In every place I live, I find my strongest sense of connection comes from observing the environment.
In Wisconsin, I had nearly all my growing-up years to do so, starting from childhood nature walks with my parents. When we moved into a house that bordered a small-but-vibrant restored prairie, I had plentiful opportunities to watch the birds and insects that benefited from the native wildflowers and grasses. I recall walking to a small pond next to that prairie to watch hundreds of dragonflies swooping predatorily over cattails.
In Massachusetts, over my four years at Mount Holyoke, I took countless walks around its two large ponds, enjoying the aquatic turtles queuing on logs. I remember strolling in the woods beside Upper Pond and the thrill of seeing my first pileated woodpecker, a bird that always calls to mind her dinosaur ancestors. In my last year there, my friend and I shared a dorm suite beside Upper Pond, which resulted in a somewhat more contentious relationship with the resident birds, who would urge us awake at dawn with their cacophony!
In Israel, I entered a completely different landscape. My fascination with it is well documented in blog entries from 2013 to 2015. The Mediterranean enchanted, and in the other direction lay Carmel Forest, a scrubby parkland atop the long ridge of Mount Carmel. While most of Haifa’s warm-blooded wildlife was best avoided—its jackals and boars—I fell in love with the grouchy-faced hyraxes found in rural areas. Sergey and I took delight in the rainbow of birds that either called Haifa home or migrated over it on their biannual trips between Africa and Europe, appointing the flashy kingfisher as our favorite.
In Pennsylvania, the ridges and valleys of the Appalachians beckoned, and Sergey and I made regular trips to nearby state parks and nature reserves. A favorite spot was Shaver’s Creek and Lake Perez, where we once witnessed a bald eagle steal an osprey’s catch. Pileated woodpeckers began appearing in our neighborhood. Only after leaving State College did I fully appreciate the number and quality of its local parks, land saved from development for the benefit of humans, animals, and plants alike. Within a twenty-minute walk from our apartment were three parks we visited countless times, and within a short drive were several state parks.
In Alabama, we moved into a house on a 0.75-acre wooded lot. Luck had it that we bought it before plants had been installed, so we rejected the original plan of adding a lawn, having the exposed ground immediately around the house covered with pine straw instead. (Traditional lawns, as monocultures requiring chemicals to control insects and weeds and fertilize the grass, plus maintenance by carbon-emitting machines, are terrible for the environment.) So, from the start, the yard has had what can be called a “naturalized” look. A range of animals frequent it—they’ll be enumerated in the next post!