up close

Look at this happy little guy.

No, no, not the child.  The dragonfly.

He has the nicest smile.

Anthropomorphizing animals and insects is one of my favorite pastimes.  It's practically a school subject here. The childs and I can be a bit stalker-ish when it comes to wildlife.  At least wildlife that we do not have to leave the yard to see.

I have no particular need to see exotic species or rare ones, although it is exciting to spot a bear or a wolf while out in the mountains.  I'm more concerned with staying out of the way of the bigger wildlife and minimize our contact. 

The creatures that invite themselves into my realm, well, that is a little different.  Urban scavengers and pests, I just love them so much.

We have frequent visitors to our yard, crows, robins, jays, pigeons and a hawk that enjoys delicious crunchy pigeons.  We have all sorts of beetles and millipedes down by the compost under our stored browns.  Bees in the flowers, wasps that come check out our evening backyard meals, scads of spiders that hang off our lawn chairs and mailbox.  And the furry critters like squirrels, mice and this mama along with her four babies. 

Actually, this could be one of the babies, they've grown so fast and, unsurprisingly, we can't really tell them apart by their markings.  So we'll just call it the skunk that I snapped a quick photo of before it turned and ran at me and I screamed and slammed myself back into the house. 

The thrills never stop.

Into the urban backyard ecosystem is the volunteer plants (we have many, also known as weeds) and even our small attempts at cultivation, like our raspberries (once a couple sprigs, now a dense bush that is waiting for another year to produce that the skunks hide under), our sprawling strawberry field (in it's 12 by 3 foot box) and the carrots we plant to keep the boy happily noshing in the yard for an entire month.  We are a little careless and not so good at keeping things tidy, which works well for the critters who need cover and plants to live.  Every time I fail to clean up the leaves in my flower bed in the fall, I think of the hundreds of ladybugs who are going to have a snug winter under those leaves. 

Add in our two cats, who are starting to explore the outdoors for the first time in their fourteen years and our small family, who can take the time to flirt with skunk encounters and dragonflies.

This is how it should be.

The Man even swapped out the swings on our old play set and added a couple of swinging benches as our family viewing gallery.  The seats creek a bit when they swing, and I think Battle Cat hears them as a beacon to come get his pets, as he comes running for our laps every time we sit down for a (not so) quiet sit.

I would like to learn a bit more about what other bits of yard work I can avoid to encourage urban wildlife to move in.  Though we have a relatively large city lot (big yard, itty bitty house), I don't think we can support any deer but I think we could have a few more butterflies and birds.  And bugs.  We love the bugs.  Maybe a bat or two? 

I consider it a privilege to be able to be this close to wildlife, to observe them throughout their natural lives, to notice their arrivals and departures.  Though I make no special effort to provide them with food and shelter, excepting of the sunflower seeds we put out for the birds, but they are still able to find room in this yard with us and it is gratifying. 

I used to think observing the wildlife in our backyard as a way of reducing complexity, so that the childs could study biology and animal behavior up close and generalize to the rest of the world.  To some extent this is true and helpful in education.  But I'm finding that, as I look closer, the idea that these animals and insects are familiar and simplistic is turning out to be grossly naivet√©. I think I know what a squirrel is, but spending a day trying to get one to come stand in a specific spot so you can take a sneaky picture will teach you that you really don't understand squirrels after all.  Extra hats off to Nancy Rose and her mad squirrel photo skills.

The goal for the next little while, for the childs and I, is to do a bit of documenting of the creatures we find in our yard, when and where.  It will be a bit of formalizing of a project that has been underway for years.  Then we can decide what sort of critters we would like to encourage more of and what adjustments we can make to our little habitat.

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