A Facebook friend and wildlife biologist commented on one of my recent posts that I must be “living right” because I see such wonderful things at Little Piney. I don’t know if I’m living right–I think I’m doing okay– but, I feel very, very blessed to have this little place in the woods. Ray also commented that I could film a wildlife documentary at Little Piney. If I did make a documentary I would call it “A Year at Little Piney: Where Birds and Wildlife Share Their Home with Me and Occasionally Say Hello and Let Me Take Photos.” Little Piney is home to a lot of wildlife, and I try to interfere as little as possible with habitat; in return, the animals feel safe sharing their home with us.
North American River Otter
This past weekend was rich with wildlife encounters. For the first time, I saw a North American River Otter right here in Piney Creek. I knew that otters lived in the Colorado River, but I had never seen or heard of one close to us. I was standing by the creek when a pair of Green Kingfishers came flying along the water. One of them landed on a shore plant not 5 feet away, then took off again almost immediately as he became aware of me. I had my camera ready, searching the shoreline for the birds, when I saw a round silverish back roll just above the surface near the opposite shore. I had no idea what it was and accepted it as just another mystery, like the birds I can hear but not see, or the rustling in the woods that follows alongside me just out of sight. Still facing the direction of the Kingfishers, I heard a strange snorting behind me, like a frightened deer but close and louder. I turned slowly, and there he was staring at me from the water and snorting. He swam up for a closer look and allowed me to take photos before disappearing in a cloud of bubbles. The whole encounter was over in a minute, but what a thrilling minute that was!
The very next day, we were visited by a beautiful bobcat. My step-daughter happened to look out the window, and her first thought was that our brown tabby had somehow escaped! This was indeed a large version of our indoor kitty, strolling down the path having just passed the house. He was in no hurry so I had plenty of time to get my camera and change the lens. I shot first through the window, then opened the back door for clearer photos. He seemed aware of me but not spooked. He was at a safe distance by then, so unconcerned about me.
Migrating Franklin’s gulls were around all day on Friday, soaring and circling so fast that they were difficult to photograph. Once I heard the loud gull cry that reminded me of childhood days at Surfside Beach and the ferry to Galveston Island.
Living Right with Nature
I think in some ways, I am living right. Letting the animals be, respecting their habitat, treating nature as a living being with love and care. Many people have the point of view that nature is a thing to be tamed and manicured, and wild animals are to be controlled or killed, Instead of treading lightly on the land they aren’t happy until it looks like a park. Instead of protecting their chickens and pets, they want to kill the bobcats and coyotes.
I have a new neighbor across the creek who decided to clear a wooded slope and creek bank and plant it with native grasses. He wanted to eliminate the yaupon for fire safety and create a path and a view of the lake. Instead of the plants that nature put there the land is now scraped bare, dotted with a few trees he left. The Woodpeckers, Hawks, and Sparrows who lived and hunted there have lost part of their home. Twice I’ve seen a bewildered coyote cross the clearing in daylight where there was cover just a few weeks ago. Instead of clearing a small path through the woods to the creek, he tried to improve on nature, tame it, manicure it, change it.
I grew up in a little town in the Piney Woods of East Texas. Year by year, I watched developers clear acre by acre of the beautiful pines, sweet gum, hickories and oaks, and build strip centers. Then they would plant a few strange little trees for landscaping. It hurt me as a child, and it hurts me now. I know that development will continue until most of the forest disappears. In fact, major development is headed toward Bastrop like a wildfire, and it is unstoppable.
I’ll hold on to my little bit of the woods as long as I can. I can’t ask people not to clear their land. I ask only that they modify it gently, wisely, and respectfully. Find the wild beauty that exists in the landscape and celebrate it, don’t conquer it. Let the native plants and grasses grow, bloom, and go to seed. Let the baby pines come up even if you won’t live to see them to grow tall and thick. Let the reeds and sedges crowd your banks. Retrain your eye to see nature’s beauty in all its forms from spring green to the dead of winter.
That’s living right with nature.