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  • Writer's pictureTobias Schlingensiepen

June 2023 Note from Tobias

As I write this, I’ve been down with a nasty bug, whining about my life. Yes, I can whine! I haven’t been out for a proper walk through the woods for two weeks now. That’s where I love to go, to see the beautiful greens of early spring, in which plants and animals are eagerly participating in the ongoing rites of life. Fortunately, I can pull aside the curtains, open the windows, and see and hear what’s going on in our own backyard, where I find examples of this almost everywhere I look.

I find Northern flickers busily hammering holes into the deadwood of nearby trees, which will serve as dens for their young; a male Cardinal, perched high up in our Ball Cyprus, is serenading his prospective mate with fervid peels. Soon flashes of red and brown are whooshing in and out of bushes around the yard, as the new couple begins to build for their brood.

For me, however, spring begins in earnest when I hear the chittering of chimney swifts in the sky over our house. It is such a joyous sound that everything in me rejoices. They occupy the airspace, whole squadrons of them patrolling the sky for insects. At the end of each day, they gather and dive into our front chimney, where they can be heard, chittering away, as they build their nests and feed their young.

Robins built nests on three of the downspout-elbows of our house and garage. Two of them have since been surrendered to a pair of tenacious House Finches, who have now laid their eggs and are patiently waiting for their young to emerge.

Every year, we are also honored to welcome a pair or two of House Wrens. They nest in a gourd on our front porch or take up residence in one of the many birdhouses around our yard. If I open my front door, the male flies out of his gourd, lands on the Weeping Redbud at the bottom of our stairs and floods my ears with such and endless stream of ascending and descending arpeggios that I can’t decide whether he is attempting to drive me away from his territory or thinks I might get him a solo gig in an upcoming opera production. “You’re amazing,” I say to him, “but I’ve already promised the part to your neighbor in the Black Locust over there.”

Indeed, there is no singer as versatile as the Brown Thrasher, whose great diversity of ditties is unrivaled, except by his close cousin the Mockingbird. Both belong to the genus Mimidae, so-called because these birds mimic and collect the strains of a wide variety of other birds. They can learn well over a hundred (!) separate tunes. “Sorry, Mr. Wren. If it is any consolation, you’re closer to my heart, anyway. You come down to me, literally at eye-level, swell yourself up to a whole four inches beak to tail and demand to be seen and heard – and so beautifully. You are a troubadour, singing your courageously. We really need you in the political arena.”

Life is not only beautiful of course! One of our dogs was pawing the back door the other day, begging to be let in. When I opened the door, however, a pair of furry hindlegs were hanging out of her maw. She had killed and devoured a baby bunny! Even though one side of our backyard is fenced off as a safe haven for wild bunnies, among other things, the bunnies do not seem to have caught on. “Yeah,” I said, “glaring at the dog, “you are not coming in here and throwing up ground bunny on our carpet!” I slammed the door in disgust.

Truth is, however, none of us can slam the door on the ambiguity of life. De facto, all living beings are part of the food web. We humans have by and large learned to exempt ourselves from this truth. Gone are the days where we were trampled by Mastodons, taken out by Sabre-toothed Tigers and whatnot. Now, if we could only learn to be safe from each other, to live with each other!

Collectively, of course, our species poses a grave threat to most other living beings, indeed to the very web of life itself. We know that, but little serious thought is given to how to address it. Awareness is a necessary start. We humans must learn to be happy with much less, to protect our wild places, to share our living spaces with creatures other than ourselves and our pets. Life needs a variety of life forms and their continual balance in order to be what it is and do what it does. We cannot continue to destroy the very conditions of life we did nothing to create.

In the end, we’re all potentially food for something else. In fact, our very gut is but a refuge for all kinds of bacteria that digest our food and emit what it is we need to live.

But balance matters! Right now, a virus, a bacterium, and possibly both, are multiplying and celebrating their existence within the environs of my body. Thanks to modern medicine, I will not be providing them with a wildlife refuge. Sorry, no free safari tours via nano-camera of what’s going on inside me. (But, hey, there’s an idea for a reel!)

Love life while you have the gift of living it. See, hear, and listen to what other beings are up to in the world around you. Once you start doing that, it will expand your definition of the neighborhood and you’ll enjoy discovering new ways to help out your neighbors. Loving the Creator, as I never tire of saying, must include caring for the Creation.

Have a wonderful spring!



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