Thursday, January 12, 2012

BABIES IN THE FRONT YARD

There was a time before one of our infamous ice storms here in Kansas City that I had a very large tree in my front yard.  It had been there since the house was built and had served many purposes.  When we moved in, Mr. Allard had a swing attached to one of the lower branches for his son Garrett to play on.  As proof that Garrett used the swing, there was a small patch of grass less ground underneath the where the swing sat.  I took the swing down when we moved in because we didn't have any kids and because I wanted to have a nice looking front yard.  Later when we did bring Brett home, I would hang a similar swing on the large tree in the back yard where it served the same purpose but was safer.

The tree had provided morning shade to the front of the house while the tree out back shaded that side of the house.  The house was shade covered year around and the shade kept the house from getting too hot in the summer.

The tree out front was also home to many families of different species.  There was the Robin family who were always alert and seemed nervous a lot of the time.  We didn't see much of them unless I had just mowed the yard.  Then they would come down and pick up some extra padding for their home or see if any worms were exposed by the shorter grass.

The Bluejay family was always out and about and kept busy.  I am not sure what they were being so busy about but they were always swooping here and there and making a terrible racket.  Between them and the Starling family it seemed at times to be an all out war.  The starlings usually won the battles simply because they out numbered the Bluejay family by about ten to one.  I would find a dead bluejay in the front yard once in a while and a fallen Starling even less.  One thing for sure though was that these two families did not get along.

The Cardinal family did not actually live in my tree but had a home in the tree next door to mine.   They did however visit their friends on down the street a lot and would use our tree as a resting point or simply to gather together before heading out to visit.  They were nice birds, beautiful birds.  They would call to their friends down the block with a nice simple whistle and after a second or two, you could hear the response from the other Cardinal family.  They did not seem to socialize much with the other birds in the neighborhood preferring to keep to themselves.

The largest family in the tree both in size and probably number was the Squirrel family.  They kept house in the upper most branches of the tree so that during the summer when leaves adorned all the branches it was invisible from the ground.  It seemed like the members of the family just came down from the heavens to the lower branches of the tree during the summer.  In winter though, with the tree stripped of it leaves, the nest was visible.  It was a huge house for the family and I often wondered how the smaller branches toward the top of the tree supported the structure. 

The tree served as a highway for the Squirrel family.  Not being able to fly in order to get somewhere they would either have to chance going down on the ground where dogs and other sorts of animals would chance them back into the tree.  They developed the system of branch hopping.  The tree next door had branches that inter twined with my tree and so they would go from tree to tree without having to come down to the ground.  It was assumed that this was how they taught their children to travel so they would not be put in peril by going down to the ground.

The front tree also had branches that hung close to the roof of the house.  This mad for easy access to many trees up and down the block.  They had discovered that they could jump on the roof, scurry over it and on the back side of the house they had access to the big tree in the back yard.  More important though was that the telephone wires came to the corner of the house and led out to a pole at the back of the yard.  This pole had wires that ran the length of the block and you could see them running up and down the wires to visit friend who lived in other trees far away.

Using this system the Squirrel children were seldom seen until one cool summer Saturday morning.  It was about ten in the morning when the mail arrived and I stepped out to retrieve it.  As I did I saw something very small move in the grass.  I took a couple of steps and the movement stopped.  I then saw three other little fuzzy animals staying fairly close to one another.  As I studied them I realized that it was the Squirrel children.  They had been allowed to come down from the nest and explore the ground.  My eyes scanned upward until I saw Mrs. Squirrel about twenty feet up keeping a close eye on the situation.  Slowly I moved back into the house keeping an eye on the strange event.

I called out to Barb to bring Brett out.  There was something they had to see.  As Barb and Brett arrived the baby squirrels became more active.  They were exploring everything without getting to far from the tree.  It seemed that if one of them moved a little too far out, a sharp chatter from mom would move them back towards the tree.  My family went out to watch the Squirrel family.  We stood a safe distance and watched the baby squirrels as they explored.  They were really cute and so fuzzy looking.  I kept an eye on the mother to be sure we weren't getting too close for her comfort.

About five minutes passed when my next door neighbor came out to start his Saturday work on his lawn.  He looked at us and asked what was going on.  After explaining that the baby squirrels were down on the ground he went into his house and got his wife and son, who was a little younger than our son, to take advantage of being able to see the babies.

Jim, the old man across the street was watching all of this going on from his garage.  He watched our little circle of humans standing in the middle of my front yard with curiosity.  It wasn't long before he and his wife Martha and their daughter, who is about my age came strolling across the street to see what was going on.

So there we were, nine human beings standing very still and being very quiet watching nature at it's best.  The baby squirrels continued to explore but their mother was starting to get nervous.  She began to chatter a little either to warn the children or to warn us.  Whoever she was warning it wasn't working.  We held our ground in our circle and her babies continued to explore without a care in the world.

The situation finally got the better of the mother squirrel.  She came down to the ground and looked around at all the humans.  There were far too many of us for her to be comfortable at all.  She picked up the closest baby to her and grabbed it by the neck with her teeth.  The baby curled up in a ball and the mother raced up the tree taking her child home where it was safe.  We watched as she moved quickly all the way up to the homestead and deposited her first child.  She then came racing down the tree and landing on the ground stopped to check the humans again to be sure we weren't making any moves.  The second child came into the grasp of her mouth and rolling itself into a ball like her sibling, was whisked off to the top of the tree and safety.  Too more times the mother squirrel performed this routine until all of the babies were safe at home.

When she was done she came back down the tree stopping about five feet from the ground.  She looked at the nine of us one more time then turning, ran back home to take care of the family and to be sure things went as they were suppose to.  I imagine she thought herself silly for taking such a risk with the kids by letting them on the ground, but at the same time I think she thought it had been a good experience for them.  They had been on the ground and faced danger and had survived.  Surely it would be a good lesson that could serve them well as they grew older and went off to establish homes of their own.

As for the nine of us who had watched with great interest in the show that was presented before us, we spent the next half hour or so talking about what had just happened. The protective nature of the mother squirrel.  The innocence of the babies not knowing that danger very well could come down upon them and cause them great harm.  The manner in which the mother carried the babies up the tree and the speed in which she did so.  It was fascinating and made our Saturday morning just a little bit special.

None of us had seen a show like that before.  We had not witnessed baby squirrels at all and enjoyed watching them explore and learn.  None of us have witnessed such a show since either.  It was a rare opportunity that was given us and something that we all still remember to this day.

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