What a strange little summer it's been.
Our days have been consumed by a project: Boyfriend has been writing a book and I've been shooting and editing photos for it.
But our nights have been punctuated with an unusual level of wildlife visitation around our suburban house, and not just with the dove trapping.
It started one night while I was lying on the floor of our Opium Den watching Harlequin the Great Black Huntress eat from a bowl of cat food we keep inside for her.
I was ... oh. Yes, we call our den the Opium Den because we've cultivated a sort of dark, decadent feel in there - it's the place where all great parties end when it's down to the last few guests. And yes, our kitties like us to watch them eat. But that's not the story here.
I was lying there watching Harlequin eat when I rolled over, casually glanced out the sliding glass door and saw a giant rat tail hovering above the door mat. Read more...
No, we don't normally keep hovering rat tails on our deck. That's the point. This was not normal.
I used to raise pet rats, and I knew if this were attached to a rat, it would be an awfully big one. Curious, I scooted over a few inches to see what the tail was attached to, and there I saw an opossum, contentedly drinking from the water bowl we leave out for Harlequin.
She ... I think it was a she. If possums are anything like rats, you know right quick with one look at the backside if they're boys. Anyway, her coat didn't look great - the hair was a bit sparse over her rump. But she seemed grateful for the water, and probably grateful not to be a vaguely three-dimensional grease spot on the road, so I didn't disturb her.
When she was done, she turned back toward the glass door, just inches from my face, sniffed a bit, and trotted off.
We've caught her visiting the water bowl at least twice since then, and we watch like little kids, happy for the chance to see an animal we normally see only when it's been hit by a car.
She's not the only visitor we've had, either. Twice in July I looked out our back door around sunset to see the most adorable little skunk waddling across the grass, looking for little grubs as it wiggled its way toward the back fence.
We later found out that a mama skunk had given birth in the neighbor's garage, and subsequently died there, so we had a lot of unguided juveniles in the area. (And yes, the neighbor had quite a smelly mess to clean up.)
Just the other day, I saw Skunkbaby again. I'd been up late, editing photos the day before our deadline to get everything to the publisher, and I happened to go into the Opium Den in time to see a black, fluffy tail outside the glass. Possum-girl isn't the only one who likes Harlequin's water apparently. Guess this explains why we've had to fill the water bowl much more often this summer.
Now, I know skunks and possums are two of the most disdained wild critters out there, but I actually enjoy getting the chance to see them just the other side of a big hunk of glass.
That said, I am a little perplexed about why we might be seeing them so much this summer. Obviously, the water bowl is an oasis for all outdoor animals. But in the six years we've lived here, this has been the wettest year, with rain coming through June. You'd think the water would've been a bigger draw long before this year.
One thing I can say for sure is that this summer, more than any other in my life, I have been exploring our (humans') relationship with animals, plants and the planet, doing lots of interesting reading, and never have I felt a stronger kinship with animals.
The dove banding project has accentuated it.
I've handled 16 doves, some repeatedly, because they're quick to forget the trauma of banding and they'll go right back into that trap the very next day.
I've rescued a trapped blue jay, who promptly rewarded me by clamping hard on the flesh between my thumb and index finger. Ouch! Wow, very different from doves. As my uncle Ken said, "Blue jays are not pacifists." (Makes me respect Harlequin all the more when she's able to nail one.)
And, speaking of cats, I've disappointed more than a few of them by scaring my doves away (I know - "my doves," like I own them) when the cats put a stalk on the doves. It's actually pretty funny - I'll fling open a window or door and shout, "Fly away! Fly away!" and the doves will say, "Huh? What? Oh shit!" then take off, and the cats will look at me with contempt.
Sorry cats, but one, I'm not banding the doves just to have them get eaten by cats, and two, I feel responsible for the doves, because I'm putting out enormous piles of seed that they can't resist.
On the whole, I guess I feel grateful and privileged to be developing a more well-rounded relationship with wild animals. Not just eating them without having a clue what they looked like alive, like most First World people. Not just hunting them and only handling their bodies when they're bloodstained and lifeless. But actually getting to know them a bit more.
And I like it.
© Holly A. Heyser 2010
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
What a strange little summer it's been.
Posted at 8:15 PM