye. Sasha, her tail between her legs, dashed into the house, and I approached the doe (who had just attacked my dog!) with “It’s all right. All right,” as though she was the one needing comfort. Then I saw what I suspected to be the problem: a tiny fawn, only hours old, staggering along the driveway, trying to reach his mom. Sasha must have startled them and paid the price. The two deer soon wandered off the property, the fawn barely able to walk on his tiny new legs but obediently trailing his mom.
The next day as George and I blithely pulled into our driveway, George slammed on the brakes. “What’s that?” A large dark blob sat on the side lawn. We realized it was the huge snapping turtle we had seen last year. Her head, the size of my fist, was raised in alarm. She was no doubt looking for a nesting site near the brook. We left her to do her thing, kept our curious Sasha inside, and suspended all weeding in that spot.
The following night we heard a horrifying sound. Coyotes, very close to our house, were yipping and howling, as they do when they’ve made a kill. Oh, no, had they found our baby fawn? We pulled the covers up over our heads and tried not to think about it. Fortunately the next morning I spotted the two deer grazing in the woods, the fawn staggering a bit less, the doe a tad more watchful.
Just when we thought we’d had our fill of wildlife for a while, we got a different sort of show as we were sitting in the sunroom. Our resident Barred Owl, fierce and enormous, swooped down to snatch one of the gazillion chipmunks on our property and flew off to his nest at the top of the hill. Can’t get much closer to nature than that!
So, we may have more than enough wildlife around here, most of it right in our yard; we really don’t need to go hiking to find it. My good friend Anne, a lover of city life, used to say “I don’t really like Nature. There’s just so much of it!” Yes, Anne, it can be overwhelming at times. But to me, it’s an important part of living the good life, and I wouldn’t be without it. Even though it does seem to be closing in on us from all sides!