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Of squabbling squirrels and wily woodpeckers

Quarrelsome squirrels and irritating woodpeckers are just two of the creatures wandering my backyard these summer days. Add to them black bears, attack chipmunks, a lame bobcat and assorted birds, rabbits, mice etc. And that’s not even counting the teeniest tiny things out there. I’ve read there are as many as one billion living bacteria making their home in a teaspoon’s worth of my garden dirt, enabling all those weeds. 

This may come as no surprise to many people here. But I am a city girl, raised on the streets of New York. In the city, our preferred animals were tame and cuddly. All others were referred to zoos or the exterminator. So after several decades here, I still look in wonder at the wild things that show up on my back doorstep every day, seemingly oblivious to the large house I have plopped down in the middle of their ancestral home.

I can’t say that all is peaceful in my animal kingdom. The resident woodpecker wakes us up every morning at about 5 a.m., pecking its beak on the satellite dish to make the loudest possible clatter. Something to do with attracting the ladies maybe? Big beak equals big — you know. My husband tried everything to get rid of this nattering nabob of noise, including shooting at him with a squirt gun. That was fun to watch.

Tom, my husband, also encountered the black bear one bright morning outside our garage. They both reared up to their fullest height. The bear, I guess, decided the man was too much of a problem to deal with, so it shambled away, biding its time until we put up the bird feeder again.   

It’s too obvious to talk about what the deer have done to my garden. Sometimes I see them looking in the kitchen window to see if what I’m eating is better than the day lily buds they’ve been nibbling on.   

But these are small irritants. In the big picture, the wandering animals afford us hours of almost pure pleasure. And priceless moments of peace. 

Like many writers, I am capable of sitting for hours staring off into the distance, dreaming of — what? — I’m never sure. I just know that afterward I am somehow happier. If some issue was bothering me, it magically disappears; the solution to my latest conundrum becomes clear. 

The chatter of the squirrels, the whiz of a hummingbird flying past me to get to the trumpet vine, the resentful chitter of the chipmunk — annoyed at finding me sitting on his chair — all these blend into a small but coherent symphony playing in my head, soothing my brain.   

I say the animals are an almost pure pleasure, but not a complete one. I’m worried about the bobcat. Something is wrong with one of its paws. It was limping around our yard earlier in the summer, but we haven’t seen it in a while. And though its absence may make the rabbits happy, it worries me. I hope it’s OK and has found easier hunting somewhere else.

All these things bear thinking on. How can there be a billion — a billion — living things in a  teaspoon of soil, acting out an endless cycle of life, death and life again? The concept is almost too mind-expanding. And that’s just one teaspoon full. What else is going on out there?

On another front, how can I root for both my wounded bobcat, and the rabbits it would hunt and kill if it could? Whose side am I on, anyway?

So, it seems that the simple life is not so simple after all. I will have to go out to my backyard and watch and listen for a while. I’m sure the answers will come to me.

Marjorie Palmer is a part-time resident of Taconic, where she is a part-time writer.