Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Animal house

I just came in after spending a glorious day outside.  It's been uncommonly cool and breezy here in Toledo, so I started the day with a bike ride to Wildwood Park where I met my friend, Melissa, for a nice long walk in the woods.  What a joy to see a yearling male deer frolicking near a dirt path and a squat little squirrel trying to find his way off of the boardwalk without drowning in the Ottawa River that's much higher thanks to last weekend's rainfall.  
       One of the best things about living so close to our fabulous Metropark is that I can observe the flora and fauna in all of its wondrous varieties.  All year long, through every season, I hike and bike and walk the trails, watching for all kinds of animals.  From wily raccoons to slow and steady possums, from red-throated woodpeckers to stunning bluebirds, the park offers a plethora of surprises, and I'm never disappointed.
Then again, I've recently come to realize that I don't need to leave my house to know that my yard is a haven for a host of wildlife...and a few surprises, too.
Yesterday morning while preparing for yoga class, I noticed my cats were sitting in the front window, intently watching something on the front porch.  We've had a little passel of robins flying in and out of the yard all season long, so I expected they were being entertained by some early birds.  But no.  There was a tiny baby bunny hopping around my fairy garden, nibbling on maple tree pods and digging through the moss in search of clover.  I was wondering what little creature had made a mess of the "grass" I had planted a few weeks ago and silently blamed it on the neighbor's cat.  Still, I could forgive the little sprite anything as he sat still as a statue, wriggling his whiskers, while my cats eyed him carefully.  I suppose that's what I get when I decide to feed a big, fat rabbit who lives on the north side of my house.  Still, they clear the clover in the backyard, so I figure they're earning their keep while keeping my pets entertained for the better part of the day.
A few hours later, when my yoga students were leaving after class, Sam, the squirrel I wrote about in Channeling St. Francis, brazenly sat waiting outside the front door.  He has no problem begging for food, and is never disappointed by what I provide.  These days he gets a handful of hazelnuts or an apple core.  If he's really lucky I'll smear some almond butter on it before I toss it to him, then chuckle as he smears it all over his face and hands, blissfully high on his favorite treat.  My neighbors, Rick and Karole, feed a brazen, fat squirrel in their yard, too, and I imagine my "Sam" quickly becomes their "Charlie" as soon as he crosses the street.
Over the years my yard has been a haven for cardinals and blue jays, for hummingbirds and bats, and even for a family of raccoons who nested in my chimney until I gently invited them to leave before I had a cap put on the top.  I don't mind at all.  In fact, it's always a wonder and a delight to see which animals will come visiting, especially when I'm out in the garden.  This afternoon while transplanting some herbs, I saw a couple of grackles playing with a squirrel.  Then a black and white cat came to visit for a few moments before making her way back home.  Rhett, the chocolate Lab-Chow mix next door, howled a fond "hello" while I watered and weeded.  Soon there'll be a little nest full of baby cardinals who will chirp and chortle and greet the day with their happy song, waking me up before sunrise so I don't miss a moment of summertime. 
This season I've had the rare pleasure of watching a pair of deer frolicking together at Wildwood.  The girl usually darts after the boy, but then he will turn tail and chase her deeper into the woods.  The fact that I'm standing no more than five feet away from them makes no difference, for they're used to human beings passing through their little animal kingdom in the heart of Toledo, Ohio.  
Then, upon returning home, I'm usually greeted by my own pets who marvel at the never-ending "Bird and Bunny Show" in the backyard.   It seems I truly live in an animal house, one that invites wildlife to enjoy a luminous place to sunbathe near the lemongrass or a shady place beneath the boxwoods where napping is second nature.   A home in which my pets have created their own peaceable kingdom in harmony with not only each other, but with my friends and yoga students who pass in and out each day.  As my friend, Deb, once said, "It's not yoga without a cat or two around."
I'm at my best when I'm gently tending a garden or nurturing animals, so this time of year feeds my soul like no other season.  Spending the day outside in the yard grounds my spirit and always deepens my awareness of the natural world.  What a joy and a wonder to know that as I care for nature, it cares for me as well.  But I'm not the only one.
A few years ago, a woman drove by and stopped me while I was raking leaves in preparation for fall clean-up.  "I just wanted to thank you for your lovely garden," she smiled.  "I work at Toledo Hospital and walk through the neighborhood during my lunch hour.  On particularly hard days I would park my car in front of your house for a while and just enjoy the beauty of your garden and all of the birds and animals that live here."
I thanked her for very kind words, then she teared up a little when she said, "Many times I was able to make it through because I knew I could come here at the end of the day and find some peace."
I nodded gently.  "I know exactly what you mean."