Bipeds in a cage

Published 7:20 am Thursday, August 2, 2018

Trees surround my home on three sides. A small yard serves to separate the walls from the wilds. I enjoy the setting because it lets me peer out my windows to watch woodland creatures scampering about in their natural habitat. I was recently startled to discover that several individuals from among the local fauna seem to have taken an interest in observing me. Some days I feel as if I am a biped living in an elaborate cage in some sort of reverse zoo.

I imagine that parental animals bring their offspring to see this exotic, but frail, monster that must be kept in a climate-controlled environment in order to thrive. They may regale one another with stories about how when it escapes, it can wreak havoc. Or perhaps they point out commonalities and shared traits and bemoan the lack of interspecies communication that could potentially open up vast areas of understanding and wisdom.

The squirrels began it. One morning, I discovered a squirrel sitting on my porch looking in through a front window. I don’t know how long he had been there watching. Monitoring me as I roamed inside my native habitat, it would have seen me fetch a cup of coffee, make a piece of toast, and flip through the previous day’s mail. If the squirrel were capable of human style thought, it might have made a connection between the large box-like appliance that stores my food and its own various hiding places for the acorns that fall from the chestnut oak behind my house. Perhaps it would have concluded, “Aha! Humans also try to hide some food away for future use.” Maybe squirrel children hear fairy tales about the industriousness some humans show as they prepare for winter.

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Curiosity among the outdoor residents apparently spread. A toad took an evening position in the front sidewalk where it could observe the order in which we turned interior lights on and off. A raccoon explored our collection of yard maintenance equipment. A mother quail led a line of inquisitive chicks on a tour through the boundary between the grass and the trees. Then a pair of cardinals started hanging out on the back deck rail. The brilliantly red male seemed to enjoy bringing his demurely outfitted wife on expeditions to peer into our windows. I wondered if the couple were amazed to realize that my husband and I were also a couple, a male and a female bound together as a unit.

During their evening songs, perhaps they compared their own nest building behaviors to the bizarre rituals they observed as my husband and I pounded nails to hang pictures inside our own habitat. The hummingbirds were the ones who invested the time and effort to train us. When they arrive each spring, my husband and I receive their instruction that involves sharp dives with needle-like beaks aimed at our faces. We have learned to respond by hanging feeders filled with sugar water. When the feeders empty, the dive-bombing resumes until the matter is rectified. The birds will tire of the game in autumn and fly south for other sports, but next spring they’ll be back to test our recall.

The deer use more caution. A few weeks ago, a doe brought her two fawns to learn about human behavior. When I opened the door and went out to the driveway, they scurried behind two maples. It was early, and my car windows were covered with dew so I took a few minutes toweling them off. I may have heard the doe whisper something about my legs being insufficient for distance running. As a result, she snorted that I needed to be transported in a dangerous, artificially constructed pen. I couldn’t tell if she felt sorry for my limitations or angry about the destruction caused as a result of them.

I don’t know who may show up next. The closer I watch the more elusive some of the creatures seem to be. As they pass by and inspect my habitat, I hope they pause long enough for me to enjoy watching them in theirs.

KAREN BELLENIR has been writing for The Farmville Herald since 2009. Her book, Happy to Be Here: A Transplant Takes Root in Farmville, Virginia features a compilation of her columns. It is available from You can contact Karen at kbellenir@PierPress.