In Brief— With apologies to James Herriot, the author rambles through some of his experiences with a few of the furry and feathered creatures that share this planet with us.
Anyone Who Loves Animals Can’t Be All Bad—
The little lady squirrel sat on my knee eating sunflower seeds out of my hand. Bold as brass with her soft little paws, teats testifying to a brood of baby squirrels in a nearby tree, she cracked the shells and ate the nuts within as if she hadn’t a care in the world. Sated, she slowly hopped across the yard and disappeared into the forest.
That was just one incident that not only enriched my life but showed me that our fellow creatures are smarter than we ever imagined. They showed me that it is essential for humanity to preserve and nurture earth’s creatures for the future. We are all part of that great web of life that has endured since we evolved from the seas all those millennia ago.
That little squirrel came from the feeding station I erected next to the forest when we moved to Sweden. It consisted of a pole atop which sat a small platform that I stocked each day with sunflower seeds for the birds, squirrels and deer that regularly emerged from the forest, particularly during the late fall, winter and spring when their food was scarce. Four large bags of sunflower seeds was not unusual. The deer fed on the seeds that dropped on the ground, but the other creatures relied on the elevated feeding platform.
Intelligent Feathered Creatures—
How many times have you heard the put-down “bird brain?” Youtube features a clever crow figuring out how to get food from a device to measure a crow’s intelligence. I can personally attest to the fact that magpies, members of the intelligent crow family, are unbelievably smart. Magpies mate for life. Watch one magpie and you will usually see the mate nearby.
Two incidents stand out. One day I watched a magpie struggle with a long stick intended to be part of a nest being built next to the warmth emanating from our chimney. That in itself shows their intelligence. Try as s/he might, the magpie was unable to get the long stick to the chimney top. S/he called his/her mate to help. One bird held one end while the other took the opposite end. Together they flew the stick up to the chimney. What I watched was cooperation.
Every winter, stores sold suet balls coated with seeds for the small birds. Each ball was enclosed in a plastic net. Knowing that the magpies would steal the suet balls if they could reach them, I suspended a ball from a tree branch so it couldn’t be reached from above or below, but the little birds could easily cling to the net. A magpie landed on the upper branch, paused to consider the problem, then grasped the string and reeled in the suet ball until s/he could reach it. S/he ripped open the net with his/her beak, the ball fell and s/he picked it up to carry to the nest. Stupid? Not!
Our Large Furred Friends—
One evening I started down the driveway for the evening constitutional with the dog when the dog suddenly reacted. I looked to the right and saw two large moose in the neighbor’s driveway about fifteen feet away. Since moose can sometimes be aggressive, I froze in my tracks as we eyed one another. Slowly, the moose moved down the driveway and crossed the street into the trees. Only then did we continue the evening walk.
So why was I leery of two moose? Earlier, a good friend was chased down the street by an angry mother moose who felt her young calf was threatened. Only an oncoming car served to break off what could have been a very dangerous encounter.
For those who aren’t familiar with moose or possibly only at a distance, when they are accidentally hit by a car at dusk they cause considerable damage to both moose and car. As an aside, it should be noted that a moose’s fur is coated with oily lanolin that protects it from the weather.
Just outside of town is Moosegarden where tourists can see moose up close and personal. In the nearby shop, they sell stationery made from moose droppings. “Ugh,” you say, but those droppings are pure cellulose that is turned into paper. Want to drop an unusual note to Aunt Lulu? Stop by Moosegarden.
One other occasion occurs to me. Our train was moving ver-ry slowly through the deep winter snow. At last, a curve revealed the reason for our snail’s pace: a moose thought it was easier to walk on the railroad right-of-way than fight the deep snow. Eventually, he decided the iron monster following him wasn’t going away.
It helps to live close to both nature and civilization, but I’ve run out of space so I’ll continue in Part 2. Meanwhile, your pet may not be part of nature in the raw, but is smarter than you think.