E. B. White is a hero of mine. I love his writing, sure, but he did what few people manage to do, and lived to tell about it: he left the city behind for a salt water farm the country. I’ve lived my entire life in or near big cities and the older I get the more I want to escape the city for the country. It seems about as likely as setting foot on the moon. Instead, I do the next best thing: I make do with what I’ve got.
We moved into our new house six months ago today. The house backs up to a large park, a good portion of which is woodland. Over the last six months, as I take my daily walks around the park, I’ve been keeping my eyes open, and my Field Notes notebook at the ready, slowly cataloging the wildlife I’ve encountered. I may not live on a salt water farm with pigs and sheep and cows and chickens and geese and fox and raccoons. But here’s what I’ve found in my neck of the woods, so to speak:
- 7 deer. There used to be five, and I’ve noticed two of them are smaller than the others, one of them spotted like Bambi. There is at least one buck among them. I’ve identified a few of their favorite haunts. On summer evenings, when the sun is low, they particularly like what passes for a “pasture” beside the sub-station on the east end of the park. But I have also seen them by the playground, hopping a fence in precession to nibble at grass in a backyard.
- 6 ducks. A morning walk doesn’t feel right if I don’t see my ducks paddling in the stream. I call them my ducks, but they hardly notice me. Today I noticed that only four of them were out, but it was late and I suspect the younger ones were home, keeping warm. These are smaller ducks than some. At another park, I’ve seen some huge ducks, which I described to a friend as looking “delicious.” I usually encounter my ducks in the stream alongside the ballfields.
- Rabbits. It seems Bugs and his friends are everywhere during the summer, not just in the woods, but in our lawn, the neighbors lawns, and across the street, too. Now that it is cold, and the trees are bare, they haven’t been around, and I forgot about them, until one ran across my path in the park this evening. It was nearly dark, but its white tail stood out clearly as it bounded across the path.
- Squirrels. These are everywhere. You can’t look at a tree or into the shrubs without seeing squirrels. There are two varieties, I think: a typically gray one, and one that looks almost black. They frequently chase each other around, and I can never tell if it is a mating ritual, or if they are playing, or fighting. Incidentally, I refer to all squirrels by their given name, Max. My grandfather fed nuts to several generations of squirrels and called them all Max. Max would come into my Grandfather’s house to get the nuts, and occasionally eat out of his hand. I think they taught this to their young. Squirrels typically live 15-18 years, but it seems to me my Grandfather was feeding them for twice that time.
- Chipmunks. Not as numerous as squirrels–and much better looking, if you ask me. They seem like they’d make great pets when I watch them scamper around the park. But I could never have a chipmunk as a pet–I couldn’t get used to their high-pitched singing.
- Fish. On bright days when the stream is calm and clear, there are fish in there. Many of them are very tiny, almost hard to see, but quite a few of them are several inches–I’ve estimated as much as 6-inches long. I jotted down a description of one and then proceeded to find a match, and what I came up with was a sunfish. They must hibernate because I haven’t seen any since the weather turned cold.
- Fox. Singular. A week or two ago I was walking through part of the part in which a frisbee golf course is set into the woods and watched in amazement as a red fox ran down the long hill, across the bike path about fifty yards in front of me, and back into the woods that lead down to the stream. It is the only fox I have ever seen, and the only time I’ve ever seen it.
- Snakes. Two of them. I noticed the first one day while looking for fish. At first, it looked like a stick was making its way upstream–against the current. Then it paused by the bank of the stream, its head soaking in the sun. I suspect it had seen some prey and was waiting to make its move. The second one I noticed when the jogger who was about to pass me stopped suddenly. I wondered when, and when I turned to her, she pointed ahead and said, “Suh-suh-snake!” Sure enough, about ten feet ahead on the bike path, a two-foot long snake slithered across the pavement and into the grass. I had walked closer to get a better look. When it disappeared, I turned to the jogger and said, “Coast is clear!” She gave me a wan smile, looked at her FitBit, and replied, “I think I’ve gone far enough today.” She turned and headed back the way she came.
There are all manner of birds, but I am about as bad at identifying birds as I am good at identifying airplanes. I am envious of people who can identify a bird by their call, though I secretly believe they are making it up half the time. I’m quite certain there are two birds I have seen, and one that I have heard. I’ve seen cardinals and robins. And I’ve heard woodpeckers. Usually on a weekend morning. Around six a.m.
And aside from the usual cadre of insects, I’ve seen one, and only one, enormous June bug that crashed into our screen door, while I saw out on the deck one summer evening. It is the 747 of the insect world.
No, no salt water farm, but it’ll have to do for now. We get some variety for a few weeks each year when we head down to Florida. The birds there are more exotic, and there are lizards everywhere. And occasionally, we catch sight of an alligator, although more often than not, we hear the alligator as it crunches the bones of some poor bird in the middle of the night.