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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Adventures in Zoology: A Wildlife Observation of the Simon Property

When you live on a farm, you expect to be surrounded by animals. When you live in a remote mountainside cabin, you expect to be surrounded by animals. When you live on a large tropical estate, you expect to be surrounded by animals. When you live on a third of an acre in a populated eastern Pennsylvanian suburban development, you expect to be surrounded by shrubs and nosy neighbors.

Not us.

How we ended up somewhere between a Hitchcock movie and Snow White’s fairyland forest is beyond me, but our little piece of the pie must break some kind of record for wild fauna per square foot. We have an entire woodland ecosystem coexisting in our fifteen trees lining the edge of our backyard. This is the story of what lies behind the sliding glass patio door that serves as a portal into this strange, unexpected world.

1. The Squirrels

It could have been cute.  We actually have frolicking squirrels. They don’t run, they don’t work, they actually frolic. One of these days they WILL burst into song and my poor tortured cat will be even more frantic locked behind the glass door as they taunt her from the safety of our yard.

I remember one day in spring when a handful of young ones darted past the window. Then another. Then this terrifying flood of squirrel nation tore by, frolicking gaily with their little evil squirrel grins because somehow they know we don’t have a BB gun and we wouldn’t have the guts to use it if we did.

Even on Christmas day with temperatures hovering in the 30’s and 40’s we watched them parade around the patio, daring us to protest their presence. Daring us to face them like men. Of course, we cowered behind the glass as usual. My father seemed to think squirrels were supposed to hibernate. Not our squirrels. They never rest. Score one for Hitchcock.

2. The Groundhog

This is not your neighborhood groundhog. This is a suburban walrus. I still remember the day it first waddled up to the infamous sliding glass door, taking its turn at approaching the entrance to the human world. I don’t know what it was trying to do, or where it was trying to go, or why it chose our door of all places, but my first instinct was to marvel at the otter. I took some pictures, my cat went nuts, and yes, I thought about rabies. But then again, for four years I’ve lived with a door that attracts everything from frogs to stray cats to snakes to yes, squirrel hordes, so having strange animals hovering around outside is par for the course.

Upon later reflection, my superior reasoning skills determined it was probably not an otter. Or a beaver (my second choice). I also ruled out land-dwelling manatee and trunkless elephant. To be fair, I’d forgotten about the existence of groundhogs. When I remembered, groundhog seemed more responsible. Thirty pounds of groundhog.

I’ve since discovered its home by our neighbor’s fence. It does kind of resemble a beached sea creature when it lounges in the sun. Lazy thing. Snow White would have no use for it. Score two for Hitchcock.

3. The Fox

As if it’s not strange enough to have a fox roaming around your small yard, ours only has three legs. I’m sure there’s a story there. I’m sure I don’t care.

Have you ever heard a fox bark? We were terrified the first time we heard a blood-curdling screaming child in our driveway. We sped to the window only to see this scraggly rat of a thing chatting with the neighbor’s dogs. It was not the sleek, fuzzy animal you’ve seen in cartoons and on National Geographic. It was more of large matted cat. With a pointy nose and three legs. It’s hard to imagine it seducing another animal into conforming to its will a la the classic fables. (Except maybe out of pity.)

I can’t see Hitchcock doing much with such an unappetizing, pathetic villain. I can’t see Snow White including it in her circle of dancing forest friends. No, the fox is just another of the woodland abnormalities unique to our yard.

Listed above are just a few of the highlights of what you can expect from our small urban wonderland. We also have deer, snakes, birds of every variety, chipmunks, a mole, a frog, and a giant toad. And all of these (except the mole) have been observed from behind the sliding glass door. I hate to imagine what we’d find if we actually lived in the woods.

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