The world would be a better place if people knew where the creatures around their home lived. This spring a pair of mallards has been paddling in the ditch by my country road. Why they would choose the ditch over the nearby lake or pond is somewhat of a puzzle to me. Are they eccentric vagabonds? Are they introverts, seeking an escape from the hustle and bustle of their comrades? Perhaps the ditch simply provides the shortest and most direct route to my neighbor’s house, where there is a daily buffet of corn and birdseed. Noticing the homes and habits of birds and animals has always given me a special delight.
A few years ago I purchased a pair of binoculars after taking the Spring Field Ornithology program at Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology. When I got home I took a walk in my woods in the late afternoon and, spotting a woodpecker hole high up in a tree, I trained my binoculars on it. To my surprise there was a squirrel curled up in the hole, gazing quietly out into the dusk. I still recall the wonder of that picture – it was a moment of absolute contentment… for both of us. I tiptoed away.
Just the other day I saw a red squirrel dart into the narrow hollow of a tree. Looking carefully it was hard for me to believe that it fit through that small gap, but I could see it in there. How many times have I walked past that tree without imagining the shelter it provided to little animals? It gives me a warm feeling to know that there are safe and dry places for these small creatures… even when the winter scuffling in the wall of my bedroom leads me to believe they are making a home in my home. (We don’t need to talk about how I spent Christmas day this year trapping and carrying half a dozen mice out of my kitchen.)
Walking in the park I spotted a large pile of sawdust next to a rotting tree. The ants were carving a home in the trunk, and an ant (or two or three, all ants look alike to me) was making a continuous round. It would disappear into the trunk and pick up a piece of sawdust in its jaws. Then it appeared in the opening, balanced at the edge and dropped the tiny grain of wood over the side. Back it went to get another grain which it carried to the lip of the opening and dropped onto the pile below. By the time I noticed this activity the pile of sawdust on the ground was about six inches high. Clearly the ants had been doing this a long time. Do you think they were complaining? “Boy, I’ve about had it with this. I am bored to death. Let’s go out for a smoke.” Or can you imagine they were doing this job with pride and dignity, or perhaps something like joy?
Noticing that animals have homes is tremendously reassuring to me. The instinct to nest, and to find shelter, to settle in for a good night’s sleep and to contemplate the events of the day is not limited to humans. We are a part of a larger community, all going about their daily work and returning home at the end of the day. When I have the privilege of looking in the windows of some of these homes I am filled with a quiet satisfaction and contentment. I can’t help but believe that if more people paid attention to this, they too might experience the stillness of knowing that, for the moment, all is right with the world.