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.

Sharing Nature

I went fishing today. As soon as I had baited the hook, cast it into the channel off of Sanibel, I got out my throw net to capture some live bait fish.

The entire time I was setting up my fishing position I was ignored by all of the other creatures of this area. However, as soon as the cast net came out I was immediately joined by two white Herons.

I didn’t know if I should take that as a slam of my fishing abilities or endorsement of my throw net prowess. The birds diligently followed me up and down the shore as I cast and retrieved, cast and retrieved, cast and retrieved.

This encouraged me. These were birds who had amazingly sharp vision and beaks that could snatch fish out of the water with blazingly fast speed. They had been superbly crafted by evolution to be successful at this.

Yet, here they were, waiting to benefit from my obvious evolutionary superiority, ability to use tools, innate intelligence, and apparent potential to capture bait fish.

They had seen creatures like myself engage in this activity and share the abundance, generally in the form of bait fish unsuitable in size to be useful.

So I threw the net with renewed enthusiasm, I would share my bounty with these beautiful birds who showed such faith in me. I resolved that I would capture sufficient bait fish to add to my fishing success and feed those who demonstrated unquestioned confidence.

When I finally reached that point wherein my resolve and determination had become frustration and embarrassment, I put down the net, looked at my companions, and tried to convey my most sincere apology for failure.

In one of those moment of intra-species communications, one of those marvelous times where the lack of a common language was in fact a benefit, the herons approached me, cautiously but deliberately.

One stood on my right side and the other on my left.

Each looked to me and then into the water, simultaneously snatching two perfect sized bait fish from the water. I believed for that moment that they were encouraging me to try again, don’t give up, don’t be discouraged.

As I went to pick up the net again, both of the herons let out a cry and flew off.

At that moment I realized what I had been, all along, was in their way!