One of my favorite things about living in the Warwick Valley is that I can enjoy nature, in all her boundless, magnificent and murderous glory, from the comfort of my Barcalounger. Mother Nature and I do better with a sort of “hands off” relationship. I love her, but I’d rather observe her from a respectful distance, preferably from behind heavily reinforced walls.
You see, back in the Bronx, we didn’t have much in the way of wildlife. Curmudgeonly squirrels, scrappy sparrows surviving on pizza crusts, and street savvy pigeons dodging speeding vehicles are impressive, for sure. But not scary. Even for me.
Since moving to the wilds of Warwick, I’ve seen some equally impressive but way more anxiety-inducing critters right in my own backyard. Stealthy bobcats and howling coyotes, skydiving hawks and scavenging buzzards, to name a few. I observe them with a healthy combination of awe and fear from behind the curtains as they strut around our property, scoping me through the window with that, “you weakling human, you” look in their eyes. Equally nerve-wracking was the 500-pound bruiser of a black bear that came a-calling to plunder our garbage. Max managed to stymie him with a secure network of bungee cords, but I’ll be damned if the big guy didn’t return the next day to ransack our bird feeders and devour 20 pounds of birdseed in one sitting. Max and daughter Zoe witnessed this gluttonous scene from our dining room window, up close and personal, as Big Ben feasted an arm’s length away. They captured some great Kodak moments while I barricaded myself in the upstairs bathroom. I mean, I know they’re supposed to be more scared of us than we are of them, but when it comes to a hungry bear the size of a Volkswagen, far be it for me to throw caution to the wind. For all I knew he was still mad about the garbage can thing.
Despite the fact that we cohabitate with creatures that could easily ambush us and snack on our bones for lunch, the thing that truly terrified me more than any winged or fanged beast of prey, the thing that undid me, was a nest of newly hatched hummingbirds. Let me explain.
It was the summer of 2020, the summer of Tropical Storm Isaiah. Mere weeks before that storm came barreling down on us with all its fury, a ruby-throated hummingbird made her nest in the ash tree right outside of our kitchen window. This was a clear violation of my hallowed code. That two-ounce bird had overstepped a bright line by insinuating herself into my life. I became part of the entire process, the building of the nest, the laying of eggs and the subsequent hatching of those fingernail-sized chics. It was absolutely terrifying. I couldn’t help but watch them obsessively, white knuckling the windowsill and hyperventilating into a paper bag each time mama hummingbird left for a bite. Little did I know in a week’s time, Isaiah would be upon us.
The day of its arrival, sensible Zoe made a plan. She parked herself in the kitchen window, armed with binoculars and a small fleece lined box, should the babies need rescuing. I hid under the dining room table with my trusty paper bag and watched in horror as the drama unfolded. Hour after hour, rain lashed, trees splintered, shingles blew off the roof, but somehow, the babies hung tight inside the nest as that delicate tree branch careened and thrashed. And then, in what felt like a hurricane force gust of wind, our power lines came down in the driveway. Deafening explosions rocked the house. Flames shot across the lawn. Our house, and the nest, were engulfed in blinding smoke. Zoe grabbed my hand, and the two of us, me with my now useless soggy paper bag, ran for our lives through blinding torrents of rain. What was going through my mind as we raced past the exploding power lines, through smoke and flames? It was not, Please, please don’t let our house burn down. No, I used those frantic moments to make a pact with Mother Nature. I pleaded with her to let those babies live.
After Isaiah went on his violent way, we returned home to find our house more or less intact. Our acre of property was carnage. Our appliances blew up from the power surge. Windows were smashed from flying debris. But that tiny nest, that miracle of fairy-scale architectural ingenuity, was intact, with the nestlings still safe inside it. Before the sun had set that day, mama arrived home as well, carrying a beak full of buggies for her babes. By the following week, they’d grown big enough to fledge, and off they flew to begin their own lives.
So, how do I hold up my end of the pact? I do my best to be brave. And when trouble comes around, I don’t hide in the bathroom or under the table anymore. I stand my ground. Sometimes, I’ll even stick my head out the window and yell at Big Ben. Inevitably, he turns and runs. What a baby.