Responding to the Call of the Wild...
What we do when the animals that belong outside visit us inside our home ~
Over the course of our first year in our new home in a rural New England town, we have encountered wild creatures that have been bold enough to venture into our backyard, our back stairs, and even inside our home. It is important to respect the territory and space of these wild creatures while also appreciating their place in the ecosystem we cohabit. The following is a description of some of the wildlife we have crossed paths with and how we have responded to them. As Murphy's Law would have it, never a camera or camcorder has been within reach when these events have made their mark on us.
Coyotes are wild animals in the canine family. They are generally shy of human contact, but there have been people who have fed them from their table, then suffered from having beloved pets and children attacked by these creatures who had become dependent on that food. What were they thinking? There is a widespread movement to discourage this and for good reason. Only pain and an imbalance in the ecosystem can result from such habits. It is much better to avoid close contact with natural predators than to have to manage a potentially tragic close encounter.
Because our property is surrounded by woods, the coyotes often find their way to our property. It may be because they smell the food from the compost piles we keep (which we have learned to remedy by throwing shovelfuls of dirt on the food that is deposited there) or a garbage dumpster has been left open (which we also do our best to avoid). They may also be attracted by the sight of nocturnal mammals wandering about, such as cats. Most of my neighbors keep both their pets and young humans inside at night, usually after 9pm. A coyote has been spotted most often by the dumpster area soon after nightfall (around 9:30pm), then heard howling later in the western woods behind our house. We have heard them only once outside our bedroom window. The sound felt very close and very haunting, which I found myself a little spooked by. In responds, I locked my back door in order to put greater distance between myself and such dark wildness.
When wilderness habitats are destroyed ~
What happens when real estate development projects keep closing in on wildlife habitats? The wildlife take up residence in our cities and suburbs. Is this the price we pay for "progress," and what price are we asking the other species around us to pay?
Photos of Furry, Feathered, Winged, and Many-Legged Friends ~
Wild turkeys have been spotted on our property and around the equestrian riding stables down the street from us. I have also seen them in the middle of the road near one of the train stations I drive my husband to for his commute to work. Luckily, I have never been delayed by a flock of them crossing the street when travel time needed to be short. Dawn and dusk seem to been their favorite time to migrate from one location to another.
Turkeys have a reputation for being aggressive if irritated, so it is best to keep a good distance away from them. It is quite a sight to see them with their tail feathers spread and to hear their gentle warbles. They are very beautiful.
Squirrels & Chipmunks
Squirrels and chipmunks are the quintessential symbols of rural New England. They are fun to spot scampering about. The chipmunk's tail points straight up as they dash across the road. One spring morning, I came upon a squirrel crossing the main road off our driveway, when another car arrived close by the creature from the other direction. The squirrel decided that doubling back was a better idea than attempting to cross the road and its legs seemed to extend in four separate directions as it made a rapid about-face back into the wood from which it had emerged. That sight made my day. I do my best to stop my car for these critters to let them cross, and am happy to report that I have not harmed any yet.
Human Steps Toward Habitat Preservation
Each of the creatures described above are important to our ecosystem and the survival of our species. They suffer from reduced habitat, which is often why they are seen more often either close to or inside our homes. This usually happens when a developer is building a new structure nearby. Last year, our property was the area being constructed. Our town works hard to make sure such projects are few and far between. The wild creatures we encounter outside our front door are trying to survive as much as we are and deserve our respect and stewardship. They give us the experience of fun, wonder, and beauty. I encourage growing as many trees around your property as you can fit, keeping bees for pollination, and growing your own food. Variety promotes the survival of all species, and preserving the natural habitat of each of those creatures, among others. keeps everyone safe and more comfortable. It encourages the maintenance of natural ecological boundaries between all the species in the web of life.
Living in Harmony with Nature / Children and Nature
- Children In Nature Collaborative
Inspired by the book "Last Child in the Woods," the Children in Nature Collaborative has worked to connect more children with nature in the 21st century. This website describes the organization's mission and programs.
- Children & Nature Network (C&NN)
A network of families and educators who support one another in giving more children the chance to learn and grow in nature.
- National Environmental Education Foundation | Children and Nature Initiative
An organization that provides resources around activities that facilitate children spending more time in nature for better health and appreciation.
We have seen (and heard) frogs of many sizes and colors around our cohousing village. For over a year, we have had a retention pond where they congregated. They have also been seen on the siding of homes and in gardens. My daughter enjoys catching them with the other boys in our community, and observed that they often pee on the hands of their captors if held too long. This has encouraged her to let them go soon after she has caught them. It is lovely to see them hopping about and hearing them sing to their mates at night. Their low notes seem to be in harmony with the music of the crickets' higher notes, which makes a very effective lullabye, even for adults.
Grasshoppers and crickets are cousins, and they range in color from bright green to dark brown. They have knees that are high and thin wings, and seem to like to take forays through the small opening left by our air conditioner in the bedroom window. I have made a habit of slipping one into a glass with a piece of cardboard so that I can bring it back to its home in my garden. I believe it is a different one each time, for they must crawl into the house by accident and enjoy returning to nature as soon as possible after their detour into unknown territory.
The honeybee is the type of insect that is most abundant around our property. They are a very welcome sight to those who like to grow their own food, plants, or flowers. At least one neighbor in the co-housing community north of us keeps a hive box full of honey bees. They are fascinating to watch and do not sting unless you try to capture or harm them. The honeybees keep busy pollinating, then return home to make sweet honey for their owner.
The darker worms are the best for our soil, especially the red ones. When most of us around here see worms in our dirt, we celebrate. It means that our ongoing efforts at soil enhancement have been effective. Some neighbors keep red worms in their homes to feed their compost to. They make "castings" that fertilize the soil we plant and grow our food in. Each time I see one in my garden, I usually place it in another corner that will lay undisturbed for a while to give it the chance to burrow where it wants to. There is a pretty long one that likes my tomatoes. They will not harm our plants, and will make it possible to have more fresh, home-grown food, directly from the source. Worms help us both by fertilizing our edible plants and by providing bait for catching the fish we like to eat.
Enjoy nature on her terms ~
Filled with fascinating facts and fun activities, this set of books are important guides to take along on your nature walks.
© 2010 Karen Szklany Gault
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