Nature Provides Amazing Opportunities

By Sue Coletta

It’s no secret that I’m a huge animal lover. Folks who follow me on Twitter may’ve noticed my interest in wildlife, conservation, and protecting our ecosystems.

When our last two dogs crossed the rainbow bridge, part of me died right alongside them. In 10 years we’d lost eight dogs, seven of which died to cancer and one to a brown recluse spider bite. I longed for another to help fill the void, but my husband couldn’t go through the pain again. I understood. Nonetheless, I still grappled with the lack of pitter-pattering of paws across the hardwood. The house didn’t feel the same.  

To help heal, I turned to nature. The woods surrounding our house had to be teeming with life. Surely some little fella needed love.  

At the time, I was writing Blessed Mayhem and had studied crows extensively. How hard could it be to befriend a crow?  

One day, I piled peanuts on the grass. Circus peanuts, unsalted. In my research I’d discovered that circus peanuts are high in carbs. It takes a high-carbohydrate diet to flap wings. Within thirty minutes, a crow landed in the yard. A bubble of joy burst inside me, a tidal wave of love shattering the protective layer of my heart.  

“Poe?” I said, blurring the lines between fact and fiction.   

Unlike in my book, my Poe turned out to be female. The only reason I knew this was because a few days later, she brought her mate, Edgar, who was noticeably larger. Poe struts with an unmistakable wiggle to the hips and Edgar acts as the great protector. A real man’s man, if you know what I mean. The proud parents flew peanuts back and forth to their nest … in the woods across the street.  

OMG, they had chicks! The helplessness that had consumed me each time cancer stole another dog from us, withered away like lilies in a frozen pond.  

Days turned into weeks as I marveled at their intelligence, grace, and loving nature. My husband got swept up, too. 

Then we had a new visitor. The Marilyn Monroe of squirrels, this gorgeous dirty-blonde with a swanky strawberry-blonde tail sauntered into the yard. Hesitant at first but making a b-line for the peanut pile. Uh-oh, she could be trouble. Would Poe and Edgar accept her, or would they retaliate for the intrusion?  

Since I’d already matched the crow names to fictional pets, why not stay consistent? From that day forward, the sexy squirrel became Shawnee. Then I noticed she was pregnant. If Poe didn’t accept her, how could I ever kick her out? Better lay out two piles of peanuts from now on. 

Fights broke out between the two mothers as I bit all my fingernails to the quick. And then something amazing happened. Little by little, day by day, the taunts, lunges, and overall discourse lessened. It’s like they’d struck a deal — you stay on your side of the yard and we’ll stay on ours. With tiny mouths to feed, the kids remained their top priority.  

Just like that, harmony was restored.  

Neither Poe nor Shawnee cared when Hippy joined the party. Hip is a tiny chipmunk who at the time hadn’t even formed stripes yet. Instead, two dotted lines trailed down his back. My heart puddled into goo. Hippy must be the most enthusiastic of his kind. Each time he scores a peanut he leaps a good four-to-six inches into the air, as if screaming, “Hip, hip, hooray!”

Poe and Edgar brought the chicks once they were old enough to fly. Tears teemed my eyes as they taught their babies how to crack peanut shells against the rock. Their beaks weren’t strong enough yet to pry the shell apart. Shawnee brought her babies, too. Two older chipmunks joined Hippy. That was it. No other birds, no other animals of any kind. Until the sun set in the night sky, when Foxy Lady and her kit, Cornelius, ensured the yard was properly licked clean. Jeff, the opossum, and two of the fattest raccoons on record, the Fatty Patty Twins, also helped with the clean-up. Albeit in shifts. The night crew story I’ll save for another time before this post morphs into a book. 

Back to Poe, Shawnee, and Hip … 

In the yard, I designated a pile of peanuts for each family and they stayed at their respective piles, never encroaching on their neighbor. The two mothers formed the foundation for a mutually beneficial arrangement and everyone played fair.  

The nice thing about crows is, they know how to keep a secret. This becomes especially true with places they feed. Sure, they may bring a guest here and there, but it’s a one-shot deal. If the visiting crow(s) try to hang around, Poe and Edgar escort them past the property lines. Crows also aren’t opposed to playing dead next to a consistent source of food, so other crows flying by will think the feast is toxic. They really are smarter than fifth-graders! 

In New Hampshire, winters are long and brutal. This fact alone worried me. How would my new fur-and-feathered-babies weather harsh conditions? Little did I know, they worked out a solution ahead of time: me. If it isn’t obvious by now, I’m an easy mark, and they knew it from day one. A tilt of the head, a swish of the tail, and I’m out the door, trudging through two feet of snow. My husband also isn’t immune. Thank God, too, because someone needs to shovel a path for them. He’ll even clear the snow around the bottom of Shawnee’s tree so her feet don’t get cold when she climbs down.

During the same blizzard, Odin, our chatty raven who loves to hang out on my deck railing, sang for his breakfast around 6:00 a.m.  

Crows and ravens have an amazing range of calls, which include mimicking other animals. They can even imitate us!  

Once the snow arrived, I moved peanut piles up a level to shorten my trek. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but that slight alteration caused a major shift. The waft of peanuts caught the attention of blue jays, who wasted no time in muscling in on the action. Shawnee’s kids had kids of their own, or she’d spilled the beans to one of her squirrel suitors. Between you and me, she’s a bit of a floozie.  

The harmony in the yard became a massive feeding frenzy, new squirrels zigzagging around crows, blue jays divebombing from all directions, warring with one another in mid-air while Poe and Edgar played referee. Add in an adorable red squirrel, aptly named Wile E. Squirrel, and I created the perfect storm. Absolute madness unfolds daily around here … but everyone’s fat and happy.   

The truly beautiful thing is, Poe and Shawnee still eat wing to tail without even so much as a harsh glance. Even after all this time they’ve never broken that initial vow to put family first. Can’t say the same for their offspring, though. If a baby squirrel tries to take off with one of the suet squares (yes, I cut them into bite-sized pieces), the Poe clan gangs up on the poor little fella. Massive black wings flapping behind you will make anyone drop their stash.  

I’ve also witnessed new behavior. Poe and Edgar’s kids – who are huge by the way; they take after their Dad – line up on the lower level, their backs concealed by the skeletal-branches of the bushes. When one of the baby squirrels takes off down the hill with a mouthful of nuts, the wings spread. If he makes it past the defensive line, they soar after him. It’s not like there isn’t enough food to go around, either. I go through 15-20 lbs. of peanuts per week. Maybe stolen food just tastes better.  

Spending time with wildlife is one of my favorite ways to relax. Enjoying nature is an excellent excuse for taking a well-needed break from the computer. Thanks to Jim, TKZers know why it’s important for writers to step away from their WIP from time-to-time.  

My neighbors probably think I’ve lost my mind … again. Passerby’s certainly do. Twice a day, if I haven’t been beckoned, I stand in the yard, hands cupped around my mouth, and call into the sky for Poe. A caw always echoes in return. Within minutes of closing the sunroom door, the yard erupts – a Coletta family signal that a new day has begun.  

It’s impossible to have a bad day when you’re surrounded by tiny paws and talons. Let’s start the week off on a fun note. Do you feed the wildlife around your house? Tell me about the animals in your life.  

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About Sue Coletta

Member of MWA, Sisters in Crime, and ITW, Sue Coletta is an award-winning, bestselling crime writer of psychological thrillers. She also writes true crime: PRETTY EVIL NEW ENGLAND is anticipated to hit stores in Fall 2020, published by Globe Pequot (Rowman & Littlefield). In 2017, 2018, and 2019, Feedspot awarded her Murder Blog as one of the Top 100 Crime Blogs on the Net (Murder Blog sits at #5). Learn more about Sue and her books at https://suecoletta.com

34 thoughts on “Nature Provides Amazing Opportunities

  1. Living in rural Colorado, we’re surrounded by wildlife, but other than bird feeders, we enjoy watching without intervention. People here often feed the deer, which wreaks havoc with the population. The Hubster has a computer printout checklist and notes every living thing that visits the property. The dog has learned that when she hears the rapid click click click of his camera, there’s probably something to look at outside the window, and she runs to her lookout perch on his office couch.

    In fact, the cover of one of my Blackthorne books was taken from our front porch when a “model” came to pose.

    • Ha! I love that. What a smart pooch. In NH, feeding deer is also frowned upon. The biggest thing I’ve attracted is a wolf. What a gorgeous animal! We keep waiting for black bears, but we’ve managed to escape their notice thus far. Probably a good thing.

      • We have bears and mountain lions and coyotes and foxes and raccoons. Because of bears and raccoons, we bring the bird feeders in every night. Feeding deer is illegal here, but the people who feed them don’t care, and don’t understand the consequences. If caught, they pay the fine and go right on feeding them.

        • We’ve got the same wildlife. Bears roam through my neighbors’ yards almost nightly, but haven’t ventured farther down the mountain to us. One night, my friends across the dirt road took a late night swim in their above-ground pool. A momma bear with cubs lumbered into the yard. Neck-deep in the water, they peeked over the rim as the cubs picked the garden clean (at momma bear’s urging). Good thing bears have bad eyesight. Later, they told me they looked like prunes by the time it was safe to leave the water. LOL

  2. ARGH! That blasted cancer. I lost my last 2 dogs to different forms of cancer.

    Unfortunately, I’m not near much wildlife in the immediate vicinity. In the apartment before this one, it was near an empty field so I would occasionally see bunnies and once even a beautiful coyote who’d come in searching for breakfast.

    At current apartment, I’m completely surrounded by city-scape, so except for some ducks, don’t see much at all. However, where I work during warm weather I do tend to see a couple roadrunners and a few quail on a fairly regular basis. I’ve learned to adapt to city life (a far cry from my old home town, population 66) but it only works for me when I have at least some contact with animals. Otherwise city living is just cold and fake.

    A few apartments ago, my joy was in daily walks that took me past a field that usually had a handful of cows in it. I miss my cow visits and the quieter walk. But thus far I’ve managed to have some animals in the vicinity to make life real. 😎

    • Well said, BK. Contact with animals is a necessary part of my life, as well. I could never move back to the city, but I get it. Our survival matters, too. I’m so sorry that you lost your dogs to cancer. It’s grueling and painful to watch them suffer. {{{hugs}}} There are city crows. A bag of peanuts could bring back your visitors. 🙂

      • When you first said in your post “circus peanuts” I had to stop and think. For me, circus peanuts means the orange marshmallow peanut shaped candy you buy in a bag, I was imagining crows with cholesterol issues. LOL! Then I realized what you meant. 😎

  3. Wife and I love the dear deer clans that renew in our neighborhood every year. I just wish I could tag them to keep track of who is who. No feeding them. Highlight: I got up from dinner about eight years ago, our second or third year there, and looked out the front door just in time to see a doe, eating the placenta, and two brand-news “who totter when she licks them.” Fifteen feet from the door.

    I wrote this the other day–scene seen from my bedroom window:

    Blobs of wet snow speckle the freezing rain.

    The hunter spurns a blind,
    Perches on the weather-worn backboard
    with its rusted, netless rim.

    His golden chest puffed out,
    Only his head, on a swivel neck,
    Rotates a near full circle,
    Waiting, watching.

    Patient, watchful waiting.

    A quick pause
    To shake snow from his feathered crown.

    No rabbits in our yard.
    Squirrels snug in their leafy nests.
    Chipmunks venture forth,
    Quick, darting sallies.

    He’ll drop like a silent Stuka, no wailing siren.
    Speed versus quickness.

    Later the arrogant screech
    Pierces the winter sky.

    • Beautiful, Eric. Love that. Thanks for sharing it with me.

      What a special experience! I see deer tracks that lead to our pond, but he/she/they must come after I’m in bed. If the nice weather ever arrives, I’d love to setup a game camera to see who else drinks from the pond.

  4. In NW Wisconsin, on our one-acre home surrounded by woods, we have deer, gray and red squirrels, chipmunks, an occasional fox, wild turkeys, black bears, and, uh … skunks. Pew.

    And, of course birds. Two cardinal pairs raise their young in two nearby trees every year. Blue jay, oriole, hummingbirds, crows & ravens … you name ’em, we’ve got ’em.

    Thanks for this lovely post, Sue.

  5. What a great post! We live in the desert in southeast Arizona. I figure anything that survives out there has a right to water, food etc. Squirrels, ravens, crows, all kinds of birds, lizards and even snakes.
    But my favorite story is about a small (4-5) herd of javelinas that hung around the place we used to live, about 20 miles from here (Whetstone, AZ). I used to cut potatoes and sweet potatoes into chunks and carry them outside. I never got one to take a chunk from my hand, but I finally got one little girl (about 2 feet tall, maybe 3 feel long) to come within about 6 inches with her snout. (I named her Jessie.) Then I’d lay the potato down and back away and she’d eat. The others would come up only when I’d backed far enough away, like to the porch. This went on for several months.
    Then one day Jessie came around by herself. I ran inside and cut up a potatoe, then went back out to feed her. We went through the same ritual. But when I laid the chunk down and backed away, she turned around and walked just past the end of my house.
    When she turned around again, she was nudging a little one (looked like a football with legs) toward the chunk. I quicky went down the stairs and laid out several more chunks, then went back to the porch. Jessie and her piglet at all of it. 🙂

    • OMG, Harvey, I love that story!!! Little Jessie trusted you enough to bring her piglet. Aww, how special. I bet they’re adorable to watch.

      You’re so right. Wildlife doesn’t have it easy. Only the strong survive. If I can lend a hand, I’m all for it. Have you ever watched any of Sir David Attenborough’s documentaries? I can’t get enough of them. He’s illuminated so many wondrous things about our planet, natural events I’d never even considered before. The episodes about wildlife are incredible. I’ve yet to watch one where I didn’t learn something new. If you haven’t seen any of work, I highly recommend it. Start anywhere. His documentaries are all over Netflix and YouTube.

      Thanks for sharing your story. I’ll be thinking of Jessie and her piglet all day.

    • That’s so cool that she brought her baby to see you! Awwwww!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. I love this story, Sue! Like you, I have been trying to compensate for a recent “dog void” by courting other wildlife. After planting milkweed, our yard is now a Monarch butterfly nursery; I am luring songbirds with sunflower seeds and a mesh sock filled with nye seed; I revel in each new dragonfly that alights on the floating island on our koi pond (where I have given names to each and every fish).

    Thank you so much for this uplifting post! 😀

    • Sounds heavenly, Kathryn! I love that you named each and every fish. Sounds like something I’d do. Monarch butterflies are fascinating creatures; some even replicate a poisonous wing design in order to deter predators. The intricacies of nature amaze me.

  7. We live in the city and are known as the Dr. Doolittles of our neighborhood. We’ve rescued a red-shouldered hawk fledgling from the neighbors’ dogs, raised orphaned baby squirrels in a cage on the kitchen counter until they were old enough to make it on their own. They still live in the trees around our house and come down to steal tomatoes in the summer. There was the baby bunny, whose mama got killed, the injured opossum, the chipmunk rescued from the clutches of the hawk, and the list goes on and on.

    As I said, we live in the city so you wouldn’t think we have a lot of wildlife, but we have a huge flock of turkeys and a herd of deer that hang out. It’s a game to count the turkeys and so far, 53 is the number to beat.

    • Aww, I love that, Terri! Those animals are lucky to have you to watch their backs. I’m always on the lookout for injured animals. About a week ago, I heard a barn owl nearby. Owls and crows and natural enemies, so its call immediately struck fear in me. Poe and the gang acted on-guard for days, with one family member perched on the highest tree, playing lookout. I thought the owl moved on when they started to relax, but the other night we saw him soar across the road in the reflection of headlights.

      The danger worries me. Poe lost a chick early on, and she sat in my yard, sobbing — one of the worst sounds I’ve ever heard! I talked and listened to her for hours. Even though it touched me that she shared one of the lowest points in her life, I think it took me longer to recover than her.

      We have wild turkeys roaming through the yard from time-to-time, too. I call them “the ladies.” Nowhere near 53, though. At last count, we had 22ish. Keep saving those animals, Dr. Doolittle!

  8. What a wonderful post, Sue! I’ve been following your critter-capades and I remember one bear visit you had that cleaned out Bob’s corn 🙂 We live right downtown in a small Pacific coast city and have a resident flock of about 100 crows plus untold seagulls, herons and songbirds. But the coolest guys here are an otter family that climb the docks and crap in boats 🙂 Yesterday, one was sunning itself on shore and I walked within a couple feet wondering if it was okay. It just raised its head and then went into a minute long scratch before rolling over to spread the rays 🙂 Nice to see you taking a break from all the writing to enjoy God’s natural gifts.

    • Aww, how adorable, Garry!!! British Columbia seems to attract hordes of wildlife. You know I want pics of those otters, right?

      Haha! Remember that? Mr. Bear didn’t leave one kernel. Since that day, Bob hasn’t wanted to plant corn again. No idea why. 😉 As it is, the poor guy trips over peanut shells everywhere. He stormed into the house the other day with a carburetor in his hands, the inside filled with peanuts. “Guess I know why this wasn’t working.”

      I “may have” told Hippy he could use Bob’s workshop if he got too cold in the burrow, never thinking he’d use the shop for a stash spot. 🙂

  9. Loved your post, Sue.

    When my son was younger, we used to make bird feeders out of pine cones covered with peanut butter and rolled in birdseed. Special times. Your post is a great reminder to writers that protagonists who care about animals are very likeable. 🙂

    • Joanne, I’d almost forgotten about pine cone feeders. I really must show the grandkids. They’ll love it.

      I agree! Including pets is also a great way to show the villan’s soft side. 🙂

  10. I’m late to the party on this one (killer work day) but couldn’t resist.

    I do my best writing in my garden, mostly on weekend mornings.

    We have several varieties of squirrels (gray with white ears and white bellies, blonde, red, a blonde with red tail, a red with a black tail). Several generations of cardinals and woodpeckers visit and one big, fat possum visits the water bowl at night. We also have a tufted titmouse family, a red-shouldered hawk, and a Cooper’s hawk.

    Most of my Twitter posts are pictures of my garden and our outdoor familly.

    • I need to follow you on Twitter, Cynthia! I’ll look you up. We had a baby hawk last summer, and I loved when he visited … until I realized he was narrowing his focus on Hip. My poor little buddy is on a lot of menus. He’s never grown to normal chipmunk size. He did get his stripes, though. Maybe he was the runt of the litter. No matter. He’s perfect the way he is.

      Nothing stirs creativity like spending time with nature. Like you, I do some of my best writing in the yard. Thank God for voice recorders!

  11. I love your story… at first I thought it was going to be a Short Story (fiction), especially because of the names Poe and Edgar (terrific names by the way). The beginning reminded me of one of my first stories called “My Black Crows”, about a boy’s friendship with black crows and a homeless man who all help him to heal the relationship between his mother and grandfather.

    I don’t have as much wildlife around my house as you, so I really enjoy watching the live streams of animals online, from dogs to tigers to eagles…. Great post!

    • Thanks, John! One of Poe and Edgar’s kids is a bit of a handful. Allan was the last to master nut-cracking; he much preferred to mooch off his mom and terrorize his siblings till they dropped the peanuts. As a little guy he’d caw in the nest after dark (a big no-no). Poe would often drop him off while they went out to hunt in peace. I guess I made a suitable babysitter. We spent so much time together in his younger months, I can pick out his voice in a flurry of caws. He also has one white dot on his left wing; a birthmark I suppose. He’s the only fledgling I’ve named. Although another is vying for the name Thoreau. 🙂

      I enjoy live streams of animals, too! There are a bunch of wildlife folks on Twitter. Punch in #wildlife or #animals. You won’t be disappointed.

      “My Black Crows” sounds like a delightful story. Is it published somewhere?

      • I never submitted it for publication. But after reading your post, I am thinking about going over it again and sending it off. I think your story about your backyard animals could be a fantastic story, either a children’s story or a story for everyone—about the adventures and interactions of the wonderful animals around your home—as they compete for peanuts and struggle to raise their offspring and ultimately find their special way to live in harmony as a family of friends.

      • ps, and maybe about how in some small way this family of animals friends in your yard helped you and your husband to cope with the loss of your beloved pets.

        • As I watch them, I’ve written several children’s books in my head. Peanuts for Poe and Hippy’s Backyard Adventures are two of the titles. I really need to get them on paper (dedicated to my grandchildren). Love your idea about how they saved our family.

          Oh, I’m excited to read your story. Good for you, John!

  12. Oh, my gosh. Sue, you are such a soft touch and a kind heart. I can picture it all. You’re truly blessed to see such wonder every day. (Even more blessed because you helped create it.)

    • Aw, thanks, Staci. Guilty as charged. I love these guys so much. This summer, my goal is for Poe to land on my arm. I’d give anything to pet her. Hip will come within inches, but the second I hold out my hand he boogies. Shawnee’s tried to follow me in the house. I told Bob the next time she tries I’m going to let her. Even though he loves her, too, he’s less optimistic about the outcome. 🙂

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