Nov 28 2009

Under Surveillance … by the Animal Kingdom

Published by at 8:14 pm under Tidings from Gabriola Island

Tiny Kali-gee is a fearless peacock chaserIt was not yet dawn. Our business line was ringing, so I automatically jumped out of bed and ran to answer the phone. Big mistake. Within seconds, Kali-gee, our geriatric outdoor cat, was howling at the door, demanding to be let in and fed. How did she know I was up? Months ago, when she abandoned the litter box in favor of our dining-room floor, we’d banished her to the greenhouse. There, she has such creature comforts as her own cat door, heat lamp, foam pad and her favorite fuzzy blanket.

Kali-gee is not the only animal who has us under constant surveillance. We can not relax with our morning coffee without attracting a deer or two. There they stand, delicate black hooves poised precariously on our slippery slate deck, noses inches from our uncurtained windows, semaphore ears swiveling, pleading for a handout of multi-grain mixed with molasses.

Minutes later, through the glass doors to our deck, two feral peacocks covetously eye our cats’ dishes.  Shouting and flailing a broom at them countless times a day doesn’t deter them. Back they come, fouling the deck with slimy whitish puddles and chocolate-like scat, until we finally weaken and scatter dry cat foot on the lawn or proffer a dish of wet cat food,  poultry preferred.

Once we step outside, a multi-generational herd of hungry deer surround us. Who can possibly resist their insistent telepathic call for food, especially when they bring their adorable fawns?

Cats, deer, peacocks: we’re at their beck and call.

Margaret Atwood, one of Canada’s most iconic authors, is an avowed bird lover. I’m sure that she, too, has figured out that birds, like all other creatures, wild and domestic, are watching us more intently than we watch them. They monitor our every move. The eagles on our island even want to see our faces. Jogging around the island, my husband has had eagles swoop aggressively down and follow him.  When he removes his hat, they give him the eagle eye and fly away, their curiosity satisfied.  So now, whenever I see eagles circling , I doff my hat, look up, wave and call hello.

And why not? We do not pass unobserved. More often than not, the animals are talking back, but until recently, I wasn’t paying attention. Some animals communicate better than others. Our chickadees would land beside us or on our boots, fluttering their wings and cheeping frantically until we understood that we were to fill their empty feeder. I’m embarrassed to admit that I used to mistake squirrel chatter for noisy birds. I also didn’t realize that the squirrels were scolding me. One even dropped pine cones on my head to alert me to the conversation I didn’t know we were having.

My husband and I are constantly amazed at how well animals get us to do their bidding. And then we remind ourselves that they are smarter than we think — and that we’ve been outsmarted again!

I grew up a city girl, more comfortable indoors than out. Living in the country has taught me that we are  members of the animal kingdom, not mere observers. Just by being in their environment, we are interacting with the animals. They watch us, talk about us, and talk to us. Deer do it, tree frogs do it, even the birds and bees do it. There is a lot being said when we choose to watch, listen and share in the conversation.

Of course, there are days when it’s just too much. So, I hide out in my upstairs office, where only the peacocks can find me. And they do, pecking at my window if I ignore them too long. Ultimately, the pleasure of  mingling with our local wildlife outweighs their demands, even if they do have us under constant surveillance.

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