I stepped onto the front porch, with the Sunday crossword in one hand, and the day’s first cup of coffee in the other. It was a beautiful morning, just after dawn, my favorite time of day.
I settled in, scanning the “across” and “down” columns of the puzzle to get an idea of what I was dealing with. Then, I took a sip of coffee and dug in. While not in my genetics, I guess you could say I was “environmentally-predisposed” to crosswords because I’ve been doing them since I was a kid, thanks to my mom, an avid “crosswordist” (not a real word, but it should be).
A few minutes into both the puzzle and my coffee, I heard a noise which I can best describe as a “rustling.” At first, I couldn’t identify it or where it was coming from. I continued with my puzzle.
But it returned intermittently: a few seconds of rustling, then silence, over and over. After about 10 minutes, I couldn’t concentrate on the puzzle, completely preoccupied by the origin and nature of this activity. I put down the newspaper and scanned the yard. A couple moments later, I saw a squirrel scurry down the trunk of our maple tree. It was small, just a youngster, about half the size of the squirrels we normally see.
As you can imagine, its path to the ground was anything but direct. It would scamper down, then up. Then, stop and look around. Then, back down. After repeating this routine several times, it finally reached its destination: the ground.
But the rustling continued, and finally, I realized it was coming from up the branches of the tree.
As my first little friend momentarily stood still (I consider squirrels my friends because I share some of the same traits -- again, maybe not genetic -- that led that little squirrel to get from up in the tree to the ground), I noticed something that led me to the source of the rustling. My little friend wasn’t alone, he too, had friends, or as I came to speculate, siblings.
Soon, a second squirrel appeared, beating a similar quick-yet-inefficient path to the ground. Then, another. Then, two more. In all, five little squirrels made their way out of that tree, and now, they were all running around frantically (or so it seemed to this human), playing, tussling, falling over one another, running back up the tree, back to the ground and so on.
It was as if they all got up too early on a weekend morning and their parents told them to go out and play so they could sleep in a little longer. For a few minutes (which, like a squirrel, generally encompasses my entire attention span), I watched them run around, roll around and look around like only squirrels can, completely entertained by the spectacle of it … and of Nature.
The show, however, was short-lived. After a few minutes of chaotic fun in our yard, the ringleader decided it was time to move on and head for the neighbor’s house across the street., where another lone maple tree stood waiting.
Using the same “stop, start, look around, two-steps-forward-one-step back” strategy for which squirrels (and some humans) are known, they all followed suit, safely making it across our quiet street to the next tree and more family fun. Suddenly, everything was quiet again, and I went back to my crossword, and eventually, just like those squirrels, moved on to the next activity, and the one after that, and so on.
Fast forward to Sunday afternoon. Joan and I were in the backyard when I noticed something next door. It was a fawn occupying our neighbor's lawn. Silently, I signaled to Joan and for 10 minutes, we watched it do virtually nothing but lie in the grass, the polar opposite of the activity I’d seen in our front yard earlier in the day.
It was peaceful and innocent, and just another example of how “cool” Nature can be. Slowly and quietly, I got as close as I could without frightening it, just to get a better look. It was beautiful.
Given where we live and the fact that ongoing residential and commercial development has greatly reduced open spaces – their habitat – it’s commonplace for us to see deer, turkeys, cranes (the bird kind) and many other types of animals in our community, some we never saw until recently.
And often, we curse these animals for intruding on or destroying our property. But when they’re that close, so close you feel like you could touch them (or in my case with the squirrels, join them in their chaotic play), it’s different. And it’s special.
And, for me anyway, it’s a bit sad. It’s sad because these animals don’t have the same open spaces they used to. And it’s human nature, often, for us to see them as interlopers, invaders of our yards, gardens and other spaces we now occupy.
We curse the rabbits for eating our lettuce plants and the deer that eating whatever they can. We have salty, colorful language for the squirrels who raid our bird feeders. And many of us have hit – or nearly hit – deer, turkeys or other animals while driving. So, it’s easy to see them as a collective nuisance. I get it.
Thing is, they’re just doing what they do, working with what they have – or what’s been left to them – to try to survive and thrive. And whether we like it or not, they’re adapting to all of it based on how much, and how quickly, things in their world (a.k.a., Nature) are changing.
Because that is the “nature” of Nature; adaptation and doing what is necessary to keep the world in balance and thriving. Sunday, I enjoyed watching Nature in action, seeing two species do what they do, albeit under different circumstances than 100, 50 or even 10 years ago. And it made me think what we could accomplish, and how we could contribute so much more to Nature, if we could adapt as well as they do.
© 2021 David R. Haznaw