KNOCK ON WOOD

In our neighborhood, the houses are spaced far enough apart that there is little interaction with our neighbors on any normal day. We are more familiar with the rhythms and cycles of the plants and animals that live all around us. The first thing we see in the morning looking out our windows usually sets the pulse or mood of the day. We notice which way the wind is blowing, if we had snow last night, or if there are tracks across the yard. If the bird feeder remains quiet for too long, sure enough, there is a white tailed hawk nearby. The squirrels still try every which way to steal those seeds.

The routine just becomes a part of you. It brings peace to your soul as you start a new day. In short it is easy to become quite used to the 'usual suspects' that visit our backyards on a daily basis. This past fall the noticed absence of woodpeckers became, unexpectedly, quite apparent.

After about two months, it dawned on me that there was not a single woodpecker around, and come to think of it, hadn't been for quite some time. We are pretty careful about cutting too much foliage, and do leave dead trees standing to serve as hosts for food and shelter. So, did they disappear along with the coyote and turkey in this area, due to development and clear cutting? Did they have some sort of avian disease? I know there are plenty of insects here!

I missed their drumming on the trees, once thought by Native Americans to be the very heartbeat of the earth. When suet cakes that usually needed replacing weekly remained unvisited, I was sure that I hadn't seen a downy, heard a hairy, spotted the un-red belly red bellied, noticed an ole sap sucker,or caught sight of the woodiest of them all, the huge pileated, with the royal red plume. No one was drumming a song for me. Not one sighting of the six or more subspecies of woodpeckers that live in Clinton. For years they have been as much a part of our daily lives as morning coffee.

I started asking questions and, when I did, the most common response was “Huh?” Okay…so it seems I was the only one to notice. A few more weeks passed and in early December, a few of my “flicker” friends with their unique flight pattern, started showing up again.

But the best gift of all arrived Christmas morning, when we were startled and surprised to see not one but FOUR pileated woodpeckers busily working up and down the trees, screeching to each other and spilling chunks of dead tree trunk onto the lawn. We had to rub our eyes and look again. To see one of these birds is always a thrill, but to see four at one time is like a dream.

This year we had decided not to feed into the craziness and commercialism of the holidays, but to focus on the simpler pleasures of the season. The miracle of seeing these creatures was more than I could have asked for from Santa.

Nothing is for sure, but it was suggested that we were the culprits who caused the woodpeckers' temporary disappearance. By our not feeding for the summer, we knew the birds would eat more insects and other natural foods. We also know there was a bear in the hood, who loves garbage cans, horse feed, and bird seed.

Hence we changed our feeding routine and the order of things as they had been. The woodpeckers left, and it took them a while to find us again. Is it just possible that by doing what we thought was a good thing, in fact, altered their habits? It took about three months to see them come back. Life is such a delicate balance, and the littlest things we do can really have an impact on nature, both good and bad.

Things are changing every day in our backyard. We have started to see species of animals move here from other territories, or stay here through the winter, or just disappear. We live on the virtual edge of encroaching development. In a world facing major global changes, we have begun to witness these shifts.

I like to think that the reason we all live in Clinton is to enjoy the beauty of the natural surroundings. And so a New Year's toast to you my fellow Clintonians:
May we all enjoy the privilege of witnessing these miracles for generations to come, knock on wood.

Get involved!
A wonderful way to get involved, report unusual sightings, or lack thereof is the Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count. Volunteers annually count birds to help monitor their populations across our continent. Visit www.audubon.org/bird or google Audubon Bird Count, for fun and relaxing ways that you and your family can further enjoy exploring the outdoors.

If you have unusual birds in your area, consider sharing by starting a bird watchers club. I'm in!

Animal Speak, by Ted Andrews, is a fun and easy read for all, offering descriptions and interpretations of animals and their symbolisms.

Pat Laine is a 8 year resident of Clinton. She owns and operates Little Creek Therapeutic Massage. She shares her home with her husband Will and their two Maine Coon Cats. Whether from walking in the woods, or from their vantage point overlooking Little Wappingers Creek and its environs, they observe the miracles of wildlife and plant life on a daily basis.


Miss last months writing?....here it is