By Sue Caulfield
Last week I bought a bird feeder, one with four openings, and a slanted pole so that the entire apparatus could be attached to one of the hammock posts. The saleswoman at Wild Birds Unlimited advised me to not be discouraged if it took some time for birds to find and use the feeder. After all, it was new to the environment. As soon as I got home, I installed the feeder and filled it with seed. Much to my delight and surprise, a mere four days later, I had birds at the feeder, lots of birds. Beautiful small yellow, white and gray birds, chickadees, some type of sparrow, perhaps a wren. Frankly, I cannot specify most of the bird species at my feeder, nor am I interested in being able to do so.
The bird feeder was not in response to my inner bird watcher, but in response to the nature of my yard. I already have a lot of birds in my yard, because I have a lot of gardens. My gardens attract birds, butterflies and bees. Why add one more thing to the mix?
Because I lost Bel this summer. Bel (Mehitabel) was a beautiful tuxedo cat and, true to her species, a free thinker. She joined my household on New Year’s Eve 2005, along with Archy (who left this world a mere three months later). My plan was that Bel would be an indoor cat. I thought this was safer for her and would bring me peace of mind when I was gone for long days.
However, Bel was a rescue cat, so she had been outside. She knew the smell of outside and the feel of grass and plant life. By early spring, she was constantly at the slider door, wanting to be let outside. I tried to discourage this behavior and so she reverted to other tactics. She would hop up on the kitchen counter and start moving small objects toward the edge, objects that would fall to the floor and, if breakable, break, if I did not let her outside. For a while, I was able to pacify her with the porch that links the house to the garage, but it was soon apparent, this cat needed to be outside. So outside she went, every day, almost every day of her life. There were a few times when I traveled that she was “confined to quarters” for the duration, but if I was in town, she went outside for the day. With the exception of a dozen or so all-nighters (likely due to being on the prowl elsewhere in the ‘hood), Bel came in at night and got well-deserved sleep to prepare her for the next day’s adventures.
Bel epitomized living in nature, both in terms of ecology and one’s own nature. She was the consummate hunter, teaser, catcher, chaser, leaper, climber and lie down in the grass and watch the world go by kind of cat. If I put something tall in the yard (e.g., 9 foot ladder or garden arbor), Bel would find a way to get to the top in no time at all. She climbed things because they were there. Over the years, she caught many chipmunks. To my knowledge, she never killed them, she just played with them. She would carry them in her mouth across the yard and then drop them in the grass, wait for them to run away, then give chase, catch, release and repeat. She could do this for an impressive length of time.
One time, early on and with the best of intentions, I tried to intervene. Picture summer time, a Radio Flyer wagon (always one somewhere in my yard), Bel, a frantic chipmunk and me. Bel is playing her usual game of catch and release and I decide to come to the aid of the chipmunk. I get between the two of them with the Radio Flyer. At first, my tactic seemed to work, as the chipmunk ran onto the Radio Flyer. Then, much to my surprise, the chipmunk ran up my right leg, through my shorts and down my left leg! That is an experience I do not wish to repeat; it is not in my nature to get that close to some critters. I learned that day to let Bel be Bel when it came to chipmunks. It became clear to me that day that I did no good deed if I tried to deny Bel her nature. She was hardwired to hunt and she was very good at it. Why try to get in the way of that when the yard could be her haven?
The yard for ten years belonged to Bel. Sun, rain, snow, sleet – the weather rarely came into consideration as that cat ventured out into her yard. I shoveled snow off the deck all winter long and pathways into the yard to facilitate Bel being able to be in her space. I grew multiple bushy coreopsis plants, because Bel would make a nest inside them and use them for naps when I was not around.
Bel was a blessing for ten years of my life. She taught me a lot about aligning oneself with one’s nature. Our natures were the same when it came to lying down in the grass and enjoying the moment. I could feel her staring at me and pulling me down to the grass if I were lying in the hammock. Reminding me to feel the earth on my body.
I still miss her most days, miss her greeting me by exiting a plant in which she has been napping, miss her curled up in a shady part of the deck or belly up to the sun with her face buried in catnip. Then I realized that the nature of the yard had changed forever. It was no longer Bel’s yard and what might I do to signify this significant change? Create an even more supportive environment for winged friends. To let winged friends know that this yard no longer housed a great hunter and there was food to be had. To send a signal that the yard had realigned. That this yard could be a different kind of haven.