With apologies for anthropomorphism.
Recently my friend, Kate, told me about being awakened in the middle of the night by her yowling cats. She walked into the kitchen and looked out her glass door, expecting to see a raccoon on the other side. Instead she found a young river otter, paws pressed to the glass as he (or she) looked questioningly at her pets. At first the otter didn’t see Kate, so she watched as he seemed to implore her kitties to quiet down already and come out and play. “What IS all the ruckus about?” his brown eyes seemed to ask. But the minute the otter caught sight of the human observing him, he was off in a flash. The image has stuck with me: the sleek river otter on his hind legs, toe-pads flattened against the door, nose to the glass. It makes me smile to think of wild beings peering in on our lives, possibly as curious about us as we are about them.
As I write this, a two-point buck with lovely gnarled, bumpy antlers chews its rumen meditatively in the grass a few yards behind my house. I imagine him pitying me this boxed-in life, a captive of a glowing screen. He sits impervious to the steady rain as an Anna’s hummer shoots around his head.
This bird regularly visits a feeder outside my office window. Aha! He just dive-bombed a competitor a few feet from my face. I marvel at these birds’ accuracy at such speed—how can they calculate their trajectory without hitting things like my window, a tree or that buck’s regal nose? I’m surprised I’ve never found one pinned beak-first into the soil beneath the feeder. When the sugar water runs low, they hover near my window and seem to accuse me, or perhaps their chittering buzz is a friendly reminder? As I watch each day—near enough to observe their silvery forked tongues flicking the improvised nectar into their mouths, close enough to see them swallow—how much are they watching me back?
Yesterday, a Pileated Woodpecker yelled repeatedly from the pine tree just off our deck. I watched him swoop gracefully down to a felled, rotten willow and begin to tear it apart—his beak a food-seeking missile. How does he not get splinters, I wondered, as I tried to capture a photo of him at work. When I took one step too close, his red moustache gave an annoyed flick and the bird was off to a neighboring alder, where he seemed to “peek-a-boo” me around the tree trunk, watching cautiously, but attentively, as I unloaded my car. “What burdens these people have!” his laugh scolded as he swooped away.
When I think of all the critters I have been lucky enough to encounter in this little North-end spot I call home—Barred Owl, rough-skinned newt, coyote, banded alder-borer, Pacific chorus frog, raccoon, cardinal meadowhawk and American Snipe to name a few—I wonder how much the feeling is mutual. They usually hurry away when they catch me watching them, but at other times, are they secretly observing my daily activities? Do I make them curious or frustrated? Do I make them laugh?
This frog’s not telling.