Being Neighborly

Living in the country, as I do, it is always a pleasant surprise when an acquaintance drops by unexpectedly – whether it is a doe with faun in tow, or that lightning bolt on a clear day, a hawk striking from nowhere to snatch a meal. But it is especially pleasing to lounge in a comfortable porch chair and greet my more familiar neighbors.

To my front, a redbud tree, appropriately enough, houses a pair of cardinals. Directly on the north side of the house in a tall pine, nests another pair. Their clarion calls echo back and forth. One might think their personalities also match. But nothing could be further from the truth. The redbud cardinal male is big, bold, and beautiful. He will confidently fly right by to the feeder and bath, paying me little heed. The fellow out back, by contrast, is smaller and less brilliantly attired. He often comes to the feeder in the evening, when things have quieted and the bustle is calmed.

Neighbor robins reside, one in a huge quaking aspen to my front right, the other in a wonderfully camouflaged nest tucked alongside the trunk of a sad-looking golden delicious apple tree. Most probably, I would have removed the tree by now, had I not been so vigorously scolded by an anxious mother robin a few weeks ago. I apologized for my intrusion and left.

In tall grass at the bottom of our lot, in a little house I built and intended for bluebirds, a pair of blue buntings flash about, in and out on a seemingly endless quest for food. Young ones must be fed.

Above a light fixture high above the garage doors, a swallow couple has constructed a sturdy-looking home of hardened mud. They must harbor a streak of mischievous curiosity but nonetheless give me pleasure if I occasionally forget to close the door when leaving, only to have them greet me upon my return, darting out from the garage they had been exploring in my absence, fleeing like children caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

As I sit here, I spy one of my ground-squirrel neighbors racing up from the raspberry patch. Her track through the bent grass so worn she must think it a highway. She stops, raises her head, sits on her haunch and eyeballs me before hustling on to the bird feeder to collect some spilled sunflower seeds. A pair of Wilson butterflies dance by, enjoying the long rays of the evening sun.

This must be the evening the mother rabbit who has made her home along the north side of our house decides to bring out her bunny to ‘silflay,’ as rabbits in ‘Watership Downs’ once did. The mother lets me approach surprisingly close before hopping into cover.

I began my evening reverie sitting here studying, through binoculars, a pair of sandhill cranes that appear to have moved into a neighbor’s corn field, and I ended up cataloguing the small, constant, friendly creatures. I have, by now, become so familiar with them that I am afraid, come winter, when they flee or take to deep shelter, I will count myself poorer until they or their descendants return to keep me company again. They all bring me peace merely by their neighborly being.