Noticing Things

I grew up in Cumberland, Rhode Island, where we were fortunate enough to have a world of fields and streams and woods to explore to our heart’s content—or when we got hungry, whichever came first.

The streams offered us the chance to catch sun turtles, snakes, crawfish, and frogs. The ones we called Leopard frogs—because of their color, we didn’t know their proper name—were the most difficult to catch. Shaped like an arrow, only the most stealth-like approach allowed you a chance. The slightest movement drawing the frog’s attention, and they shot across the bank in what we saw as prodigious leaps. Or they would dive beneath the green water plants and hide in the mud.

Sometimes, we would work up the courage to reach into the mud, usually on a dare. More often, one of us would point out the myth of poisonous water moccasins—also known as Cottonmouth snakes—lurking just below the surface, waiting to kill us. There were none, but the common water snakes were close enough to make us wary of dying a horrible death on the banks of the stream. 

Plus, we couldn’t be late for dinner.

But the interesting thing is it seems I notice more wildlife here in Cranston—our new home — then I ever did in Cumberland. Back then, we had the usual rabbits, skunks, and squirrels. I don’t recall ever seeing a deer or a raccoon. Now, I see them all the time along the bike path winding through this semi-urban environment.

We even have turkeys wandering in and around the houses on the street.

In Cumberland, there were robins, blackbirds, and sparrows in the woods and the occasional pheasant. We feared the pheasants. They had a habit of waiting until you were right upon them before bursting into flight, the wings thumping like machine-guns as we scattered and ran in the other direction.

The pheasants left as they filled the fields over with more homes, doubling the population of the town. The Cumberland of my memory was a small town where everybody knew everybody. I’m not sure if that is true today.

But in Cranston, the species of birds and wildlife seem limitless.

I put out a bird feeder. It serves as entertainment since I’m not much of a TV watcher. To be honest, we watch a few Netflix or PBS series, but only at night and just for a couple of hours.

I’d rather watch the varied species of birds, looking for the new and unfamiliar. Cardinals, Chickadees, Nuthatches, Blue Jays, Robins, Downy Woodpeckers, Northern Flicker, Pileated woodpecker, Bell’s Vireo, Gold Finch, Common Raven all these and more flit between the trees, the ground, and the feeder, competing for the seed.

I do not discriminate against any creature—feathered or otherwise—gathering seed from the feeder. But I confess to engaging in interspecies schadenfreude, that delicious German term for taking pleasure in someone else’s misfortune. Here, it is watching the squirrels’ frustration, unable to penetrate the brilliant squirrel-resistant (nothing is ever squirrel-proof) design of the bird feeder.

I enjoy watching their gyrations trying to get at the food, then surrendering to defeat. It reduces them to looking up from the ground like common street beggars, gathering the scraps of seeds knocked loose by the birds.

It is these simple things in life that give me the most pleasure.

We also host a resident rabbit family. Two fat adults and at least one small baby. There are likely more babies—these are rabbits after all—but I’ve only seen one at a time.

I go between watching the rabbits and glancing skyward for the many hawks—Red Tail and others. I have mixed feelings about what I might do should one make a dive for the rabbits. It is all part of nature. Who am I to interfere?

I wonder if it is just the stage of life I am at because I now notice these things? Perhaps back then, I didn’t notice the things that surrounded me because I hadn’t learned to see them. Perhaps it’s more a matter of gaining insight into all the world offers that has opened my eyes.

Since you are under “house arrest” anyway, now might be an excellent time to turn off the computer and the TV and watch the actual nature show in your own backyard. You might be surprised what you see.

Stay well.

P.S. For those of you who’ve enjoyed reading my books, stay tuned for some exciting new releases coming this summer. And for those of you who haven’t read my books, what’s keeping you? You’ve got plenty of time on your hands. Click the link and read away.

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3 thoughts on “Noticing Things

  1. Joe, I like your invitation to notice the beauty of nature. I take exception to your trashing Cumberland’s wildlife. Don’t you remember the Norwegian rats along the Blackstone River. Inspiring. Be well in Cranston Joe. Here in Beverly, MA where I live we too watch the wildlife: Possums (which eat up to 5000 ticks per year..who knew?), rabbits, racoons etc. As you say, good to be away from the screen.

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