Friday, August 26, 2011

Lady Chatterley

When we first moved into this house there was a mother squirrel with four babies living in the dead, hollow tree in the backyard. It was difficult to determine the mother from her four babies as she is very small, but sometimes a strong wind would come up and she would stretch her paw across the back of one of the baby squirrels to help keep them on the branch. This, I knew, must be the mother.

It is instinctive, like when a mother is driving alone in a car and is forced to stop fast, but finds herself flinging her arm across the passenger seat to keep a child from jerking forward, a child who is not in the car! I recognized this movement in the squirrel. Her child was firmly perched on that branch, but she braced the baby with her paw, just in case...

The contractor building the house next door explained that he used to own this house and the tree was dead then, but mother squirrels have used the tree for as long as anyone can remember to raise their young, so no one cuts the tree down.

Gradually, over the summer, the four baby squirrels disappeared. I assumed they moved on to find homes of their own. In fact, I'm fairly certain one has moved into the neighbor's backyard tree!

When I returned from Colorado, I noticed a small squirrel lying beneath a tree on its belly. It was a feisty little thing, chattering loudly at the dogs and I whenever we walked outside. Before I left, I noticed we were down to one again and assumed it was a rogue male. The squirrel would scamper into the tree when I came outside and sit level with my eyes where the branches divided, watching me calmly, waiting for me to take the dogs back inside.

I usually knock loudly on the window, then the door, then open the door a crack and shout "dog" to give the squirrel a chance to climb the tree, but one afternoon, as I walked in and out the back door, Chewy the Chihuahua (A.K.A. the Chewchewcabra) snuck out the door and chased the squirrel into the tree. The squirrel was so angry he did not stop chattering for a long time. I was convinced it was a male then because it was so feisty!

I was wrong. A few days ago, when I rapped on the window, the squirrel stood up on its hind legs and looked around for the dogs. As soon as the squirrel raised its body I realized it is not only a female, but it is pregnant. It is the mother squirrel, still so tiny it is difficult to tell that she is fully grown. I am amazed that she somehow managed to carry and raise four babies on her own!

Now, it is late summer and the temperatures in the Texas Hill Country often reach 110 degrees. Momma squirrel is hot and tired and often chatters loudly when Chewy runs outside (she doesn't seem to mind my husband and I, or our two chocolate labs). When we go back indoors, she scratches a curved space into the dirt and lies down beneath the tree with her belly in the cool space of the hole she just created.

We are on water restrictions because of the drought. There is no lawn on this rental property, so we use out water allotment to water the trees and leave water in small dishes for the birds who flock to our house in large numbers. I fill a clay plant pot tray with water and they use this to bathe and clean their feathers.

Momma squirrel now digs her belly hole in the space where we water as the dirt is damp and cool. I think of all the little creatures in our yard, she probably appreciates the water more than most. She still chatters loudly when Chewy comes outside. We have named her Lady Chatterley.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Back in Texas...

I am home from Colorado and already miss the Sparrow Hawks, Red Tail Hawks, and the little yellow American Goldfinches that would swoop low over the swimming pool as the children splashed and played.

It was a stormy three-day drive with thunderstorms in Colorado, New Mexico, and the Texas panhandle, but the hawks and crows were in their place, watching and guiding me. The crows that watch the highways in New Mexico are so big I sometimes mistake them for hawks as I drive past.

When I finally arrived home, the first thing I did was fill the water dishes for the wild birds in the back yard and fill the seed dishes and trays. When I came inside, I noticed the birds in the tray outside the window. The little Titmouses, the Northern Cardinals, and the Scrub Jays.

The Cardinal family is still here. The father and mother and their four babies. The babies are going through those awkward teenage changes, but instead of fighting acne, they're colorful feather are filling in. The male teenage cardinals look rather funny when they go through this stage. The three females look awkward, too, though the changes in thetir color is not quite as obvious as their brother.

And true to their nature, my two Colorado chocolate labs are now perched in front of the air conditioner, wiping their brows and complaining about the heat while my Texas chihuahua is lying in the heat from the sunlight piercing the bedroom window glass.