05. May 2005 · Comments Off on Wild Kingdom! · Categories: Domestic, General

Although my back yard is tiny, a veritable scrap, a pocket-handkerchief of a back yard, it somehow feels much larger, because it backs on a green-belt. There used to be some scrubby trees growing against the other side of the fence, but the city cleared it all away as a fire hazard some years ago. This somewhat inconvenienced the nesting cardinal pair that came back, year after year, and forced them to locate their subsequent nests first in one of my rose bushes which had briefly attempted to become a tree, and then in the tangle of jasmine vines, and finally up in the photina somewhere. Although the nesting area varied, their feeding habits have not: I hear their distinctive squeaking song all throughout the spring, in the morning and early evening, when the feathered traffic around the hanging bird-feeders is greatest. There really isn’t much out of the ordinary, bird-wise; the usual brown sparrows and wrens, great flashy blue-jays— the glam rock-stars of the backyard-bird world— a mocking bird now and again, and a flock of very fat grey doves.

If I wanted to, and it was legal in a suburb, I could hunt the native doves from the back porch; it would only be easier if they actually walked up to the door and committed seppuku on the mat. As it is, not even Bubba and Parfait, the neighbors’ cats that prefer my garden to their own, are not much interested in hunting the birds. Oh, they make a desultory effort now and again; Parfait crouches in the tall fringe of grass and watches the rabble of doves scouting for the spilled seed on the ground under the feeder, but he has yet to even make a good-faith effort at actually stalking them. Bubba, with primitive feline instincts rising irresistibly to the fore, sometimes makes a short dash into their midst, but he has yet to actually catch any of them. I don’t think he really tries very hard; after all, my yard is their gentlemen’s club, a place of leisure and repose. I think they look on the birds as entertainment; Cat Television, the Bird Channel. Neither one of them is dedicated to hunting, or particularly good at it, not like Nimue, the bad outdoor-cat who frequently stalked, slaughtered and ate the tender parts of the doves, leaving the garden strewn with feathers and half-eaten avian corpses. Nimue did know her limits, though— she did not tangle with Wellie the opossum.

Wellie (short for Wellington; among other things the owner and proprietor of a really impressive nose) the opossum waddled up to the back porch one afternoon, drank deeply from the cat’s water dish, and then took his fill from Nimue’s food dish, all while she observed lazily from a sun-warm place on the rock pathway. Then, he calmly waddled across the porch, underneath the chair that I was sitting in, and into the small corner cupboard— an arm’s reach from where I sat— where he curled up among the garden sprayers, containers of plant food and the long loppers and went to sleep. I was never able to decide if he was either completely fearless or as dumb as a box of rock, or come to any good reason— other than a fearsome collection of needle-sharp teeth and claws— why Nimue was quite tolerant about Wellie calmly appropriating her food dish and personal porch. I suspect cats think of opossums as merely another sort of ugly and mutant cat.

Nimue and Wellie have since moved on, but wild life in the garden is burgeoning: the toads come and go, and the lime-sherbet-green lizards inflating their pink throats on the wisteria branches are always there. A couple of evenings ago, I heard something crunching away at the kibble in the cats’ dish, a tiny kitten-sized thing that skittered away and hid among the potted plants when I opened the door. Not the neighbors’ escaped pet ferret again, not like last year, but a miniature Wellie, an opossum-kit with a white face and black ears. Yesterday it was there again, joined by a second, and a third, who crept cautiously down the lattice, or from between the pots. They crunched nervously, sometimes balancing on the edge of the dish. Two of them fled when a hungry dove landed, and stalked up and down with an indignant flaring of tail-feathers and wings, but the third kit kept possession of the dish. The disgruntled dove hopped away off the porch and the two shyer kits crept out from between the pots again, and ate and ate until they were quite full. I assume they are living on the flat porch roof, under the shelter of the main roof overhang, and come and go by the lattice and the wisteria vines. Bubba and Parfait seem to have as little interest in hunting them as Nimue did with Wellie, even though they are very much smaller; presumably the cat-opossum truce still holds. The man at the pet store says he had a semi-tamed one for a while, and they will eagerly eat slugs and snails, which is a good reason to tolerate them, even aside from the fact that they are rather amusing to watch.

I do wish I had a turtle in the garden, though. I have rescued two from various busy streets, but both times I was too far away from the house to take the time to bring either one of them home. I left them both in green pastures, out of the traffic. But a turtle would be cool… the next one I find in the road is coming straight home (even if it makes me late to work) and joining my wild kingdom.

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