The first time I saw a male cardinal perched in the peach tree I had planted in the back yard, I couldn't help feeling a little light-hearted. I was actually so excited that for a moment I contemplated interrupting Joe at work to tell him there was a bird in my tree. What made me most excited was seeing that this tree, which I had planted to commemorate a baby lost to miscarriage, was no longer my tree. It had been adopted as part of the growing habitat in our back yard.
Everything we do to the land on which we live shapes, alters and transforms habitats. When we took down nineteen pines over a year ago, we changed the landscape. We mainly saw crows perched in those trees, but as the smaller hardwoods gained more access to sunlight, they filled out. With the feeders, a couple fruit trees and cedars and breeding boxes we added, more birds have been attracted to our yard. I may regret this later in the summer when I see wedged pecks in each two-days-till-ripe tomato.
Just yesterday, I was walking past a tall hibiscus hedge, when I saw a mother robin feeding her fledgling. As I poked my head up through the branches, she took off as the little one hopped to a higher limb fluttering its slightly unstable yet completely capable wings. I've seen this same family of robins nesting on the neighbor's downspout and standing on the garden fence with worms dangling from their beaks. They have become used to seeing me too.
As the habitat becomes more enhanced, I find that I spend more time outside listening and observing. I learn to recognize the difference between the chirps of an angry titmouse and a nervous house wren. I learn to respect the bees as they go about their work on the flowers I planted just so they'd come and make my garden more fruitful. I teach my boys to make sure they don't hold worms too long before letting them wriggle back into the garden soil. Together we inspect mysterious holes in the ground and ponder what type of critters live in them. We also learn about life and tragedy such as when we discovered the nest full of baby newly-hatched chickadees had been vacated.
For me, living in the middle of a city, I consider it a joy to spend time tending to the land, hearing noises of the interstate mingle with noisy chirps of the finch family descending on the deck feeder. I also see it as my duty to teach my sons how to care for it as well. At first, the boys see a pile and dirt and shovels and envision mass destruction and pushing around their dump trucks. But after awhile, they begin searching for worms, planting seeds, watering plants, helping me fill the feeders, and climbing trees. I love hearing my four year old explain how the plant roots drink water and how weeds take away all the water. He's growing observant eyes and a better understanding of the connectedness of the land.