A Backyard Safari

We have witnessed a slew of wildlife in the yard, a reminder that “our property” belongs to many beings besides humans. 

Mammals: Gray squirrels and chipmunks make their homes in the yard. Nocturnal visitors include white-tailed deer, raccoons, and opossums—and most likely armadillos. I once saw a red fox run through the yard.

The does here give birth in September, so each fall, we have the pleasure of seeing big-eyed, gangly-legged fawns exploring the yard, which compensates for my annoyance at the deer for sampling nearly everything I plant!

Two fawns, one standing and the other lying down, next to several trees.
Twin fawns rest in the front yard.
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The Land, My Nurturer

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.

A dragonfly with striped wings sits on the end of a cattail. In the background are many cattail leaves.
A dragonfly rests on a cattail in Verona, Wisconsin. All photos here are my own.
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The Festival

Dressed up for the Holy Day commemoration

Dressed up for the Holy Day commemoration

Today is the last day of the Festival of Ridván, a twelve-day celebration commemorating the Declaration of Bahá’u’lláh in 1863. Ridván has given us the gift of some free time with two days off, and we’ve used that time to get re-acquainted with nature.

At Bahjí, we’ve been observing the peculiar behavior of some spur-winged lapwings. These birds are usually goofy and noisy with their long-legged prancing and squeaky squawks, but lately we noticed them acting more settled, sitting still beneath olive trees. We learned that they nest on the ground, so this was their location of choice for raising their new families. The female birds tranquilly incubated while the males squeaked threateningly at other birds that wandered too close, like the oblivious cattle egret whose itinerant grazing aroused the wrath of one ferocious daddy bird. The poor egret clearly just wanted to eat in peace, not to bother anyone’s chicks. After a few weeks, we saw that the baby birds had hatched. While we didn’t get too close so as not to disturb the brood or provoke the father’s sharp-spurred ire, we enjoyed watching the little dots of fuzz bob around their mother on their stilt-like legs and then scoot beneath her. (I don’t have any presentable photos, but I suggest searching “spur-winged lapwing chick” if you want your heart to melt!)

On the first day of Ridván, we headed up the mountain to hike around Carmel Forest. It was my first time visiting on a weekday, and it was beautifully unpeopled. We were practically the only visitors besides a man in an ice cream truck who seemed to have pulled into the park just to take a nap, since the first sign of him that we saw was his bare feet against the windshield.

The wildflowers were in bloom, from the red poppies to white Queen Anne’s Lace to a host of purple, yellow, and pink flowers I can’t name. We spent a pleasant hour hiking the paths of Little Switzerland.

Vibrant wild poppies in Carmel Forest

Vibrant wild poppies in Carmel Forest

Then, last weekend, we went on a stroll to Stella Maris, a promontory with a monastic history overlooking the sea, and discovered that the cable car from there down to the beach was working—a surprise since it was Shabbat. So, in a moment of spontaneity, we bought tickets and hopped aboard an orange bubble that wafted down the steep slope. After a walk along the windy seashore that compelled me to deploy my hood to avoid my hair blowing away, we located the Cave of Elijah (closed due to Shabbat).

We returned up the mountain in the funicular and decided to do a bit more exploring. A few hours earlier, we had seen an acquaintance walk down a path behind a parking lot, so we wanted to see what his destination was. The path led to a picturesque meadow with wild grasses and windblown trees, and further along, a small round white chapel that used to be a windmill.

The picturesque windmill-cum-chapel

The picturesque Holy Family Chapel

What a surprise to discover a wild place in the middle of the city, just a short walk down from the bustle of Stella Maris’s restaurant scene. Standing on the edge of Carmel on a small platform housing a single bench, we stretched out our arms in the strong wind and felt ready to take off.

A Rainbow

A morning rainbow

A morning rainbow

Mornings are hard.  Back in my single life, I used to struggle to force myself out of bed.  You would think that marriage would somehow make Sergey and me into the sort of mature, efficient people who just spring out of bed at the first ring of the alarm.  Not so.  If anything, it made us even lazier, as we enabled each other to snooze later and later.  Finally, frustrated with my lethargy and lack of punctuality in the mornings, I told Sergey to start physically pushing me out of bed–and after much resistance (“How can I push a woman?”), he complied.  Now we are more on time, but the struggle remains.

I say all that as a preface, because the struggle of the morning contrasts so intensely with the often splendid seascapes outside our windows shortly after dawn.  This week, I saw one of the most beautiful–a sunrise rainbow!  As rain sprinkled the Mediterranean, the rainbow shone forth.  After stumbling into the kitchen to make our coffee, my groggy eyes caught sight of it, and I ran into the bedroom to tell Sergey to look.

Sometimes natural beauty is hard to appreciate.  For example, I find the beauty of Israel challenging–it can be hard to find anything wild in the paved, packed city, where the hot dust settles on everything.  The Bahá’í gardens are, of course, spectacular, but I crave something less manicured, something moist and verdant–basically, the leafy luster of the northern states of the US.  The tender evanescence of springtime, the green opulence of summertime, the jewel tones of autumn, even the silent blankness of winter (although I don’t miss that season as much!).

My natural environment, the green world.

Basking in my natural environment, the green world, during our honeymoon.

Spending some time on the land of the B&B where Sergey and I honeymooned reminded me that this terrain, this flora and fauna are planted in my heart.  In Michael Ondaatje’s novel The English Patient, the title character enjoys the solitary barrenness of the desert; on the contrary, his lover Katharine yearns for the moisture and verdure of rainy English gardens where hedgehogs roam.  I sympathize with Katharine, though I have seen hedgehogs in Israel.

But sometimes, it is patently easy to see the beauty of nature, when it stretches itself out right in front of you. Closer