Tag Archive | Rats

Wildlife

IMG_6991 (800x532) Our summer has been full of travel, and in each place we visited, we have seen some fascinating wildlife.  In Canada, there was the moose wandering the woods near our friends’ home, the mother grizzly bear and her three cubs alongside the Trans-Canada Highway, and the Great Gray Owl perched on a fence post at the foot of the Rockies.  In the Colorado Rockies, it was the beaver dams and the fish swimming in mountain streams.  In Pennsylvania, a distant stag caught my eye while I was walking alone one evening.  Even the fireflies that hovered above the lawns in Indiana and Ohio were fascinating; we don’t get fireflies around our home for some reason.  Every place we went gave us experiences of fauna we just don’t see at home in coastal Georgia.

But in the week and a half since we came home, as we have settled back into the routines of work and school, I can’t seem to escape the wildlife in my own yard.  A hummingbird has taken possession of our feeder; we have watched him chase away the rest of his species any time another comes near.  Throughout the day, even in the middle of a rain storm, his ruby throat and emerald back hovers as he snacks on the diluted simple syrup we offer. The larger kinds of birds came back quickly when I filled our bird feeder, too, and have stuck around to see what else they can get out of me.  Blue jays and cardinals come and go as they please; the mourning doves bob their way across the lawn; house sparrows and other small birds rush in and out.  The squirrels have gratefully come back to the feeder, too, and even a pudgy brown rat draped his long, bare tail over the side the other day as he munched on the seed.  Unfortunately, it is because of him that the bird feeder will have to remain empty for a while.  We know from experience that the one brown rat will bring his friends, and we really don’t want them that close to our house.  The only way to discourage them is to take away the food.  Still, the birds hang around, and it is good to see them again.

Yesterday, a tiny frog came leaping out of the folded lawn chair as I moved it to sweep away leaves that had gathered under it.  I was not surprised; I have come to expect these little guys who seem to appreciate the safety and comfort of the canvas.  A butterfly has flitted around our back yard for the past couple of afternoons.  If I have identified her right, she is a Gulf Fritillary.  She made an appearance this afternoon to snack on the nectar of our lantana in the back yard and stuck around long enough to pose for a few photos before she wandered her way into another yard.  Earlier, a proud robin with his pronounced rusty chest stopped for a little dip in our bird bath.  When I headed to the door with my camera to see if he would stick around, our dog decided he wanted to go out, too.  But I think the robin was done with his bath by then anyway, and he flew elsewhere.  And maybe it is because of our wet summer, or maybe it is just the time of year, but it seems that this is a good time for young anoles to come out.  I have adorable juveniles and gawky-looking teenagers of that species all over the yard.  Soon, they will grow big enough to become territorial, but tonight, I watched as at least two young ones climbed and dashed up and down and in and out all over the same bunch of black-eyed susans.  One was brown, another was bright green; they can switch back and forth depending on their mood.  These little creatures never had the care of a mother; she simply laid the eggs a few weeks back, and the lucky ones emerged to tackle life more or less on their own.

Most of this wildlife in my yard is unremarkable.  These are common species of birds, mammals, insects, amphibians, and reptiles whichIMG_7021 (535x800) share this little plot of land with us and with most of our neighbors along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts for a thousand miles.  But as I thought about all that wildlife in my yard this evening, I felt the presence of God in a way I didn’t when I saw the wildlife in other places.  The moose and grizzlies were remarkable.  The great gray owl and high-antlered deer were beautiful.  Even the midwestern fireflies and mountain stream fish were fascinating.  But none of them spoke to me of the presence of God in the same way as my familiar anoles, robins, butterflies, and tree frogs.

Seeing those grizzlies and moose in the wild was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  But God is more like the anoles, which surround me all the time.  My photos of that enormous owl are worth showing off.  But God is more like the robin or the hummingbird, which everyone can see if they pay attention.  The fireflies and beaver dams cannot be found where I live.  But God is more like the squirrels and blue jays and mourning doves, which can be found everywhere.  I was wowed by the remarkable wildlife on our trips.  But God is more like the abiding presence of the familiar wildlife in my yard.  I don’t mean to domesticate God.  Just like the anoles and butterflies and frogs and robins in my yard have the ability to fascinate, surprise, and challenge me, there is much about God which is mysterious to me.  But God’s constant presence is a comfort.

I thank God that I got to experience the unique fauna of the mountains and plains this summer.  And I praise God for God’s presence which surrounds me all the time like the wildlife in my own yard.

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Mosquitoes & Rats

One morning last week, I was getting ready to mow the back yard.  The first step in that labor, of course, is to find where the dog has done what dogs do and pick up the treasures hidden in the grass.  Equipped with my trowel and shopping bag, I headed to one of our canine’s recent favorite spots:  under the enormous fans of a low-growing palm tree, near the place where the lawn is cut out around a bird bath.

As I approached the first deposit I found, I noticed something:  hovering in the air, reflecting the rising morning light off of their whiny little wings, were scores of mosquitoes.  As I knelt down to address the dog’s business, I remembered reading somewhere that mosquitoes, like our ubiquitous sand gnats and all manner of other creatures which annoy me, are attracted to carbon dioxide.  I tried holding my breath for a moment, but I knew that was futile.  I let the contents of my lungs go, and sure enough, they found me.

The presence of the mosquitoes most immediately reminded me that I had not been vigilant in the previous week or two about changing the water in the bird bath.  In our sub-tropical climate, the water really has to be changed daily to keep it from becoming a cesspool of mosquito breeding.  I spent the obligatory moment chastising myself for my laziness, because every failure in the garden must reflect a fundamental flaw in my character, right?  But once I was finished with that, I started reflecting more on what was going on in my back yard that morning.

We keep the two bird bath, as well as two bird feeders and a hummingbird feeder, because we enjoy watching the birds.  My wife has one of those books which identifies the birds found in Georgia. It even provides a check list at the end of the book for her to mark when she sees a specimen of each variety.  She and my son have found great pleasure in seeing new and interesting birds take their repast at the feeders or a splash around the bird baths and looking them up in the book.  I am less scientific about the whole operation, but I just like sitting back and watching the wildlife as it plays outside the living room window.

But recently, we noticed something different eating on the feeder that is further from the house.  It was small, it was brown and furry, and it could fit inside the feeder to get a really good meal.  One night, there was only one; I took a closer look, and found that its long tail was bare.  My wife informed me that meant it was a rat.  The next night, there were two, and by the next night, there were four climbing up and around that far feeder.  We don’t want rats that near our house; in fact, we would rather pretend they don’t even live in our part of town.  I am almost embarrassed to admit that they came on our property.  We certainly do not want them multiplying exponentially as they find their sustenance at our bird feeders.  Through some research, I found out that there is no way to really get rid of the rats without risking collateral damage to the populations of squirrels, cats, dogs, and children which use our back yard for a variety of purposes.  The fact is that we had a mild winter, so the rat population is going to be larger than normal, and they will come closer to humans as they look for food.  The only safe solution was to stop filling the bird feeders.  I made sure the feeders were empty.  The bird baths and hummingbird feeder would have to suffice for some time, until the neighborhood cats help the rats find a new place to eat breakfast.

Then the mosquitoes made their early morning attack.  I felt the frustration rise:  I can’t fill the bird feeders because the food attracts rats.  I can’t fill the bird baths because the water is breeding ground for mosquitoes.  So how can we enjoy the wildlife without all the pests?

As a person of faith, I could have gone from there into those kinds of questions that pop up in our minds every now and then, like why did God make useless things like mosquitoes and rats?  But I didn’t want to because I am not sure those kinds of questions can be answered this side of our glory.  So I settled on a different reflection.

Gardening is one of many attempts by us humans to manipulate nature for our own pleasure.  I don’t believe there is anything intrinsically wrong with our attempts to manipulate nature for our pleasure, any more than there is anything wrong with manipulating nature to meet basic needs for food and shelter and the like.  But in nature, everything we do has consequences which are beyond our control.  The rats and the mosquitoes are among those consequences.  The rats and mosquitoes probably serve some great purpose in the larger scheme of creation.  My encounters with them function to remind me that, while there is nothing wrong with manipulating nature for my own pleasure, nature was not created solely for my pleasure.  The world does not revolve around the whims of my pleasures, or even around the persistence of my needs.  There is something much bigger than me operating in the world; I have the privilege of being a part of that something bigger, but it is not operating for me alone.  So if I try to attract birds and find myself with mosquitoes and rats too, there has not been some great failure of the way things ought to be.  In fact, the way things ought to be has worked itself out, and I can choose to either accept the consequences or stop leaving bird seed and standing water outside.

Having reluctantly removed myself from the center of the universe once again, I think I have decided what I will do.  I will leave the bird feeders empty for a while, perhaps even leaving the one farthest from the house empty until winter, when I hope the frost will do its job with the rats more completely this year.  But I will fill the bird bath again, with a commitment to fill it with fresh water daily.  Perhaps I can even find pleasure in the discipline of the nightly work in the back yard.