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For All Who Live Here

April 28, 2019
OutsideBurlington

Our previous house – that’s about all the sun we got.

Between 2000 and 2016, my husband and I lived in a raised ranch style house nestled into a rare 80 x 150 foot treed lot in the west end of a reasonably-sized city in southern Ontario. My gardening efforts were minimal because only full shade loving plants would grow under the branches of the more than seventy trees on the property; even the hostas refused to bloom (although lily of the valley and English ivy did thrive in the space next to the driveway). The land sloped at the back, so the deck off our living and dining rooms was elevated. From there we could observe (and feed!) the animal life that inhabited our “neck of the woods”. We had a couple of dozen squirrels, a family of skunks, and several raccoons (one female brought her young ones around every spring; one summer she arrived with seven kits. She would sit under a maple tree at the back of the yard where she could catch my eyes as I sat on the deck; it was like she was saying, “Well, here we are, where’s the food?” I tossed stale bread, wrinkly grapes, and other “leftovers” to her and her babies; sometimes I even raided the fridge to make sure they didn’t go hungry!)

Two Young Hawks in My Yard

Young Cooper’s Hawks

We also had a wide variety of birds: robins, sparrows, cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, blue jays, flickers, wrens, cedar waxwings, hummingbirds, and a pair of Cooper’s hawks that nested one summer in the giant oak right over our heads; the adults taught the two chicks how to bathe in our bird bath! There seemed to be no end to the entertainment provided by nature in our little slice of paradise.

 

Our4Acres

Our slice of paradise (in the “black box”)

When it came time to retire and move, we knew we wanted a large property in the country with plenty of trees (albeit with SOME sunny spaces for a “flower garden”) and even more opportunities to observe and engage with wildlife. And we found it (see: When Someday Becomes Today).  And while I have a bundle of papers that states we “own” these four acres, I see us more as stewards of the land and forests around our home. For while the house has been occupied for approximately 30 years, the trees and wildlife (mammals, birds, insects) were here long before people moved in (and will hopefully be here long after we’re gone).

Racoon

April 2019

Surprisingly (to me at first) we have fewer squirrels here (or maybe we have the same number, but they’re just spread out more and prefer to stick to the forest, rather than come into the yard), and they know nothing of “people food”. The first time I threw out some stale “Tiny Tom” donuts, I watched as a squirrel picked one up, sniffed it and tossed it aside (whereas something like that would have resulted in a ten-squirrel feeding frenzy in the city). Likewise, the raccoons that meander through the property (again, far fewer – or at least less visible – than in the city) pay no attention to such things; they also leave our garbage alone (clearly there is enough “real” food in the forests for them to not need to bother scavenging for our pathetic leftovers).

TwinDeer

Twin white-tailed deer (one is in the trees); spring 2018

We’ve seen (or heard), at one time or another over the last three years, the following animals (or evidence thereof, in the way of “scat” and “droppings”) on our property: grey squirrels; red squirrels; raccoons; skunk; white tailed deer; red fox; coyote; cotton tail rabbits; spring peeper frogs; various toads (from ones the size of my thumbnail to some the size of my fist); garter snakes; red-tailed hawks; a bald eagle; turkey vultures (we have a family “venue” of around 15 – 20 that roost in our tall pines every night); pileated, red-bellied, hairy and downy woodpeckers; and all manner of songbirds (robins, blue jays, cardinals, nuthatches, sparrows, wrens, juncos, goldfinches, red-winged blackbirds, hummingbirds, rose crested grosbeaks, indigo buntings, and a single Baltimore oriole).

WildTurkeys

Wild turkeys in the driveway, summer 2018

Last summer we had a brood of wild turkeys living in the area that entertained me for over an hour one morning strutting up and down my driveway, the three females calling regularly to the chicks (I counted seven of them); we saw and heard them several more times over the following couple of weeks. Because a good deal of the forest surrounding us is protected (held and managed by the Long Point Regional Conservation Authority), we often hear birds we cannot see and, I suspect, have nighttime visitors wandering through that we neither see nor hear. We also have a wide variety of insects – caterpillars that become butterflies and moths of every size, shape and colour; damsel flies and dragon flies; bees and wasps; flies and mosquitoes (worse last year than the years before due to the high volume of snow and rain we received in the late winter and early spring); and fireflies (that put on such a fantastic show in early July that it looks like the forest is twinkling with a million fairy lights).

PeterRabbit

Peter Rabbit; summer 2018

Each and every one of these creatures is welcome in my yard. I may get somewhat annoyed to find some of my plants “nipped in the bud” (clearly the deer in my area weren’t told they’re not supposed to LIKE lilacs!) or an entire “crop” of sunflower seedlings ravaged overnight by rabbits (one of whom became a favourite last summer; he would visit my wildflower garden every night before dinner and would even lie on the lawn next to the deck beside us. I christened him Peter and started looking forward to watching him nibble away on the fruits of my labours!) but I continually remind myself that they are just animals being animals. Eating plants is what they do, and I am the one who has to “adapt” (which means covering my tiny shrubs over the winter, spraying the new growth with a harmless liquid that apparently tastes horrible, and buying “deer and rabbit resistant” plants whenever possible).

DeforestationIt’s a sad fact that the majority of the planet’s “wild places” have been decimated by a single species that is driven by need and greed. “Forests still cover about 30 percent of the world’s land area, but they are disappearing at an alarming rate. Between 1990 and 2016, the world lost 502,000 square miles (1.3 million square kilometers) of forest, according to the World Bank—an area larger than South Africa. Since humans started cutting down forests, 46% of trees have been felled, according to a 2015 study in the journal Nature. About 17% of the Amazonian rainforest has been destroyed over the past 50 years, and losses recently have been on the rise.”  (Reference: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/deforestation/)

And when it comes to the extinction of species, the news is just as bad. “The rapid loss of species we are seeing today is estimated by experts to be between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate. These experts calculate that between 0.01 and 0.1% of all species will become extinct each year. If the low estimate of the number of species out there is true (i.e. that there are around 2 million different species on our planet) that means between 200 and 2,000 extinctions occur every year. But if the upper estimate of species numbers is true (that there are 100 million different species co-existing with us on our planet), then between 10,000 and 100,000 species are becoming extinct each year.(Reference: http://wwf.panda.org/our_work/biodiversity/biodiversity/) NOTE: if you subscribe to Netflix, I strongly recommend watching the series, “Our Planet”; it provides an (at times disturbing) overview of the state of our planet and the flora and fauna that exist on it, as well as information via a website (https://www.ourplanet.com/en/) on things each of us can do to help save the world we all inhabit. 

For my own part, I’m giving up on my (8,000 square feet) of grassy lawn and planting a more natural environment (grass – which is NOT native to this area but still struggling to exist in clumps here and there – mixed with native “weeds” like speedwell, clover, moss, and creeping thyme), planting more native species in my gardens, foregoing harsh chemicals and fertilizers in favour of organic compounds (and my own compost), and filling the gardens with bird, bee and butterfly friendly plants. I’m planning on adding a pond and two new “victory gardens for bees” next year in the hopes of encouraging even more birds and water-loving creatures to my yard. And of course I’ll also continue to welcome all manner of critters to this space around me, the one where they belong and I am just a visitor passing through on … the other side of 55.

What would the world be, once bereft 
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left, 
O let them be left, wildness and wet; 
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

 ~ Gerard Manley Hopkins ~

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. April 29, 2019 10:30 pm

    Love to hear your wildlife stories!
    I wondered how the estimates of species extinction were arrived at and found this, which is an interesting read:
    https://e360.yale.edu/features/global_extinction_rates_why_do_estimates_vary_so_wildly

    • April 30, 2019 9:33 am

      It’s still frightening thouhgh, isn’t it? The loss of ANY species is a loss to the entire plant. Still, I live with the hope that my granddaughter will get to see many animals in their natural “wild” habitats before they’re ALL gone (or in such low numbers that the only place for them to survive is in zoos!)

  2. April 29, 2019 10:01 am

    Your place sounds like ours (although we have less property than you) – a haven for us humans as well as all of the critters. It truly is the best, isn’t it? And bravo to you for envisioning and creating a more natural landscape!

    • April 29, 2019 12:46 pm

      It’s a little slice of paradise for all of us! I love a more “natural” garden – full of plants that belong here and that thrive without a lot of extra work (not to mention fertilizers, etc. that seep into the water system). I saw my first butterflies yesterday and a lone HUGE dragonfly, so spring is certainly on its way!

  3. Fassel Hussain permalink
    April 28, 2019 2:16 pm

    I love reading your blog. You describe the scene so beautifully that I feel I am right there, enjoying it myself.

    Keep doing what you are, to make it more nature friendly and enjoyable. Wish you all the best.

  4. April 28, 2019 1:37 pm

    your place sounds like heaven. I do not like living where I am. I think I belong someplace like you are describing.

    • April 28, 2019 1:44 pm

      We absolutely love it out here. There is no amount of money (or ANYTHING) that could get me back into a city! Both my husband and I are happier and healthier (no stress, fresh air, lots of “chores” to keep us active and fit!) It’s heaven on earth.

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