Column: Our Woodland Neighbors

The bark of the fox was loud, close, and strident. Was it distressed? I ran downstairs to check, unsure what I would do if the animal were injured. I looked out the front window and scanned the road. No fox, but a bobcat sauntered down the path through the garden. I knocked lightly on the window, and he glanced over his shoulder, his face maned, wild, and beautiful. He might as well have shrugged, he was that uninterested in me, but the fox barked again, and he took off.

During the winter, two red foxes frolicked in the snow as I watched, breath held, from an upstairs window; a tiny bonus earned during one of my many middle-of-the-night bathroom breaks. It is my habit to scan the yard as it slopes along the stone wall to the edge of the woods. Is that shadowed form a stump or a bear? The stump has been there for decades, yet still, I check it nightly for signs of life. Slow learner.

But one morning last May, Dave called softly, “Lea. You might want to see this.”

I was still abed, sleeping, and just barely registered his voice. Sometimes my petulant streak emerges, and I ignore the call for a time or two. Thank goodness, however, I responded and joined him in the bathroom where he stood in the tub, phone upheld and filming. A black bear, sleek, handsome, and mighty, was enjoying a birdseed snack at the feeder in the yard below.

We watched as he climbed the stone wall, lifted his nose to the air, sniffed, and returned to the seeds. Annoyed by the paltry sprinkles released by the pat of a paw, he stood on his hind legs, knocked the feeder down, and sat on the grass for a picnic.

Dave and I were captivated by the bear’s every action. The ripple of muscle beneath glossy fur. The ease with which he moved and took care of his feeder frustration. His relaxed approach once seated for his meal.

When he’d had his fill, he ambled around the side of the house. I scampered downstairs and into the front hall to watch through the window. He stopped at the road, looked both ways, turned right, and lumbered off.

After that visit, our son gave us a movement-sensitive night camera, and we have enjoyed watching our nocturnal visitors: coyotes, fox, possums, skunks, and raccoons. During the day, turkey families periodically parade through our yard as well, their heads swiveling on necks that stretch and contract like rubber bands.

We don’t see deer as much as we used to, not since hunting season was expanded to four months. Weary of my animal-advocacy, people explain with earnest patience that if not for the compassionate culling of herds by hunters, deer would suffer and starve. My protests about habitat loss and predator populations diminished by hunting are met with eye rolls and head shakes. I push back when some complain about chomped flowers: we have Stop & Shop; the deer and bear have our gardens and feeders.

Given the increase in wildlife sightings overall, I’ve wondered if our woodland neighbors were emboldened when Covid confined us, the marauding humans, behind closed doors. But we were set free months ago, and our quiet country road has again become a speedway for hurried drivers, motorbikes, and quads. I hope our fellow creatures are cautious: we live in the woods after all, and this is their dominion. We are the crooked cog throwing off the ecosystem, and if humans are to survive into the future, we must learn our place.

Note: in our area, we are fortunate to have Wildlife in Crisis, an organization knowledgeable in caring for wounded wildlife: 203-544-9913

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