Monday, June 23, 2008

Home: Company that never leaves

Most visitors expect to be entertained by their hosts.

Our company entertains us.

Last Friday morning, I'd just finished watering the garden when a flutter of movement in the nearby pines caught my attention. Instinctively, my eyes tracked a pair of immature brown-headed cowbirds as they flew quickly past me and toward the side of the house.

Suddenly, I heard -- and felt -- the thump of much larger wings. A red-tailed hawk descended from a sycamore, scarcely ten feet from where I stood, and snatched one of the cowbirds out of the air. The hawk landed, pinning its prey to the ground, looked directly at me for an instant, then flew off across the soybean fields, the cowbird protesting all the way.

It was magnificent.

Four feeders help attract our winged company. We're visited by the typical house wrens, chickadees, goldfinches and the like, as well as cardinals, blue jays and flickers, even hummingbirds.

Showtime is after dinner, when my wife and I retire to the front porch. Along with the action at the feeders -- all within feet of our perch on the porch -- we also enjoy watching the life that teems in the fields and woodlands beyond.

Hawks and turkey vultures circle silently overhead. A fox springs and pounces across a field. Whitetail deer emerge at the edge of the woods and disappear again. Raccoons and groundhogs waddle here and there, seemingly where they like. Somewhere distant, a coyote howls.

Among the dozen or so resident cottontails is one we've taken to calling "Crip" -- short for "cripple," owing to a mangled hind leg that sticks out at a right angle to his body. Crip is no charity case -- he's adapted, becoming one of the oldest and most agile rabbits we've seen around. He must be almost two years old now. Crip is a survivor.

Nature isn't obligated to observe property lines and such, so sometimes "wild" becomes "annoyingly close." Twice we've had to evict a bat from our house, and we'd prefer that the groundhogs stop burrowing next to our foundation walls.

All the same, we never object to the rich web of life that drapes over and around us.