Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Mild Kingdom

If ever there was an indoor girl, it's me.  

My hobbies are dancing, reading, writing, baking, and the determined avoidance of dirt, bugs, and creatures that think I'm what's for dinner.

Now, this is not to say that I don't have an appreciation for nature.  I just prefer to appreciate it secondhand. For instance, I would never dream of missing Shark Week, but you won't catch me in the water at the beach, unless we're in the clear, blue Caribbean (I like to be able to see what's coming, especially if it's coming to eat me).  I'll watch NatGeo till the cows come home, so long as "home" is a generic neighborhood in nice, safe suburbia (I'm not a city person either, but that's another story).

But, as it turns out, that little part of suburbia I call home has unexpectedly produced a fair bit of wildlife over the last couple of years. We have a small patch of trees around us and though these hardly qualify as "the woods," apparently it is enough to offer shelter to a few creatures that have alternately captivated or terrified us.

"The Woods" in winter. 100 feet beyond these trees: Four lanes of traffic.

The Eagles Have Landed--or Are Those Hawks? 
An otherwise totally ordinary morning spent shuffling around doing nothing much was interrupted by Bronte's excited screams to go look in the driveway.  We all ran to the bay window in my office to see what all the fuss was about.  Two large birds were standing there, drinking from a puddle. I was able to sneak out and get a few pictures before they flew away.  

Cool birds, cooling off...

...and taking off!

After some Google image searches, we decided they were Golden Eagles, but then Anthony said they were merely hawks of some sort.  None of us girls took his word for it (he's only slightly more outdoorsy than me), so I sent the pictures to my father. Indeed, they were hawks. The next day, when we were driving to the pool, Chloe mentioned "the eagles" and I told her that Stampy agreed with Daddy.  She was unconvinced until Bronte said, "No. If Stampy said they are hawks, they are. Stampy knows about animals and stuff." 

As disappointing as it was that our birds turned out not to be eagles, they are still the most interesting birds we've seen here.  Although, once we heard, but did not actually see an owl: It was the same evening we saw a tiny baby rabbit in our front flower bed. We never again saw the bunny (yes, I know a baby rabbit is called a kit, but bunny is so much cuter).  And we never heard the owl again either. 

Pesky circle of life.

Objects in Window Are Larger Than They Appear
Again, "the woods" do provide a few creepy crawlies. This guy inspired a houseful of girls (no, I am not including my husband; he was at work) to produce ear-splitting screams of terror.

Um, no.
Google images didn't help us out on this one either. We never determined exactly what kind of spider it was, but we assumed the giant red "keep away" sign on its back meant it wasn't friendly (although, truth be told, it could have cried out "Salutations!" and spun a web that spelled "Some Pig" and we still would have shrieked and wished it dead). Relieved that it was trapped between the window and the screen, I snapped a few pictures and waited for Anthony to return so he could go medieval on its spinnerets.  

Imagine my horror when it was gone by the time he came home from work. 

That's More Like It
On a rainy fall morning, we saw this guy trudging across the driveway from the woods to the lawn:

We shall call you Franklin, as we do every turtle we find.
I called the girls and we all ran out to see him.  I was just about to say "Now, this is wildlife I can handle," to the girls, who by this time were jumping up and down with glee, when Chloe reached down to pick him up. 


I'm not sure if this is actually true, but it is my standard battle cry for any non-domesticated critter my children try to approach. "Let's just be happy to watch him walk away," I encouraged. 

The excitement drained out the girls' faces, their shoulders sagged a little, and they trudged, very turtle-like, down the driveway and back to the house.

The Quick Brown Fox Jumped Over My Daughter's Bike
Okay, not really. But it could have!

A few days after the eagle/hawk sighting, it was Chloe who started yelling for us to come see what was in the driveway. A fox was sitting at the edge of the pavement, a few feet from the treeline. He stared at us for a minute before cutting back into "the woods."

This is the third time I've seen a fox out front. The first time was December of 2003. In the middle of the night, I was up pacing around wondering if I was in labor with Chloe. I looked out the window and saw a fox trotting down the snow-dusted sidewalk in the moonlight. It was so strange looking, I thought for a minute I must have imagined it!

Then last summer, I saw another fox walking down our driveway one morning. I grabbed the phone to call animal control, but then decided against it for two reasons.  First, I had called them the previous year about a possum sitting on one of our fence posts in broad daylight and they basically told me to get a grip, which I did thanks to my friend Dianne, biologist and adventurous outdoors-woman extraordinaire.  She taught me all about possumy goodness and convinced me that there are worse things to have in your backyard.  Second, I thought, "Well, I guess a fox has the right to live here, too." Still, we didn't play out front for a few weeks and we never saw it again.

Until last week.  And, now, once more, it has disappeared. Maybe it is still in the woods and only comes out at night, or maybe it has moved on. I haven't a clue and I'm not too worried about it. 

But, seeing the fox, seemingly so out of place, reminded me of another odd event the girls and I saw a few nights earlier.

Driving home from church at nearly 10 p.m., we crossed through a major intersection. Just as we made it through the light, movement drew our attention to the left. A deer was tearing across the parking lot of an apartment complex. It scrambled down a small hill and leaped across the four lanes of traffic. 

"Why would a deer be in an apartment parking lot?" the girls asked.

Of course, the answer for the deer and the fox is the same. You see, our neighborhood had been book-ended by two smallish fields, each about a mile away to the east and west, and a scraggly little patch of woods half a mile to the north. In the last year, a new neighborhood went up in one field and a shopping center in another. The woods were bulldozed a few months ago to make room for a Walgreen's. Though each of these "nature preserves" were pretty tiny, I thought, it's apparent that whatever had been living there has been squeezed out and into the surrounding housing developments, making us all uneasy neighbors.

I explained all this to the girls using words and phrases like "displacement" and "suburban sprawl," glad for the opportunity to turn this into a school lesson, but inwardly embarrassed that it had never crossed my mind before. 

Turns out, they already knew all about such things. "Oh, we know, Mom. It's just like Over the Hedge."  Stupid cartoons stealing my thunder.

Bronte recounted our little catalog of mild wildlife: "Turtles, bunnies, that one owl, the creepy possum, squirrels, hawks---"

"Well, I'm still going to call them eagles," Chloe interrupted.

"--HAWKS, foxes, and can I count the deer, Mommy?" Bronte continued. I said she could.

"Wow!  What's next? A moose?" she cried, as she wrapped up her list.

I smiled and turned the question back to her: "Well, you should see what you can learn  about moose and figure out it if you are likely to see one around here." 

Out of the mouths of babes, an endless stream of school lessons are born.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy 4th!

Happy 4th of July!

And the rocket's red glare...
I got up early this morning and crept downstairs to read a little bit before anyone else woke up. I try this often, and it almost never works. Today was an exception.  It wasn't until 7:30 (and yes, that is sleeping in around here) that the girls were up and excited to celebrate the 4th of July. Carys came down first, dressed in too-big denim shorts with the waistband rolled over so they won't fall down and a red-and-white striped shirt.

"Good morning! Are you excited about the fireworks tonight?" I asked her, as she climbed up into the chair with me for a morning snuggle.

"Yes! That's why I picked out this outfit. My shirt is like the 'Merican flag."  Impressive. Frankly, I had just assumed it was coincidental.

Next, Bronte came sweeping into the room, already full of drama:  "Mommy. Big problem. I don't have any 4th of July clothes!"  Chloe followed close behind and was quick to join in: "Yeah, I don't like any of our old 4th of July clothes!"

"Old" 4th of July clothes? I didn't know they had any 4th of July clothesOh, but I do love being mom to three girly girls who think about the importance of such things! 

Still, as the chatter progressed from outfits to pool parties to cookouts to fireworks, it seemed a good time to take a few minutes to remind them what all the fuss is about today. The girls didn't bother putting up a fight about being required to review "school work" on a holiday. They figured out there's no holiday from learning two years ago when I made them do a full-day's lessons on Thanksgiving:  "Show how THANKFUL you are to homeschool by doing extra work today!" (Before anyone asks, no, I do not make them do schoolwork on Christmas or the entire month of December, for that matter).

Like any self-respecting homeschool mom, I started with flash cards. We reviewed ten of our Classical Conversations time line cards specific to the American Revolution...

The first four of our ten American Revolution flashcards

We then watched/listened to a reading of the Declaration of Independence:

Carys actually did watch the whole video, to my surprise (I didn't realize she was paying attention until the 6:20 mark when, after all the other actors in the video had read two or three times each, Graham Greene appeared and Carys said "Hey, a new guy!").  But Bronte's eyes quickly glazed over.  Chloe eventually tuned out altogether, though in her defense it was so she could focus on spelling out "AMERICA" with Connect Four checkers.

I had better success with something a little more age-appropriate:

With the history lesson over, we went on to enjoy our day. 

We didn't head in to D.C. for the fireworks or attend a fabulous block party or watch any parades. No, we just swam a little. Baked a little. Ate and laughed a lot and made s'mores and played with sparklers and celebrated the day with our family. 

It was simple and it was good.

Chloe sparkles.

When I tucked Carys in tonight, she was utterly wiped out, but happy. Still smiling from all the fun, she said her prayers: 

Dear Jesus, 
Thank you for our Independence Day. 
And for giving us s'mores. 
And fireworks. 
And new 4th of July dresses. 

Girls who love to dress for the occasion.