December 17, 2018

Garden Creatures

Dawn is filtering through the curtains and I hear blackbirds calling to one another above the patter of spring rain. Our suburban garden is waking up and I lie in bed and think about all the inhabitants who live here with us.

Some years ago, children and domestic animals claimed our land, but now grandchildren come and go and Markus and I are discovering we are hosts to a multitude of nature’s creatures. They are often seasonal guests, arriving and leaving with precise knowledge that escapes us human beings. The first year after we built the house, swifts made a nest in the eaves and, ever since, they return to lay their eggs during the first two weeks of May. The lizards hibernate, but they too appear as soon as the sun warms up the rocks and brings out the insects. In the neighbors’ orchard, a mother fox has her den. Last year, she produced five cubs. Markus and I hid behind bushes to watch them play and anything we left outside became their toys.

In summer, many tiny creatures flit in the air or crawl around on the leaves; blue, red and yellow insects, bees and bumblebees, wasps, caterpillars, butterflies, bats and moths of all colors, grasshoppers and ladybirds. And, of course, there are a wide variety of birds. Some only stop for a brief meal; others seem to belong here. A couple of wood pigeons have made one of our pine trees their day perch and their soft five-note cooing brings gentleness to vibrant summer afternoons. We also have a slope of grass we call the marten field because those slender agile mammals perform their midsummer’s night dances there.

 

When autumn arrives we watch the squirrels collect their winter hoard of nuts. They are rather shy and do not like to be disturbed in their work. The badger is a much more friendly guest, but it only comes in the dark of night. But the most remarkable event is the arrival of enormous flocks of starlings. When gathered in the poplar tree behind our house, they fuss and fiddle gregariously and then they swoop silently down to feed on ripe grapes in the local vineyards. Often they darken the sky, while coordinating their flight plans and strengthening their wings.

In winter, a melody of birds continues to entertain us. The first in the morning is the robin, which knows breadcrumbs are waiting for it. Blue tits and black tits fight over the hanging food ball, finches perch daintily on the food table and the green woodpecker digs under the snow for worms. Every ten years or so, a flock of waxwings arrive from Siberia, forced by lack of food to come further south.

One early morning, several springs ago, I was drinking a mug of tea while looking out the kitchen window onto the front lawn, which is not very large, but has a panoramic view high over our village and Lake Geneva. A young buck deer came around the corner of the house and stood quietly a few yards from my window. He seemed to be searching for a way down and then he looked up at the pink sunlight appearing on the mountains beyond the lake. I kept very still. He turned to me and we spent a long time just contemplating one another. I felt that mystery and magic had entered the garden. Ever since that visit, I see our garden as an oasis of serenity and I try to leave it a little untamed so that the wild ones feel at home here too.

 

(All photographs by Markus Rasch)

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