Tag Archives: animals

Who’s That Nut-Nut-Nut-ing at My Door?

I like to think that I can communicate with non-human animals. I don’t eat them, and maybe that gives me an edge, since they can smell it on us. Or, maybe I am just open to other creatures, so it happens. Yes, I have opposable thumbs – big deal – I don’t think that is the only meaningful attribute in the universe.

Many years ago, we were living in Allentown, Pa., in the upper two floors of an old Victorian twin. The house sat at the top of a big hill with amazing views west, a precarious and exciting spot for watching thunderstorms roll in. The yard swept steeply downhill and, because of its pitch, stayed as a rather wild area. There were many small animals that made their homes on that hillside. I watched their daily patterns as they grazed about in the late afternoon: rabbits, squirrels, woodchucks, chipmunks and birds. There were times when I witnessed bunnies playing leapfrog in the grass, just as frolic-y and fun-loving as squirrels. I would sometimes sit in the yard and watch them as if it were a scheduled performance, one I would have gladly paid to see.

So on one of those occasions, as I was sitting in the grass, the entire community of small mammals showed up simultaneously, whereas usually their timing was as separate acts, with a bit of overlap. My partner was coming up the path alongside the house, and stopped. It was like a Disney moment, with me and these other wild creatures all going about our business in perfect harmony. A peaceable kingdom, indeed. The bunnies were perhaps a couple of feet away from me, and the whole cast of characters surrounded me, as if I were a tree in their landscape. I talked softly to them. This went on for minutes and we shared a moment. Arslocii.

Disney moment

I have always talked to animals; at a zoo, where a pacing wild cat would suddenly start purring and pressing its flank against the bars; to squirrels, many times admonishing them to stay out of harm’s way. In March, I was working in my community garden plot and was visited by a robin who, of course, was excited by the digging. I started talking to this robin, and when a huge worm would surface I would toss it over to Robin (let’s call him/her that). Every day after that, Robin would show up and serenade me, or call to me from a tree; then, upon hearing my voice, would hop over to greet me. My partner was digging in the plot one day and Robin showed up. After hearing the wrong voice, Robin flew away.

I am an appreciator of squirrels, despite the fact that so many people see them as pests. We have a small courtyard that is an oasis, if not an animal refuge, in a hard-surfaced city neighborhood. Squirrels come into our courtyard every day, sometimes to bury things, since we have one of the few breaks in the pervasive cement. One squirrel likes to eat the samaras on our paperbark maple tree. I don’t mind as long as the smaller branches don’t break, although they often do. To ameliorate the damage, I started setting out small fistfuls of peanuts in the shell. Since there is more than one squirrel, I am learning a lot about their differences. There is a huge chubby one that sits in the pile and scarfs down the nuts, scattering empty, broken shells every which way. There is a slimmer one who systematically buries all the nuts, maybe eating one or two, but leaving no trace that there ever were peanuts.

tail

I don’t put out nuts every day, maybe every few days. They all get taken, but I can tell who got them by what is left or not left behind. I have witnessed, lately, that if the fat guy got the nuts, the thin guy gets angry and kind of acts out, running around the courtyard and digging up some of the stored booty. I have talked to this particular squirrel and explained that there is more to come, just be patient.

Yesterday, the overfed one’s thievery must have happened again because the thin squirrel was excavating previously stashed nuts. And, surprisingly, a few shells were left on my steps. But the peculiar thing was that, sitting in an empty plant tray on a low wall, there was a single peanut still in its shell and with telltale dirt marks from its burial. Mind you, I always pile the nuts far from the stairs and door, to give a sense of safety to the hungry diner. Was this squirrel telling me something, making an offering, or asking for more? This had never happened before. It was a sign.

1st sign

This morning, while I am sitting at the kitchen table next to the partially open window that separates the kitchen from the courtyard, I hear a strange chirping sound. It is unfamiliar but insistent. I look out – and there is the thin squirrel looking straight at me through the door, and the chirping is emanating from the squirrel. It is a request, I understand. More nuts, please, sir. (And, so, more nuts were given.)

An interspecies communication, a breaking down of barriers, a placeness. It is a wonderful thing. And right in my own backyard.

offering

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Near and Fur

There is an attitude among some that animals belong outside, not in. There was a time when human animals dwelled outside along with the fur-covered ones. Wild animals started joining humanoids around the fire for warmth and shared food and, likely, companionship. In present-day terms there are seemingly more animals living indoors than there are out. (And, come to think of it, there are now the homeless people who live on city streets and under and around no-man’s-land leftovers created by roadway ramps. In some bizarre through-the-looking-glass sense, the homeless and domesticated animals have traded places. And, too, we have created a new category – of homeless animals. It always surprises that we are the ones making the decisions for all of nature.)

So, the question begs: Should animals of the furry variety live in with us? “Yes” is the answer. Having enjoyed the company of all sorts of nonhuman animals – from chameleons, birds, turtles, mice and hamsters to cats and dogs (a delineation of species or size rather than one of favoritism) – my sense is that other creatures complete us. They are our evolutionary link; since we have removed ourselves largely from their milieu and, at the same time, have destroyed their native habitats, it seems only fitting that we should invite them in to dine with us, even sleep with us. In my experience, other species help us to feel more human, in the sense of finding our place, not in the sense of feeling superior. They are sentient beings who connect us to the real and wild parts of our makeup, which we have deliberately chosen to ignore or suppress, real and wild not being synonymous with uncivilized.

Living with other animals, whether four-leggeds or not, isn’t always easy: there are the bodily fluids; the flying fur, as well as the tumbleweed variety, and dander – an issue for many; the possible incursion of fleas and ticks (perhaps a tradeoff for other pest-control management); food and utensil differences (maybe not for every household); walking and/or litter-box tending; allowable permissions and training for household behavior; grooming; health check-ups; and dreaded disease processes, and eventual death. Except for the fur, all easily apply to humans as well.

If you allow it, the place that other species make is in your heart, first. Even some of the most stand-offish people can be opened up by a smiling tail-wag or a purring cuddle, an eye-blink kiss or a nuzzle. Just as Ms. Dickinson observed that hope has feathers, it can have fur as well, since the resilience and adaptive natures of nonhumans keep them solidly in the moment. There are voids left when those interactions disappear from our lives with them. There is something in them that reminds us of us, like a mirror, but in a smaller body covered in hair. And they are the third element of hearth and home. They fill out the empty spaces by finding their spots – sometimes in your path, other times in lovely corners you had never really noticed. They are adaptive even if you aren’t, they can teach you to slow down and just be. Humans seem to have lost the ability to simply exist, and to not worry about what it means, or who might not approve, or whether it is in any way productive. The relationship between human and non- is one of mutual learning and understanding. The furry ones find their place with us and we with them, we envy their superior senses of sight, sound, smell and who knows what else. They envy our opposable thumbs, which enable us to open cans, and our ability to light warming fires. As inequitable an arrangement as that may sound, it is a win-win.

Given their druthers, would other species of animals rather be with us than not? You would have to ask one of them. Once ensconced, they appear to enjoy themselves thoroughly. And so do we. They make a place a home, a home a place. As remarkable as they are in so many respects, finding their place seems to come naturally, and their sense of place is contagious – infectious, really. They can symbolize home and they are at home, curled up and warm and content.

 

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