By William Thomas
Very much unintentionally, I have created a small-animal theme park on my kitchen patio.
It started when I was late in getting my hummingbird feeders hung up. Boy, were they steamed. They buzzed me while I read. They sat on an overhanging branch and stared at me. They did everything but knock on my kitchen window. Nature’s little helicopter, I love to hear their hovering motors.
So with the hummingbirds happy, I toss a handful of sunflower seeds near the fire pit for the chipmunks. Hate squirrels, love chipmunks, love cardinals, hate starlings, so sue me PETA.
Last summer it was just one chipmunk and now it’s two adults and a small one. I think they must be family because they’re constantly fighting with each other.
The house wrens nesting in the hanging flower pot was not my idea. And the female with the bent beak and long tail? Man, has she got a mouth on her!
I toss more seeds away from the fire pit to keep the chipmunks and wrens from fighting over the initial offering and all is calm … until a squirrel rushes onto the patio to take a run at one of the chipmunks and gets a haircut from the protective female wren, as well as a really loud lecture.
By the time I get back with my slingshot, the squirrel is gone but a Baltimore Oriole has descended on the hummingbird feeder. The bird is heavy and awkward so that the feeder is now swinging side to side and spilling sugar water on the patio. I scare the Oriole off by clapping my hands loudly which the mother wren mistakes for applause and she begins an ear-splitting aria that drives me into the house.
As I plod around the patio from crisis to crisis, I can hear the scattering chipmunks and the fluttering wrens screaming: “The giant is coming! The giant is coming!” And I must say, as someone who does not have a lot going for him these days, I feel rather powerful.
Before I can clean up the spill, an army of ants has beat me to it, and bees are now swarming the feeder which is still dripping with liquid sugar. I sweep away the ants and spritzer the bees with a water bottle until they too send me running through the kitchen door.
This once friendly patio arrangement is now going south faster than a Mideast ceasefire and I’m forced to watch it all behind the safety of my kitchen window thinking, man, would I ever make a lousy game warden like on Africa’s Serengeti’s Plain where crocodiles pick their teeth with the antlers of wildebeests.
As I head for the lake for a swim, I notice the bees are gone, the ants are dead, the Oriole has not returned but the hummingbirds have, all the while pooping on the feeder’s arm to display their considerable displeasure that their feeder has become a multi-use drinking fountain.
After a swim, I’m about to dip my feet in a bucket of water I keep at the top of the beach steps to rinse off the sand when I notice a large toad in there treading water. Discolored, he’s been there for a day or two; I now suspect one of my ungrateful patio dwellers pushed him in, but I can’t prove it. I dump the bucket onto the lawn and although still alive, it’s hours before he actually hops away.
Meanwhile, back at “Critter Kingdom,” all three chipmunks get into a real knock-down donnybrook over the sunflower seeds and the wrens are dive-bombing them from above because they’re getting too close to the flower pot nest. The ants are back, the yellow jackets have returned, angrier than ever, both wrens are screaming blue-bloody murder and the Oriole and two hummingbirds are sitting on an overhanging maple branch waiting for United Nations peacekeeping observers to arrive. The only good thing to come of all this is that the toad lived and I’m hoping he will go on to eat his weight in ants.
Completely disillusioned by attempts to give nature a helping hand, I bring in the hummingbird feeder, hose down the patio, relocate the flower pot to the far side of the house and start throwing sunflower seeds over the fence in order to get the chipmunks to relocate to my neighbor’s patio, like refugees fleeing a war zone.
Instead of being heartened by the magical sounds of birds and small animals in my man-made menagerie, I have learned that no good deed goes unpunished and nature, per se, really is an ungrateful little world just past my kitchen door. Suddenly I’m a big fan of the food chain.
The next time I have an urge to interact with critters, I’m going to do the drive-thru at African Lion Safari and let the monkeys throw poop at my car. At least those evil little primates let you know where you stand … which by the way, is not with your head out the sun roof.
For comments, ideas and copies of The True Story of Wainfleet, go to www.williamthomas.ca