At our house we usually have breakfast with a couple from the neighborhood. No conversation passes between us save an occasional greeting or farewell as the other couple arrives or departs, but for a few minutes to half an hour we peck at our meals, glancing gratefully at each other now and then. Familiarity has so little dulled our appreciation for one another that we have yet to resort to first names. We address them as Mr. and Mrs. Crow, and they have never used any name for us that I have heard. Mr. and Mrs. Crow are glad that we maintain a cleared space within the forest where they can browse for seeds and worms, and we appreciate any wildlife that doesn’t carry rabies or try to molest our chickens.
They live somewhere nearby, for we hear them chatting with one another from the treetops in the morning and afternoon. They are perhaps surprised at our tolerance for them, since their kind are usually regarded as threateningly mischievous scavengers by those who dedicate as much ground to gardens as we do. Once in a while we hear blood-curdling shrieks from the treetops in the middle of the night, perhaps when the nest comes under inspection by a raccoon — one of those creatures neither we nor Mr. and Mrs. Crow care to see. Most of the time, however, we live in peaceful harmony.
Sometimes in the late afternoon all their relatives in South Conway will aggregate here, perching silently in there-goes-the-neighborhood proprietorship on the periphery of our field. Alfred Hitchcock notwithstanding, this seems to be nothing more ominous than an exercise in personal display, like the cruising of bikers on the local strip or the parade of gowns at Cannes, the Oscars, or the prom. Soon, with a rumbling flutter, they are all off for somewhere else. Mr. and Mrs. Crow doubtless soar somewhere in that gleaming black cloud, indistinguishable, but in the presence of their extended clan they don’t acknowledge us and we can’t distinguish them until they return for breakfast in the morning.
This house has been a breakfast spot for wild critters since I was little. When the kitchen windows were lower to the floor, around 1960, I ate my cereal while staring into the eyes of a bull moose who was munching bird seed in our feeder, about six feet away from me. He didn’t seem the least bit flummoxed at dining with a stranger. A couple of years later, my father left the table at dawn and went outside, still wearing his pajamas and slippers, taking the 1943-vintage flip-top Kodak to snap a photo of another bull that was standing in the field. I still have the photo.
We never had deer in the yard (as my father grumbled, often) until I lost the heart for killing healthy, unoffending creatures. Nor did any bears ever traverse the property until a few years ago. One that grew up around here feasted on all my high-bush blueberries for a couple of years running, but I was happy to trade the berries for the pleasure of watching him gorge himself. You can buy blueberries, after all. No bear has ever broken into my car for the snacks I had hidden there, so I have no complaints about them yet. The last one that passed through seemed rather playful, for when I drove him off with some late-spring snowballs he chased after them as though we were playing fetch.
Haven’t seen my bear friend for a couple of years now. I hope his reservations about human beings are as deep-seated as mine, so he can continue to ramble without tangling with that deadly biped interloper. The last moose I saw on Davis Hill crossed my path one New Year’s Day about a decade ago. Ticks, brucellosis, and development have thinned them out and driven them elsewhere.
No wonder we enjoy Mr. and Mrs. Crow so much. What was still relative wilderness just a few years ago has turned into a suburb almost overnight. People who find this latitude irresistibly beautiful seem unable to satisfy their appreciation for it in any other way than by turning it into the same kind of barren wasteland they fled. The most memorable animals to frequent our domain of late have been a rabid fox and a rabid skunk, both of which I had to dispatch, and a couple of loose dogs that got in and out of the chicken yard before I could draw a safe bead on them. Their visits persuaded me to keep a surprise greeting even handier. Given the inevitable trend in “civilization,” the next passing predators may wear sneakers, which would at least make it less disagreeable to offer them the same welcome.
William Marvel lives in South Conway.
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