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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: June 20, 2019

Jane Thibodeau Martin

June 16th marked one year since I arrived in Wisconsin to live permanently again, after a solo 13+ hour drive from Oklahoma with four bitterly unhappy cats in the truck with me. We've now experienced a full four seasons of life at our new place, and we are still enjoying the antics of our new non-human neighbors.

We had a pair of cardinals, one of my favorite birds, hanging around our sunflower seed feeder all winter. I was happy they've apparently chosen to set up housekeeping nearby. I haven't spotted the nest, but the male serenades us every morning beginning before dawn, and we see both his mate and him around the feeder daily.

The first sign of trouble was a persistent "smacking" sound against one of the bathroom windows. It usually began at first light, and it continued periodically throughout the day. The male cardinal, seeing his reflection in the glass, decided he had a trespasser on his property and he was trying to drive it away. The window became full of smears and debris from his attacks, and I was concerned he might injure himself, so Mike hung a towel over his favorite window to deter him.

Next we began to hear what sounded like a cat jumping down from something in our garage. I suspected a straying cat had gotten into the garage, but I'd never see it there. Mike was also puzzling over this sound and when we compared notes it was obvious that this "cat" had been in residence for several days. Finally I just stood in the garage and waited and discovered the cat was our friend the cardinal, bumping his chest and wings against the garage window. I put a tote bin lid over that window".and he moved his fight to the guest room window, then on to the dining room window.

I gave up trying to save him from himself, and now about six weeks later, he's still at it. Mike put on the window screens last week, and that seems to have helped a lot except for the big windows that don't have screens. Male cardinals are hard-wired to drive away rivals, and evolved before there were windows or car mirrors to fool them. All I can do is hope that once his family is raised he'll relax a little. I would like to explain to him that Mrs. Cardinal would probably appreciate his help back at the nest once in a while, and that he's made a real mess of my windows, but I have to admit our house cats love to watch him flailing away against the glass " prime cat TV drama.

We were gifted a lovely evening once the screens were on; warm and breezy, with a concert of frog calls. We never opened windows in Oklahoma, and it was so nice to have the fresh air in the bedroom and the night sounds as a backdrop as we prepared for bed. Beeker and Spanky the cats were parked in the window, listening and sniffing through the screen with great interest. Peace reigned in the house, but then Wolfgang the dog became highly agitated. He trotted from the living room patio doors into the bedroom, around the bed and back to the living room. His restless behavior was like that he exhibits just before thunderstorms, but no storms were around. I tried to calm him down but something had him really wound up. Then I watched, puzzled, as the cats stiffened in the windowsill, staring down toward the basement walkout entrance below them. They jumped down and bolted away to hide just as Wolfgang started barking very angrily.

Mike walked over to the window, looked out and whispered "Janie, the bear is here." We knew from a trail camera picture that a bear had been through our woods, and I was missing two suet feeders under mysterious circumstances, but still it was a shock to look down and see a broad, black back moving below us in the darkness. This was no yearling " it looked massive as its head swung side to side and it zeroed in on the new suet feeder.

We were safe in the house, and elevated 10 feet or so above it. All the same, it inspired instinctive fear coupled with awe. Such an animal commands respect, but also admiration from a safe distance. After a minute or two, it either caught our scent, heard our hushed voices or just became tired of the barking, because it ambled away to the northwest. The departure was dignified and unhurried, and surprisingly quiet for such a big-bodied animal.

The suet feeder has been retired until late fall. Black bear attacks on humans are extremely rare, but seeing this huge animal so close to the house, only 12 feet or so from the basement door, was a bit unsettling. Still, it was amazing and fascinating to see it. You wonder how such a large animal can live among us, normally unobserved. And I do welcome its presence " just a bit further from the house would be preferable.

I have to admit, I am glad bears do not catch sight of their own reflections in glass doors and try to attack their rivals like cardinals " because I have no doubt this big guy could crash into our basement with no problem at all.

And I still wonder what alerted Wolfgang that the bear was there. Did he see it approaching in the night, with his excellent Collie vision? Or smell its scent wafting into the windows? These gifts of the dog are why our ancestors decided to domesticate canines and share their campfires with them. The dogs would alert them to approaching danger well before humans could sense it on their own, a service even a tiny lap dog can provide to its human companion today.

This bear and its tribe occupied this land before my husband and I arrived; and I hope its descendants are still here long after I am gone. I am both respectful and a little afraid of them; but they have much more to fear from me and my kind than I have of them.

Song stuck in my head: "Ordinary World" by Duran Duran. Stunning male vocal.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.


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