Growing up in a suburban neighborhood about 10 miles west of the city, the resident four legged creatures we encountered were typically of the dog, cat and squirrel variety. An exception was the day the neighborhood telephone chain warned of a skunk with a Styrofoam cup from the neighbor’s garage stuck on his nose, blindly wandering up the street as we were scheduled to walk to school. The raccoons that later nested in our chimney, whose babies tumbled down the roof outside my sister’s bedroom window at night offered only slightly more entertainment.
Other than that occasional skunk or raccoon, my first experience with less domesticated creatures occurred soon after we moved to our current house. Up a small drumlin a few miles down the road from here, perches a working farm and nature sanctuary that includes a walking path leading to a place called Turkey Hill. Early in our tenure, my husband and I drove up to investigate and as we arrived, I mused: “I wonder why they call it Turkey Hill?” Exactly then, the first two wild turkeys either of us had ever seen strolled in front of our car. Dorothy, we aren’t in suburbia anymore--although, in fact, we are.
Our house backs up to several acres of rock-strewn woodlands owned by our neighbors. The tree line slopes down to a steep precipice, overlooking a swamp area that leaches from our town reservoir--picture three older homes strategically positioned so they can’t see each other, with nothing but Mother Nature for hundreds of yards behind. As development occurs in areas that abut “our” woods though, the animal kingdom's habitat gets closer.
We became used to the flock of turkeys (by the way, they do fly) that began to frequent our yard, but were slightly less comfortable with the large coyote that trotted purposefully up the snow packed street as we shoveled in the predawn light one winter morning. The deer my daughter and I witnessed galloping up the road at midday during an April vacation (Whose dog is that Megs? It’s not a dog mom, it’s a deer) was unexpected though. Even more so, was the one that that stepped daintily down our backyard to gaze inside our family room picture window, locking eyes with me as I held my breath before she wandered off to nibble the Forsythia.
Once, just before my husband was to leave for work, my daughter and I heard noises in the open garage. Remembering the skunk from my childhood, I wasn’t about to explore. My husband carefully approached what we assumed to be a neighborhood cat that had tucked itself up into the dark lower shelf of his work bench. As I gazed from the doorway he grabbed a long handled broom, adopted a fencer’s stance and jokingly called “En Garde.” As he prodded, the fur ball in the corner chose to exit the area and we gasped as a grey fox high tailed it out of our garage.
During the day, our yard belongs to us, but at night we think twice before stepping beyond the patio. More than once I have looked out of our first floor bedroom to see an Opossum walking right below me. A fisher has recently taken up residence; we’ve witnessed it at dusk, jumping from stone to stone on the rock wall dividing our yard from our neighbor’s. We hear life and sadly, many deaths around us at nighttime, becoming so used unidentified noises that last week, when a rasping, yipping and barking woke us we murmured to each other, “That’s a new sound” and rolled back to sleep. A few days later our neighbor reported that it was a mama fox and her cubs, living between our homes.
Nature is certainly all around us, and until the other day I didn’t think there was much more that could surprise me with regard to wildlife in our area. That afternoon though, I was walking with a friend a few miles away, down a twisting portion of road that travels between weathered Victorians and sea marsh. Engrossed in conversation, we didn’t notice the short sleeved man walking toward us, until, as out of context as a dream, we realized he had a green and yellow parrot perched on his shoulder. “Another time in life I wish that I had my camera,” I laughed. The man’s blasé glance clearly said: “There is nothing out of the ordinary about this,” which made more sense once he explained that his parrot, whose name is Shakespeare, is 25 years old and “sometimes flies off to chase the crows but always comes back.” Smiling, we kept on going, admiring the snowy egrets and blue herons we saw along the way. Heretofore they have always fascinated me, but that day they paled somewhat as I thought, “Seventeen years of getting used to wild creatures in the area and who knew our town plays hosts to unfettered exotic birds too?”
I hope we take that route again someday soon, because we forgot to ask the man if Shakespeare talks.