WALKS IN THE WOODS PART FIVE
We have occasionally tangentially referred to the fact that back in the ‘80s, our yard was literally crawling with wildlife. We have no backyard - there is perhaps a 5-foot strip of earth that separates the back of our home from a series of wooded ravines that are home to an amazing quantity and variety of animals. When abundant food is made available, they will flock to it, and we have virtual albums filled with memories of that time.
It began in the early ‘80s - at the time I was temporarily unemployed, and had decided to mow the lawn on this particular day. Our utility shed is located on the side of the ravine, and it was necessary for me to go 12' down the hill to retrieve or stow the ‘mower. As I returned up the hill from putting the ‘mower away, my foot caught in a small depression and I fell, twisting my left ankle as I toppled forward. I may have lost consciousness for a few moments, but when I surfaced through a haze of pain, I witnessed, as if by a miracle, a large flock of perhaps 40 sparrows foraging in the middle of the lawn, paying me no attention whatsoever. It was a vision that took my breath away, simply because I had never before experienced such an occurrence so close at hand. The plain little birds completely ignored me and I was privileged to witness them as they conducted the important business of winnowing the mown grass for tidbits and occasionally squabbling with one another, hopping up and down and chirping excitedly.
I lay where I was, stretched flat upon the ground, ankle throbbing, waiting for the pain to recede, watching, until a passing car startled the flock. A chorus of cheeping ensued as the sparrows fled to a neighboring roof, paused, then once again took flight, disappearing for good. Still slightly mazed from having watched the prolonged and marvelous tableau, I managed to stand and hobble into the house. I lay down and thought, "Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that were a common occurrence?"
Many peanuts and 25-lb. bags of sunflower seeds later, dream became reality. We began to keep a life list and recorded 56 varieties of feathered visitors, and every species of small (and sometimes large) animal that inhabits a woodland eventually made its way into our welcoming yard.
One of the most memorable scenes that we were privileged to have witnessed is a little tale we like to refer to as
THE CAT WHO WOULD STALK A DEER
Among the many visitors to our little (and we do mean little, the lot is about 30' across and 90' deep) yard were a doe and her two fawns. They came, we supposed, for the millet and sunflower seeds, although we had always thought of deer as eaters of vegetation and bark. They would frequently come in the early dusk, when the neighborhood had quieted from the bustle of the day. We stepped out the door one late summer evening to enjoy the cooling air and saw the trio, noses buried in the pile of seed. We stood motionless as they glanced in our direction, their legs flexing in preparation for flight. Deciding that we were no threat, they returned to the seed as we eased very slowly down onto our steps. We sat watching as the deer devoured the seed.
From the corners of our eyes, we witnessed one of the numerous neighborhood cats, Blackie, little more than a kitten, creeping into the yard, eyes glued to the deer. It stalked forward, low to the ground, carefully and slowly stretching out each front leg and easing its body along behind. We watched, amazed that this small feline apparently believed itself to be capable of taking down one of the large creatures.
The doe finally took notice of this and she and the fawns raised their black muzzles, comically coated with pale millet seeds. They watched Blackie as he began to flank them, hoping, perhaps, to leap upon one of them from behind. Slowly their heads rotated as the cat maneuvered into position and then crept gingerly forward.
The doe waited, watchful, until the cat was perhaps two feet from her. Then, almost carelessly, she stretched out her hind leg and flicked her hoof in the direction of the cat, not quite connecting with its nose. The cat looked shocked, taken aback at the irreverence with which it had been treated, and, as the doe watched it, slunk slowly away, glancing back over its shoulder to make sure the deer weren’t about to follow it. The deer placidly returned to their meal and the cat presumably went in search of something smaller and easier to stalk. The cervines eventually devoured whatever seed there was, raised their heads and considered us for some moments, then ghosted into the woods, quickly disappearing down the hill and into the heavier growth. It was a most satisfactory experience.