Our Wild Kingdom

19 December 2004

It is a cold, damp Sunday morning in the middle of December. Grey.

On the lawn, three plump crows strut purposefully from here to there, pausing to pluck worms or bugs or seeds from the grass. They are together, but apart. They’re like teenage boys. They are cool. They are aloof.

In the garden, among the grass cover crop, a Stellar’s Jay flits from spot-to-spot, finding food the rooks have overlooked. The crows swagger; the jay glides. She is the prom queen, conscious that all eyes admire her beauty.

Jasmine, the neighbor’s Golden Retriever, stands behind the fence, tucked into the gap in the arborvitae, panting. Her black, beady eyes follow the movement of the birds. She shifts her weight from paw-to-paw, barely containing the coiled spring inside her. Were the fence removed, she would bound at them, snatch one in her jaws. Jasmine is the wallflower: the kid without a date.

The squirrels are the class clowns. Two of them have climbed down the walnut tree to feed at the nut basket. One of them is perched upon it, gorging himself on acorns and filberts and seeds. He’s finished the corn cob we put out yesterday, and has flung it to the lawn — a demand for more. The second squirrel makes repeated — but futile — attempts to snatch a seed or a nut from the basket. The first squirrel will not allow it. He shifts position to block the interloper, chases him, sometimes rakes a claw across his haunch. He will not share his bounty. The squirrels bicker in a fierce chatter.

The fat grey neighborhood cat, Crenshaw, is curled in a ball, sleeping on the porch, warm on the blanket we’ve placed there for him. He doesn’t care about the birds, or the squirrels, or the dog. There is sleep to be had and by god! he means to have it. He wakes when I inadvertently slam the door to the coat closet, but only for a moment. He is the apathetic outsider.

And somewhere, somewhere Simon and Nemo are exercising their inalienable right to be outdoors on a Sunday morning. Are they in the bushes, stalking prey? Are they digging among the roses? Are they under the porch, hiding, asleep? Behind the workshop? Exploring dark places? Are they next door visiting Oreo and Tsu? Spending time with Pook? Fighting with Flash?

No — here they come now, up the mudroom steps, pawing the screen door so that it bump-bump-bangs, signaling their desire to be let inside.

Later, Nemo sits and watches the squirrels. His tail sweeps the floor in fevered lashes. When the squirrels chatter, Nemo chatters. He wants outside now. He regrets having come inside for breakfast. A fattened squirrel would be ever-so-much tastier.

Simon is on the kitchen counter — in willful violation of Kris’ iron law — gazing out the window at the birdfeeder. He watches the finches and the chickadees as they peck at the millet, or hang in clusters from the cage in which we’ve placed a block of suet. The little birds love the suet. (So, too, do the starlings. There are no starlings this morning, however.) Simon is stoic. He may wish he could torment the birds, but he does not show it.

Upstairs, Toto is resting like a loaf bread, purring on the futon. She is watching Kris, who is sits at the computer doing her finances, shopping online, listening to Christmas carols.

I am wandering from room to room, admiring this wild kingdom.


In the evening, we drove down to Jeremy and Jennifer’s. While Kris stayed with Harrison and Emma, the rest of us headed to Zion Mennonite for the annual sing-your-own-Messiah. It was great fun, though I felt a little out of place. Not because I was an atheist in a church, but because I didn’t know my part well enough. Next year — and I do plan to do this again next year — I will prepare in advance. I’ll buy a copy of the score, and practice singing along to one of the Messiahs I have on CD.

Comments

On 20 December 2004 (08:33 AM),
Tiffany said:

Our wildlife is not nearly as personable.
We have lots of dogs being walked, most are very thrilled, running from spot to spot smelling the dogs that came by earlier.
We have only one neighborhood cat. She is a very over-weight calico that our cats run from window to window to watch. She can climb the six-foot stucco wall in a flash.
There are lots of birds; sparrows, a few doves, black birds, and lots of humming birds. The humming birds ‘float’ by the windows to drive the cats crazy. We had a falcon that cleared out most of the doves, but he has moved on and the doves are moving back in.
Our pair of road-runners are out every morning. I am not sure where they live, but they keep our yards free of lizards. The cats can not figure out the road-runners, they look like a bird, but are about 1foot high.
Last are the bats… we have the cutest 3-inch brown bats that fly every evening. They sleep most of the day in the tile roof and in the palm trees; they only feed about 30 minutes out of every 24 hours. I love watching the bats.

On 20 December 2004 (09:26 AM),
J.D. Roth said:

Here is the state of the wildlife on a cold, damp Monday morning in December:

Jasmine is nowhere to be seen. Mortimer and Crenshaw are both on the porch, each on his respective blanket. The squirrels are asleep in their lairs. There aren’t any birds on the lawn.

There are, however, many birds at the feeder outside the kitchen window. They’re taking turns. The flicker swoops in from the oak to peck at the millet. When he leaves, a scrub jay floats in to take her turn. Myriad tiny birds swarm the suet cage.

Once again, Simon sits on the window sill, watching them. “Simon,” I tell him. “You’re not allowed on the kitchen counters.” He ignores me.

And best of all: across the yard, perched on the lowest, broadest limb of the filbert, rests an orange furball. Flash has climbed the tree, presumably for a better vantage on all the avian activity. He and Simon have stared at each other, but neither seems compelled to escalate the conflict.

I wish I could find the digital camera.

On 20 December 2004 (09:58 AM),
Kris said:

Here’s a wildlife snapshot from the crime lab:

always lots of crows looking important, as well as seagulls soaring and squawking (rats of the sky!). The starlings in this neighborhood confine themselves to the easy pick-ins at the Costco food court. Today there are Canadian geese on the lawns and last week I saw a mating pair of wood ducks land on the “stream”– we are in a sort of industrial park-slash-wetlands. One morning a grey heron took flight from the cattails as I turned into the parking lot, and people have reported seeing rabbits, too.

Inside the lab, we are dealing with an invasion of large brown spiders. The current hypothesis is that they came in with a delivery of lab coats from the cleaners. Does that give you the willies? Oh, and the morgue apparently has mice.

On 20 December 2004 (10:51 AM),
Jeff said:

Here’s a wildlife snapshot from Custom Box:

Pepe LePew and his foul stench are still living under the office. Maybe we need to paint a white stripe down Toto’s back and put her in the trap — she could surely lure that Casanova out.

On 20 December 2004 (01:18 PM),
Tiffany said:

Is the fact there are spiders in the drug lab and mice in the morgue a contamination problem?

On 20 December 2004 (01:28 PM),
Tammy said:

So do you guys make your own suet? If so how do you do it? I could go through all my kids magazines and find out but I don’t feel like it. Do you put peanut butter in it?

On 20 December 2004 (01:48 PM),
Kris said:

Tiffany– Not a problem from a drug analysis standpoint; neither rodents nor arachnids are known for their substance abuse. Also, there are very few crime scenes where a spider or mouse is going to make or break a case.

Tammy- We buy the suet blocks from a garden or farm store. They are about 50cents apiece if you buy them in bulk when they are on sale, and each one lasts us about a week. I think the main ingredient is beef lard. Which makes you think, where do birds normally find lard in nature? Are they cooperating and taking down cows?

On 20 December 2004 (03:14 PM),
Johnny said:

Although not widely known, birds do, in fact, cooperate to take down livestock. See here

On 27 December 2004 (08:31 AM),
JC said:

It’s ‘critters on parade’ in our backyard. The squirrels are the ruling class–they have gangs even. Though, once in a while, pretty birds flitter down and try to fight their way for some seed.

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