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THE FARTHERMOST VIEW

Selected Podpieces

WATCHING WILDLIFE

One day in mid-May, five baby Eastern gray squirrels erupted from a hole in the big white oak in my back yard and took on the not-so-difficult task of entertaining us. All day they scampered, clung, jumped, clambered, scritched, climbed, clawed, bumped, clumped, huddled, and pestered – but they never left the big oak.

 

Meanwhile, Mom Squirrel was busily charging around the nearby trees, breaking off small branches and carrying them back to the hole in the trunk, where – often with great difficulty – she dragged them inside. Was she storing them as snack food? Refurbishing the nest after a couple of months tucked inside with five hairy babies? I don't know.

 

Lower down in the yard, I had put up supplies for the snowbirds that had arrived right on schedule – the Baltimore Orioles and the Ruby-throated hummingbirds. After a few years of only occasional Oriolean visitors, my dish of grape jelly became a social hotspot for them. Numerous males fluttered and flapped around it, taking turns chasing each other away, while one female at a time would swoop in for a tasty snack. Now and then the catbirds arrived to slurp some up, and a curious chickadee tried it too, but I didn't see him come back.

 

Earlier in the month we had an occasional hummer stopping at the sugar water feeder for a quicky shot of energy on their way farther north, but by mid-month our yard was occupied by our summer-long resident hummingbird couple. They tend to take turns at the feeder; almost never do they dine together. One fine day the female hummer zipped over to the suet feeder filled with dog hair from Pippin & Thurber's most recent grooming session. I told her she was at the wrong feeder; but she paid no attention, and tugged about three hairs out of the clump and disappeared into the white pines.

 

It was a first for me! I've seen many a titmouse and chickadee stuff her bill with dog hair until she looked like a blond santa claus and fly clumsily off to line a nest, but the hummingbird was altogether more delicate. Or perhaps three hairs do stuff a hummingbird's bill.

 

In other words, spring came to Orleans. The chipmunks were on the move; the rabbits went at my asters, where they would continue to dine all summer; and the harems of female turkeys disappeared for a few weeks, only to reappear leading trains of little replicas of themselves. There were some less cute babies around – slugs, for instance; and the parasitic Mr. and Mrs. Cowbird helped themselves to meals at the tray feeder. But slugs can be fascinating to watch when they're not eating my lettuce, and the male cowbird has a gorgeous blue-black sheen to his head feathers.

 

One morning I heard Atul Gawande on the radio, talking about talking about death. He said we should make sure our families and friends know what we want at the end of life; to keep our hearts beating at all costs? or to be let go when we can't eat any more? He said his wife wants to be alive as long as she can experience joy, and he himself wants to be alive as long as his brain is working properly.

 

I lay in bed thinking about what I want, and I reached this conclusion: I want to be able to lie in my deathbed watching wild animals as long as there are wild animals to watch. Even if it's a family of slugs making their way happily through my lettuce.

 

 

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