Kevin and Lorin's wildlife preserve

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, May 16, 2012 10:48 PM

We have a very small piece of property here in the OP. Like many who live in Southern California tracts, our house is up against other houses, on both sides. We’re separated by six foot concrete walls that have been erected to provide some sense of privacy. Kevin likes to joke that when Dave, our neighbor on the right, sneezes, Kevin can reach out the window and hand him a tissue. I’m not complaining. We have a lovely little house on a lovely little piece of dirt. How little? 5039 square feet according to zillow.com. Which is what makes my news even more amazing: it appears that we have our own special wildlife preserve right here on Wiggin Street.

This is news because most wildlife preserves are bigger. The smallest one I can find that has received the official wildlife preserve designation is the Mille Lacs National Wildlife Refuge in Mille Lacs County, Minnesota. It’s just over half an acre, around 22000 square feet, and consists of two small islands on Mille Lacs Lake where several threatened bird species like ring-billed gulls, herring gulls, and double-crested cormorants live and breed. The refuge was granted its official status on May 14, 1915.

We have not applied for such a status ourselves but given the happenings around here, I anticipate having to file the necessary paperwork any day now. To wit: a Red-tailed hawk who regularly perches on our wall, in various places. Sometimes he’s right outside the greenhouse window in the kitchen. Every time he does that and I walk into the kitchen not knowing that he’s re-established residence, he scares me. Or maybe he’s a she. I have no idea which and don’t really need to know. He/she also perches on the wall just outside Kevin’s studio, one time complete with prey. I don’t remember what the prey was and I didn’t look too closely. I’m suspect it was a bird. But he placed said prey on the wall next to him, and proceeded to survey his/her kingdom in that steely hawk way. Like a statue, the bird didn’t move. Only his head pivoted, in slow motion, from right to left. Then he snatched up his dinner and off he flew.

Then there are the coyotes. While they don’t spend a lot of time on the refuge they do spend a lot of time on the periphery. I remember taking Maguire out one night before we all went to bed. I always checked for other dogs in the vicinity since other dogs and Maguire didn’t get along. As we were standing there in the front yard, the vintage puppy and I, I was doing my best impersonation of the red-tailed hawk, my head pivoting from side to side as I continued to make sure no canines approached. My head stopped; I stared. Coming down the sidewalk was what looked to be a dog, sans its person. I grabbed Maguire’s collar, and he looked at me with disdain. He wasn’t yet finished. I pulled him inside the house and then went back out. If there was a loose dog, I was going to grab him and call his owner. But it wasn’t a canine; it was a canis latrans. A coyote. I stood on the sidewalk. He veered from the sidewalk and moved to the middle of the street, trotting along, his eyes never leaving me. He stopped in front of me. For a minute, I wondered: should I be afraid? I continued to stare and he continued on his merry way to wherever. In the dark, from the shadowed hills, we hear others like him cry.

There are any number of other species of birds who hop about the yard; Squire and Mrs. Squirrel live there. Many lizards dart across the patio; a collared lizard stuck in the track of the screen door got quite irritated with Kevin one Saturday and hissed his way into the back yard. A rabbit or two has been known to show his cottontail. One appeared the night after Maguire passed. I caught a glimpse of him as I wandered aimlessly around the house, looking for my best buddy knowing he was lost forever. I noticed something odd on the sidewalk in front of the house, illuminated by the soft light of the garage lanterns. I walked to the window; it was a rabbit, poised, beautiful, still.

This morning, just before 9 am, Kevin started to go out the front door and immediately closed it as if he’d been stung. He motioned frantically, silently for me to come, quickly. I set my coffee cup down and went to see what he was so excited about. I peered through the long window next to the front door, the window that had previously shown me the rabbit. Just off the front stoop, sitting in a puddle of sprinkler water was a mother duck and six babies. We were astounded. Kevin ran for the camera as I watched the mother duck rise, shake her feathers into place and turn toward the road. She glanced back. The little ducks rolled over themselves as they tried to get ready to follow their mother. In a nice line, they trooped off, no doubt looking for a bigger puddle.

We couldn’t help but imagine Maguire, who even in his vintage days would bound out of the house into the front yard. He would have started, and then stopped short. We could imagine him looking back at us, then looking forward, the ducks frozen in fear of the big dog. We could hear him say: Hey. Did you guys know there were ducks out here? I like ducks. I really like baby ducks. Hey. The sidewalk smells a little like baby duck butt. Ducks are kind of like chicken aren’t they? I like chicken. A lot. So I’m pretty sure I like duck. But Dad? Why are there ducks on the sidewalk?

We would give anything to have heard him say that today, here at Kevin and Lorin’s wildlife preserve.

Lizard's eye view

by Lorin Michel Monday, June 13, 2011 10:16 PM

It’s spring, almost summer and though the sun hasn’t really begun to drench what we lovingly call the Southland, it has brought out some our friendly neighbors. The short but exquisitely fast ones that dart along the sidewalk, scurrying away from everything and everyone as fast as their tiny legs will take them, seeking cover under the brush after exposing themselves to a little sun and fun. I speak, of course, of the lizard.

Lizards are odd little creatures and very plentiful in the desert southwest. They come out with the sun and disappear in the evening. And we see them constantly when we walk. They’ll be on the path in front of us, waiting as we approach, waiting until the last possible moment before fleeing to safety. We were talking about this today, about how life must look from a lizard’s eye view. Think about it: everything with the exception of ants and spiders are huge. If a leaf drifts down from the towering trees above, it could be cause for alarm. They could be trapped! Trapped!

Then along comes a human, a big shadow falls over the lizard’s world and from his line of sight, this enormous black waffle, otherwise known as a sneaker’s sole, begins to descend. Run!

Everything they see at eye level is short. The earth is flat, the journey to safety both short and long. Even when one lifts its head to take in more of the world, nothing but terror looms above, nearly everything big enough to cause panic. A fence. Oh! A bird. Move! A dog, a mammoth creature much like the buffalo that roamed the plains in the 1800s. Outta here!

I find lizards both fascinating and a little frightening, largely because I’m not a big fan of reptiles. Though I do love iguanas. There are nearly 3800 types of lizards and they can be found on all continents except for Antarctica. Did I mention they tend to like it warm? They have arms and legs and ears, and most can detach their tails in order to escape. Their size ranges from just a few centimeters to over nine feet long. The distinction of the biggest lizard belongs to the Komodo Dragon at nine feet, six inches.

Interestingly, most lizards have highly accurate vision. They use it locate their food as well as for communication. They also rely heavily on body language to communicate. I discovered this first hand one Saturday morning when I went to open the screen on the back door. In the track was one angry green and black lizard. As I startled, and stepped back into the family room, he reared his head up at me, flicked his partial tail, looked me straight in the eye, defiantly. And then he hissed. I started to laugh. Here was a reptile that could fit easily into the track of a sliding screen door, and he was hissing at me as if to say: “how dare you, big giant animal with too much hair on top?” We think he wanted to come in; I was equally defiant about that. Absolutely no way. Eventually Kevin coaxed him into the back yard with a flip from the fly swatter and he sped off through the jungle of grass. After turning once more to hiss at Kevin.

At which point I’m pretty sure he cozied up to a bottle of tequila. It’s what all the fashionable lizards are doing these days.

 

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