Danger in the Garden-Revised

As an amateur watcher and feeder of birds, I have had my disagreements with squirrels, the rodents that many folks, unlike me, enjoy. However, after years of battle I have reached a reluctant peace with the varmints. Our bird feeders are as much “squirrel proof” as possible, and I begrudge any squirrel the seeds on the ground under the feeders. A tree rodent, in my view, the squirrels have their place in nature. Just not in my garden hogging the bird seed.

But last evening in the back garden was special, and not just because it was one of those early spring ones when budding life emerged from every shoot, limb, and blade. The dogwoods in our back garden offered early buds that would soon be white petals, and Carolina chickadees, blue jays, nuthatches, and titmice fed at the three feeders while the rufous-sided towhee shared ground morsels with the brown thrashers and a lone, grey squirrel. The returning pair of chickadees had already established a nest in their bird box fastened to the far dogwood, and we had seen the thrashers bringing nesting material to the large azalea beside the back gate. The camellia in the berm had been taken by a pair of cardinals for season residency; and we sat on our screen porch enjoying the end of a grand spring day watching the fading sunlight rest on the far shore and the animals eating from the three feeders.

Then every bird was gone. An uncomfortable silence descended on the garden, covering it like a shroud. Every bird had flown to a safe limb or rushed into one of the two azaleas for refuge. The squirrel hopped to the dogwood truck, alert with its head erect, but near the ground and observant-poised like a statue. Following the stare of the squirrel, I saw the invader. The resident Cooper’s hawk had lit in a dogwood in the berm, about thirty feet from the back feeder, bird bath, and poised squirrel. Not even the blue jays, who will attack a snake, stayed to battle with this intruder.

We watched the hawk, one who is a frequent visitor because of the bird feeders. It was a beautiful animal to us, but the birds had fled because their view of the hawk was different from ours. They saw death while we saw primeval beauty. We watched the squirrel, almost frozen to the tree trunk with its head erect, watching the cooper’s hawk across the fence. We witnessed a scene of nature’s way as the hawk glided to the top fence rail within a few feet of the squirrel who then wisely bounded into the thick foliage of the azalea. The hawk bounded to the ground and began hopping in the bird awkward walk toward the thick bush as if to peer inside it for a meal. It was then that the squirrel came out of the azalea and took a stance next to the dogwood.

If you watch nature enough, even in a small back garden like ours, you will soon enough see death. It may come from a predator, an accidental falling from a nest, or any other result that I have come to realize is “Nature’s beautiful way.” We sat frozen in the safety of our screen porch as the squirrel faced the attacker. Then, as if scripted, the squirrel lept at the cooper’s hawk, who made one hop backward. The squirrel lunged again, and the death threat turned and flew away to other hunting grounds.

All the grey squirrels that frequent our back garden look alike, so the brave heart one will remain anonymous. However, since witnessing such an act—whether foolish or brave—I have become more tolerant of them. While I still have some issues with their antics, even I cannot deny the act of that lone, grey squirrel against the Cooper’s hawk.  

In nature, death happens so that life may continue. Even a dead limb of one of our longleaf pine trees provides food and shelter for all kinds of creatures. In nature death is part of life. But many humans seem unable to come to any type of accord with death. That, in itself, is a form of early death because a fear or denial of the way of all living things, to paraphrase King David, is death at an early age. One should always strive to see things as they are, even if it means acknowledging having underestimated the spirit of squirrels.

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