Ghosts in the Night (Mel and Janice, really)

A rustling woke us to beauty

One recent night, quite late, we heard a rustling.

No, not reindeer.

Mel and Janice, two mated Coyote, come to visit.

Coyote come at night most often. We’ve seen one or two during the day and we know there’s too much activity for them to stick around. We had a family of beautiful gray fox years ago that came often during daylight, probably because we made sure there was food available.

We still have fox, although also at night.

Smart Old Ones, they.

The frequency we see of Mel and Janice tells us they either have pups or soon will. It can’t be too soon because it is now winter and few Old Ones litter in the bitter cold. Late Winter, early Spring is best. Little ones have a chance to grow through the summer and prepare for a possible scarce winter ahead.

We are careful not to be our Old Ones primary food source.

Sometimes it is challenging, when you see a weak one, a runt. Our hearts tear but that is Nature’s way of keeping the line clean.

Sometimes I wonder why humanity gave up such practices.

But then I also know I would not have survived. Born blind, I would be too much a burden for a tribe to bear, any other talents I possess may have appeared too late to ameliorate the burden.

A friend once said I was probably the smartest person she knew. I laughed. Her husband is a skilled carpenter. He can go from tree to house given enough time.

“People will always ask Mike for help. He knows how to do things. I’ve never had anyone come to me and say, ‘Joseph, I desperately need this double-differential calculated!’,” I said.

We all laughed.

But outside, the Old Ones dined and kept their ways, too wise for us, their teachings only shared when properly asked.

 

Arabeth and Ophelia

Table for One. And another Table for One.

A while back I wrote about Ophelia and Arabeth.

Well, they’re back at it again.

This time Ophelia came to dine first.

Arabeth, you’ll note, is hesitant.

Which is why we set a separate table for her a little further back.

Good host and hostess, we.

Not peace at all costs, more like peace if it’s an obtainable solution.

But truth is, we’ve never had squabbles in our backyard.

Okay, once when some foolish chipmunk decided to have a go at Agnes’s seeds (hence the Chippie War Dance).

But such things are rare.

If only Two-Legs got along as well.

 

Ophelia and Arabeth

You can eat. But not you. Or you. Or you.

It’s always a delight when friends get together and dine.

Arabeth, one of our more recent foxen, recently graced us by accepting our dinner invitation. She was shortly joined by Ophelia, one of our longtime resident opossum.

It’s wonderful (and wise) that two such different beasties commingle so easily.

You’ll notice Arabeth’s concern isn’t Ophelia, it is us.

Humans, you know…

I’ve lived among them many years. Years longer than an individual fox or opossum could. I still don’t understand them.

Given a full table, given more food than they could comfortable eat, some humans will keep others away, forcefully if need be. They won’t even offer the remains to those who are recognizably hungry.

A table so full you can’t possibly eat it all, so plentiful you have no need to store it, and you won’t share?

No wonder The Old Ones are cautious.

 

Violetta and Chrysanthe

To be young, in love, and eternal…

In the dark of night

As the moon rises

As the birds quiet

When only the owls

are heard discussing

the day’s events,

In the silence that ensues

The Old Ones come

To remind us

They were here before us

And they will be here after

Nothing Ever Dies of Old Age in The Wild

There is no pity in The Wild, only Balance

I’m sitting on my backporch working. When the warmer weather hits, this is where I spend most of my time. I can see the woods behind our house, feel the sun on my bones, watch the bluejays, robins, orioles, cardinals, hummingbirds, nuthatches, morning doves, pigeons, squirrels, chipmunks and other assorted backyard denizens at the birdbaths, feeders and water buckets we leave out for those I call The Old Ones.

I call animals The Old Ones because of my time studying anthropology. All the aboriginal peoples I’ve studied have views of wildlife that differ from those of most modern people and aboriginal views have rubbed off on me. Case in point, I’ve made friends with several generations of raccoons, turkeys, deer, skunks, opossum, woodchucks, beavers, fox and owl over the years. You can see many of them under WildLife.

Even with the animals I’m friendly with, I still know they are wild. Many take food from my hand but none of them are tame, none are domesticated. They are wild.

One of the rules of The Wild is that nothing dies of old age in The Wild. It just doesn’t happen. Animals grow old, grow tired, can’t move as quickly, can’t move as well, get injured, can’t get at whatever seed or bread or foodstuffs they can find and, in the end, even predators become prey.

Sam the Hawk

 
Even in my little backyard, backing up to many woodland acres, I’ve occasionally seen scatterings of feathers where Sam and Aris, our mated hawks, have caught something too slow at the feeders, and seen the remains of chipmunks, voles and mice in Bart the Owl’s pellets.

Bart the Owl

 
Because I work quietly and prefer to listen to the sounds of The Wild (and sometimes Bach) the animals tend to ignore me. Sometimes all those around the feeders and water buckets will jump and flee and I’ll catch site of Reynard’s (a male fox) bushy red tail as he hurries back into deeper cover. I know he and his mate have kits to feed and don’t begrudge him his time hunting in my yard.

But today I noticed a pigeon hopping among the flock that visits our feeders. Definitely hopping, not just oddly walking. I stared and noticed this pigeon had one leg, hence the hop. But there was something else odd.

There was something strange in its tail feathers. It could still fly. It was a little awkward getting airborne, true, but it could still take flight when the others scattered. It was one of the last to leave the ground, though.

I stared then picked up some binoculars I keep beside me on the table. The strange thing in its tail feathers was its other leg. Broken, twisted, how it got pegged in that position I don’t know.

I know animals can feel pain. I’ve read the studies. I know. I also noticed that the male pigeons, the ones perpetually strutting and harassing the females at their seeds, were leaving this one alone. If anything, they knocked it over in their quest to show their plumage to some other female.

This wounded pigeon would flap its wings and get back up. Sometimes that broken leg would get in the way of the wings and the pigeon would open its beak to make a sound I could not hear.

But my ears are not those of Reynard who has kits to feed.

And suddenly the other pigeons scattered, the chipmunks dashed into their holes, the squirrels scurried up their trees, the bluejays and robins and orioles and cardinals and others went to each and every compass point.

And Reynard stopped to look at me, the pigeon in his jaws, its one good leg still kicking, its head still bobbing, its beak still open making sounds I could not hear.

Reynard bowed his head, turned and trotted into the wood. I, transfixed, had stopped breathing but for how long I didn’t know. My chest was tight. I was sickened and relieved and had not moved.

A moment later and the wildlife returned. My breathe relaxed. I turned back to my computer and started to write.


This post originally appeared on the now defunct An Economy of Meaning blog and was reprinted on Discover The Practice.