There is beauty and cruelty in nature, even in your own backyard - Upsmag - Magazine News

There is beauty and cruelty in nature, even in your own backyard

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I want to put that right at the beginning. I know some people are sensitive about such things and might prefer to stop reading now. It bummed me out, too. Nature is nothing if not cruel.

But just as often, nature is beautiful.

And so it has been around my house lately, this mix of beauty and cruelty that constitutes the very essence of being alive.

This is the first spring of our new and improved yard: a burbling (artificial) stream and native plants designed to lure pollinators. For the first time ever, we were visited by warblers on their annual migration.

For us, this was like seeing a unicorn, or a flock of unicorns. Warblers are the diminutive dandies of the birding world. My Lovely wife and I are so accustomed to robins, cardinals and sparrows, that we hardly ever need to consult the bird identification book we keep on our porch. These fetching little birds had us thumbing its pages.

I think what we had were a black-and-white warbler, a black-throated green warbler, a yellow-rumped warbler and an American redstart. They only stuck around for an hour or two, not long enough for me to ask them. A yellow-throated vireo and a cedar waxwing splashed in our stream, too.

They were all just passing through, but we enjoy our resident birds, too. For the last few years we’ve been putting out two birdhouses. One is plain, just rough wood in the classic basement workbench configuration. The other one is fancier, with decorative millwork and a steeply pitched roof, its ridge flashed in copper. I call it the Chalet.

Until this spring, no bird had deigned to nest in the Chalet. But this year, a chickadee couple moved in. We’ve seen a wren commuting back and forth to the other house, so we’re hoping there’s also a nest in there.

As for cruel, one afternoon a crow buzzed through our backyard, something big and squirming in its beak. It was a fledgling, a blue jay we think. When the crow settled on a neighbor’s roof, an adult blue jay sat a few yards away squawking miserably.

Crows and crow babies have to eat, too, I guess.

And then there was the squirrel. One morning last week, as my wife absent-mindedly gazed out the front door, a cup of coffee in her hand, a small branch fluttered to the street from atop a tree. The leafy bough was followed a millisecond later by a squirrel. It hit the pavement with a sickening thud.

“Oh!” Ruth cried, as if it was she who had fallen.

The squirrel lay motionless on its side on the asphalt, just a few feet from a lawn that might have cushioned its fall.

We don’t expect squirrels to plummet from trees. They seem so sure-footed. I’ve written about their remarkable agility, the way they scurry through the canopy, their death-defying leaps. They seem to always stick the landing. Here was the exception that proved the rule.

I went out to investigate. A teardrop of blood had pooled in the corner of the squirrel’s eye — a crimson comma stark against its gray fur — but it was still breathing.

What would be the most humane course?

We do not lack for squirrels in our neighborhood. They are everywhere. They delight us with their antics and infuriate us with their persistence. Squirrels have no boundaries and no impulse control. Perhaps this is why some people love them and some people hate them.

This squirrel was not especially remarkable. But it was a living thing in distress.

I called a wildlife rehabilitator I know. She suggested we take it to Second Chance Wildlife Center in Gaithersburg. She was stark in her assessment. The squirrel might die in transit, she said. It might be too severely injured to be saved.

My wife put on leather gloves and got a cardboard box. She slipped an edge under the squirrel and slide the squirrel in. She added a towel. She punched some holes in the top of the box then sealed it with duct tape.

If the squirrel did wake up, it wasn’t going to be in the best mood. It might try to escape. As we drove up I-270 we had visions of the squirrel bursting from the box and madly pinballing around the inside of our car like a drunk monkey.

We consigned the squirrel to the folks at Second Chance. “Squirrels do fall from trees,” said the woman who took the box from us.

Later that day we received an email. In addition to its injuries, the squirrel was infected with a virus that had probably contributed to its poor balance and its fall. It — she, the email said — had to be euthanized.

Red in tooth and claw nature may be, but it still lifts my heart to be part of it.

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