It was snowing hard, and the birds seemed happy, busy around the feeder. Flocks of chickadees and goldfinches, juncos and nuthatches shot in and out, perching for a few seconds on the shepherd’s hook that holds their feeder, or on a ski pole sticking out of the snow pile, or on a branch of the old Christmas tree. When they tried to land on the snow pile itself, they slid off.
Sticking the Christmas tree out in the snow pile was a stroke of brilliance, both because it gives the birds shelter and a place to perch, and because it’s so much fun to watch from the window as the tree slowly fills up with birds and then suddenly empties out again. I told my son a Christmas tree looks so good with real birds in it that next year we’ll just put it by the feeder instead of bringing it inside to decorate.
“Hey!” he said. “We can’t do that!”
“We should just plant a little spruce out there,” my husband said.
“Hey!” I said. “That’s my flower garden!”
Where we live, we get to watch the nature show out the window all year. Besides all the little birds, we have flickers and pileated woodpeckers, owls and hawks and even eagles. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve run out of the house to chase a hawk or an eagle, waving my arms and shouting to prevent one from carrying off a hapless chicken. I’ve even been successful, most of the time.
I’ve also chased weasels, and foxes and coyotes. We figure a certain amount of predation is part of sharing our corner of the world with the other animals that live here, sort of like losing a row of beans every now and then to a deer family.
I’m always amazed at how quickly a person can go from, say, eating breakfast or reading the newspaper to tearing through the woods on the tail of some creature with a chicken in its mouth or talons. Then after the chase, I’m always amazed to live in a place with coyotes and eagles as neighbors.
Before we moved into our house, we’d come over some evenings and sit on the front steps to watch the sky. The house had been vacant for a year or so, and the wildlife took advantage of the quiet, and the unmowed yard and overgrown garden. There were rabbits everywhere, and toads — huge toads — as big as two fists put together.
Once we moved in and started making noise and cutting grass and replanting gardens, the rabbits moved out to the woods behind our house. I’m not sure where the huge toads went, but their smaller grandchildren like living in the garden.
The toads are underground this time of year, but the rabbits are out, judging by the tracks in the woods. So are the deer, and the occasional red squirrel.
Out in the woods, on snowshoes or cross country skis, I can see their tracks. I also see signs of woodpeckers, the drilled holes of the downy woodpeckers or the rectangular excavations of the pileateds. Some trees and stumps show signs of other animals — shredded bark and teeth marks left by a porcupine, the slash marks of a black bear, the cone-topped stump left by a beaver felling trees by the water.
It makes me think, as I stand in the falling snow, looking through the trees at the half-frozen lake, how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful place.
It’s been a good winter, a real Northeastern winter, with lots of snow and ice for skating and fishing, snowshoeing and skiing. It’s nice to have these snowy mornings to share with the birds, then take the kids out snowshoeing in the woods, woods that are still filled with wildlife.
It makes me happy to live in this world. And makes me want to fight a little harder to protect it for my kids, and theirs.
Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.
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