One thing I won’t miss about my former home was my beady eyed little neighbors. They would skulk around my property like they owned it, picking both my trash and my flowers, leaving my pristine, blooming yard a desolate landfill in their wake. They eventually squatted on my property, building elaborate homes under my backyard shed and front stairs, ignoring my pleas to vacate immediately or risk forcible eviction. But at least they had the dignity to hide when they saw me coming.
Not so much so for my new neighbors, who disrupt my morning peace with their constant squawking, parking themselves directly in front of my kitchen window holding their nuts as I’m typing this, shamelessly staring me down as they scratch themselves, as if to say ‘we were here before you’.
And of course they were, because they are animals.
Maybe my memory is blurry, but I don’t recall nature’s creatures living in such close proximity to us in the old days, most likely because there was more than enough space for all of us back then. When I was a kid, Salem had wide open areas that beckoned of adventures in the wilderness, most notably behind my aunt and uncle’s house in South Salem. Their home was one of the first built in this now developed area. I loved to visit because I could hike into the great outdoors right through their back yard, getting into trouble for trekking through the woods in my Easter outfit because I’d be too excited to change into my ‘play clothes’ first.
The wilderness seemed wilder back then. On Sunday nights, families would park it in front of the TV to watch Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, unashamedly named after the company that sponsored the show. Before cable TV offered several channels dedicated exclusively to animal antics, this was THE place to witness the secret life of animals.
Today their world is not so secret, as many of us have a front row seat to the live show right outside our door.
The first night at our new apartment, the motion detector light went off in the alley on the side of the house. Nervous of who or what I might see after midnight, I peered through the curtains to simultaneously spy a possum or mole slowly ambling by, a skunk fervently digging a hole under the fence, and an unidentified tail dragging by just out of sight.
Our yard is equally active during the day; so much so I almost feel the need to apologize for disturbing the critters whose families were part of this neighborhood long before us. An astounding number of distinctly different bird calls surround me like nature’s stereo system as two squirrels chase each other around the trunk of a tree, stopping short for a few seconds to evaluate if I mean them harm before continuing their play, which includes dislodging a tiny rotten apple at my head.
The line separating “us and them” is becoming increasingly blurry in Salem, where there are a growing number of sightings of deer, foxes, fisher cats, coyotes and hawks to name a few. And I dare say if there were MISSING signs in the post office for pets, there would be more than a few pics of cats and small dogs hanging there, next to several furry WANTED posters.
I’ve always been fascinated by the speculations of how quickly nature would take over if humans ceased to exist, observed first hand by how quickly grass, weeds and critters take over my yard after just one week of neglect. It seems we are in a constant battle to stake our land claim, keeping one step ahead of nature who is constantly trying to take it back.
And who can blame them, because they were here first, and will probably be here last.
I ponder this as I have my morning coffee stare down contest with Squirrel McFurry, who eventually scurries off (I win again!), and is replaced by a large bird who squawks right in my face as if to say “you win today, but we win tomorrow”.
And of that, I am sure.