John Carlson: The Stuff of Nature…

This year’s gardens are truly bursting with color and life. Photo y: John CarlsonThis year’s gardens are truly bursting with color and life. Photo y: John Carlson

By: John Carlson—

Gazing out a window into our side yard the other day, Nancy said something I’d never heard her say in thirty-eight years of marriage.

“I just saw a duck walk by.”

Having been rousted from my easy chair by this startling announcement, I looked, too. Sure enough, there among the chunks of stale wheat bread Nancy had pitched out on our lawn, Mrs. Mallard was casually waddling around like she owned the place.

It just further reinforced the truth of something that strikes me as ironic: Perilous times that can be difficult, harmful and even deadly for people may be just the opposite for the rest of Mother Nature.

I hate to think what that says about humans, but …

The fact is, our flower gardens are incredibly verdant this year, the colors ranging from blues and pinks to reds, yellows, oranges, and purples. In one narrow, three-foot plot topping a stout concrete stanchion, not only are flowers growing, but a tomato plant has sprung up. This is all rooted among a level of greenness we’ve never seen at our place before. And what, exactly, are all these flowery plants?

Beats me.

Nancy being a) a woman, and b) a farm wife’s daughter, she knows some of them. There’s just something in the female gender that exhibits a genetically-programmed understanding of flowers, much like there’s something in the male gender that exhibits a genetically-programmed understanding of beer and pork rinds. But even she doesn’t know the names of half the flowering plants blooming out there. They’re a living reminder that with future plantings, we need to conscientiously identify and label them.

Meanwhile – with a tip of the hat to our intrepid duck – the fortune of the animal life hereabouts seems on the uptick, too. If the growth of our milkweed is any indication, there’ll be plenty to nurture those chubby green caterpillars we hustle off to the protective confines of a butterfly pen. With a modicum of care, before long they will become beautiful monarchs.

Other signs?

A couple nights ago a stately great blue heron glided past at low altitude, practically buzzing us, while detouring a bit north of his normal river route. It was a joy to see.

Less joyful but even more impressive, I stepped out through the back door recently and fast as lightning, a small hawk exploded from our yard, flew over our fence and into a neighbor’s tree, its needlelike talons impaling its frantically squirming breakfast. Being something of a raptor fan, I normally would not have begrudged this hawk its meal. Birds of prey gotta eat, too, right?

It’s just that, two days earlier, Nancy had become enamored with a little critter in our back yard she named Chip “Chubby Cheeks” Munk. You see, Chip had taken up residence in a hollowed-out stump we placed in our garden. This stump is something of a memento from her family’s beautiful old Illinois farmhouse, which burned to the ground along with everything in it a few years back. While it is inviting heartache for a woman – or a man, for that matter – to bestow a human identity on a wild animal, perhaps the fact Chip was inhabiting a poignant piece of her family’s past made him seem special.

When I told her about the hawk I’d seen, she was jealous she’d missed it. Then I dropped the bomb, and she wasn’t jealous anymore.

“I think it ate Chip.”

She got real quiet after that.

Still, as already noted, there’s plenty more wildlife around for us to enjoy. I fully expect our web-footed quacker back. The groundhog, or whatever it is that lives under our house in the crawl space, remains, having defied two trappers’ best efforts to relocate him. At this point I’m like, OK, fine, so long as I never find him hogging the toilet when I gotta use it. The rabbits hereabouts are fat and plentiful, too. We also hear tell of the occasional red fox hanging around, and while I can’t say I hear their nighttime crooning, much as I love that eerie, haunted wailing, it stands to reason coyotes can’t be too far away.

And just yesterday we were sitting on the back deck when a squirrel, balanced atop our fence, started shooting Nancy the stink-eye. That’s because, in an effort to thwart thievery, she’d applied handfuls of Crisco to grease the shepherd’s hook squirrels climb to reach the bird feeder. Up to that very moment, I didn’t know it was possible for a squirrel to look pissed off.

Oh, and by the way, Chip is back.

At least, we think it’s Chip. I’m no professional naturalist, though I do know when it comes to chipmunks, they all look pretty much alike. But still, the way this familiar little guy effortlessly took up residence in the stump, you had to figure he’d lived there before.

So with Chip back from the dead, a whole summer of bounteous growth lies ahead before fall arrives, and all seems right, at least with the natural world.

Here’s hoping for a beautiful summer.


John’s weekly columns are sponsored by Beasley & Gilkison, Muncie’s trusted attorneys for over 120 years.

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A former longtime feature writer and columnist for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana, John Carlson is a storyteller with an unflagging appreciation for the wonderful people of East Central Indiana and the tales of their lives, be they funny, poignant, inspirational or all three.  John’s columns appear on every Friday.