Brilliant white snowflakes lie at rest from their fall smoothly on the lawn, the shrubs, the driveway, the street. Our complex world view had changed into a vision of pure simplicity. At least that is what I expected to see after a slow but steady drive home. My arrival awoke me from my apparition of a wintry Eden at my much-loved home. Living adjacent to a forest preserve means snowfall is soon more disturbed than a backyard host to snowsuit clad children.
Short research is sufficient to reveal which tracks belong to whom. The Grey Squirrel tracks look like “w”s with sets of prints. The hind paws are actually the front set of prints in this image; the smaller front paws appear in the back of this print (they are a pair but very close together). Squirrels are hoppers so this pattern is typical.
Not too surprising the most delicate prints in my yard were the Sparrow’s tracks. On the ground this bird hops, so the prints are in pairs. Notice the three toes on each foot. I sense a possible story from their movement.
Deer tracks make public the sex of the White Tail that left the prints. The span between strides and the depth of the print in the snow reveal the relative size of the deer. Larger deer produce deep-set prints with a large amount of space between prints. Such prints would represent a buck’s visit. Males range from 50-100 pounds heavier than females along with larger body frames including longer legs. Some of the deer track are older this is event too from their weathered lack of detail. Perhaps they were made when they thought no one was watching.
In this garden everyone is welcome. After all, it’s only “my” garden on a piece of paper filed in some distant office, and when I’m weeding, pruning, planting, watering, mowing, or simply relaxing. The rest of the many hours of each day and night, year long, this space really belongs to dozens, possibly hundreds of two, four, six and eight legged neighbors. This space is bordered by a wall of shrubs silently reminding passersby that they need an invitation by me to enter, if you are human in being. All others are more than welcome to enjoy the pool of water in the “bird” bath as well as munch the seeds in the
feeder or scattered on the ground by other visitors. They may lounge in sun or shade, or nestle among the shrubs and perennials. My request to all whether human or other, is that they allow me to observe.
This “bird” bath the past twenty six years has quenched the thirst and bathed birds, squirrels, chipmunk, raccoons (It is a large sturdy bath for this reason), deer, and cats. And squawk as the birds may when a cat wanders the garden; they seem content in bathing when a furry feline is sleeping in the shade under the bath. The birds do not leave the feeder when deer feed on the ground scattered seeds just under. And our cat would often lounge in the middle of our walk while skunk foraged in our lawn (for grub?!). I was sternly barked at one late afternoon by a doe when I walked outside to take photographs of her. She was not upset with being photographed. She was voicing her dismay of my encroachment of our cat resting in the lawn.
I’ve learned many things the past twenty six years as homeowner with a garden. Many of these lessons have been through an unbiased (as possible) tolerance and observation of my “wild” neighbors that I choose to call friends. All are welcome here.
Clear, uncluttered examinations of ground and the heavens are abundant during the springtime. I am able to easily see the trash that either blew out of garbage trucks or were carried by hungry raccoons, looking for food remnants, into our adjacent forest preserve. This is the time of year that I do my volunteer cleanup, when the view is unobstructed with nature’s bounties. Trees are bare with just minimal green décor. The soil is bare or covered by a low-growing perennial groundcover, in my garden’s case the evergreen pachysandra, grass and occasional violet. So I find it ironic that at this simple time of year is when I feel the most energy when standing outdoors. The cool air and bright sun stirs my imagination of possibilities. This simple setting allows my mind to brainstorm complex goals for life as well as my garden. While I soak in the simplicity it is ironic to me that what I see is far from “simple”. Nature, as I ponder, is busy. Thousands of creatures some rooted and many winged, are stretching and growing and coming out of their winter dormancy. Multifaceted work is happening in this apparently uncomplicated setting.
Consider this passage from “The Art of Setting Stones” by Marc Peter Keane, from the new book “The Armchair Book Of Gardens, A Miscellany” by Jane Billinghurst:
- Gardens heighten nature’s wild language by simplifying it…. We amplify nature’s messages when we build a garden and in turn the garden awakens us with those thoughts. Sitting and reflecting, drawn into the garden and out of ourselves, we find we are aware of familiar things in ways we weren’t before, granted, if only for a brief moment, newborn eyes.
Today’s my annual forest clean-up day. I pick up litter as I ever-so-slowly walk the woodland floor, placing each object in my sturdy contractor bag; too many times I’ve come upon glass and metal debris which would break right through ordinary trash bags. My work at first seems easy but soon I realize the bare forest floor has many layers and I find myself needing to hunt for a bright color or metallic reflections because there are numerous partly buried pieces of trash. I find myself distracted as I observe the layers of slimy wet oak leaves, decaying tree parts, tangled vines, and emerging garlic mustard. Ah, the garlic mustard and buckthorn are the current enemies of this “preserve”. I spend a few moments looking at the floor for signs of an early blooming skunk cabbage or if I’m already too late then perhaps I’ll spot some purple trillium or buttercup. I poke through the leaves to see if any animal life is evident in the small vernal pools just underneath. Perhaps this simple, uncluttered setting of springtime isn’t so simple after all.
Then I raise my eyes and see a squirrel high up in a tree watching me. Can’t help but think he’s sending me a silent “thank you” for my clean-up effort. And once again I find myself noticing the complexity in this simple scene. Too much thinking for this wondrous time of year.