Tag Archives: city living

Thursday June 8th; A Wild Kind of Love

Thursday June 8th

Partly cloudy, 70’s, full moon tomorrow, early evening

photo by natasha


A couple of weeks ago while they were out foraging,  Wil and our sweet friend Ben found a deer that had been killed by coyotes.

The kill was so recent that most likely Wil and Ben had scared the hunters away from their meal as they passed through, which meant that there were fresh coyote tracks scattered throughout the area, and the deer’s blood still ran liquid from its wounds.

By the time I was able to get out to check out the spot later that day, flies were already busily laying their eggs in the meat and hide, and the doe’s beautiful eyes had clouded over. Cool to the touch, eviscerated, and peppered with bite wounds, laying a hand on her flank I said a quiet thanks for the chance to see such a thing here in this fairly urban woodland, and hoped her death had been quick and as painless as possible.

Wil and I have long suspected that coywolves prowled this particular area. On the line between urban/suburban park/woodland, and the manicured greens of a popular golf course, there’s a wooded hillside closed to hikers that borders the river on one side. A stealthy wild  canine could happily reside in such a spot and hunt and forage in the surrounding areas including the edges of the city and about 500 acres of park with a healthy, thriving deer population. If I was a coywolf, its certainly the place that I would choose to call home. (Actually, I’d be happy to call such a place home as a human too! But I digress…)

We’ve looked for sign of them before and as my love of coyotes has grown over the years so have our tracking efforts. But our searching resulted in not much- a couple of questionable, dusty half-tracks, and a small sample of possible scat. And yet, all of our instincts were telling us this land was the perfect spot for them.

In recent years the Coywolf population has blossomed here in the northeast and all over eastern north america. Also called the Eastern Coyote, the name Coywolf refers to their genetic make-up, a mixture of  Eastern Wolf, Western Coyote, and Domestic Dog. As wolf populations dropped wolves began to mate with western coyotes and the coywolf hybrid was born.

Incredibly secretive, mostly nocturnal and happy dwelling in the edgy kind of habitats we humans are so fond of creating, the Coywolf is filling an incredibly important predatorial niche in habitats all over its range.

I was happy just suspecting they were living here. But to know for sure? Makes my heart skip a beat.

Because theirs is a story of adaptation, of resiliency. Of wolves and coyotes finding a way to raise families and stay alive under impossible odds and nearly constant persecution by our agricultural  society. It’s a story of shape shifting, of cultural adaptation and the survival of an ancient way of life in the face of a civilization at war with all things wild.

I would still love to see a Coywolf, and maybe I will someday. It’s an especially tantalizing thought now that I know they are actually right there, practically my neighbors.

But part of me just wants them to stay hidden. To live out their secret primal lives without human eyes, or our desires, landing upon them.

And that’s a special kind of love, a wild kind of love. The kind of love we don’t need to possess to enjoy, where just feeling the presence of another’s soul is enough, and there is great joy in knowing they are free.

This piece is dedicated to our dog Buck, who passed away a few days ago and totally broke our hearts in a way I was not expecting. He was our faithful companion for over 12 years, and was for sure woven into the very fabric of our lives. Hope you felt you had a good life buddy, and hope the hunting is good where you are now. Love you old boy, we all miss you very much.



Starlings, Monday May 15th

Monday, May 15th

bright sun, blue sky, 60’s, breezy,  waning gibbous moon 81% illuminated, late afternoon

“Starling” by Natasha

Here, living in the city, I am on a near constant search for signs of life. Other than human that is. And surprisingly (or maybe unsurprisingly) there is so much of it! I’m constantly amazed. The most lovely and delicate of ivy vines push their way up through the smallest cracks in the sidewalks, black locust flowers drip from the trees, Possums wriggle their way over our fences, and birds seek out the tiniest crevices to build their nests. One of my favorite wild neighbors is the European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris).

I know starlings have a bad rap. Yes, they are cavity nesters, capable of stealing precious homes from more respected, native birds. Yes they can be aggressive, and have been know to destroy or evict the eggs of their cavity competitors. Yes, they are noisy. Yes, they are a bit rumpled looking. Yes they are messy, bold, and ever present.

And yet I cannot help but love them with all of my being.

They are so tenacious! So clever! So undeniably wild even in this most domesticated of settings. A creature after my own heart.

Natives of Europe, in the late 1800’s 60 birds were released in Central Park by the Acclimatization Society, a group dedicated to bringing every bird mentioned in Shakespeare’s writings to America. Odd I know, but the plan was a success in the case of the Starlings and today they number up to 2 million individuals in North America.

“Starling” by Natasha

For weeks now Rev and I have watched several pairs of our feathered friends building nests in all the little open spaces on our block- they especially seem to the like the tiny niches in the corner of the house roofs, where the shingles meet the siding of these old city houses.

One day we planted our small yellow window box with yellow violets and lavender. Not an hour later a starling appeared, tugging on the stalks of purple and yellow flowers and carrying them up to her spot just under our roof. It turns out they often harvest aromatic plants for their nests to deter parasites. What excellent housekeepers! I like to think of her little chicks cozy in there now, growing up with the scent of lavender in the air. And yes, they do have an excellent sense of smell, as do many birds, contrary to popular belief.

Incredible mimics- they are cousins of  the mynah bird, a world renown mimic-  Starlings have been heard singing like the wood thrush, american robin, red-tailed hawk and many other birds. They are also capable of copying more urban sounds, like police sirens, car alarms, ringing phones AND human speech. I like to listen to their conversations in the morning while I drink coffee by the open window. Their high pitched squeals and squeaks  remind me of something mechanical, and Rev and I picture little robots emitting radio waves tending tiny robot eggs up above.

On our walks around town we’ve been finding tiny pieces of recently hatched and discarded eggshell on the sidewalks under their nests and blowing around the streets. Rev collected a few for his nature box and the shards are so blue and delicate they feel like little chips of sky when I hold them in my hand. Whenever possible Starling families like to use the same nesting site year after year. This house is their home as much as it is mine.

In the fall, and winter, after the babies grow up, their behavior will change. Large groups of Starlings will flock together to glean seeds and insects out of the wintering farm fields, and they will roost together at night in massive groups. They will grow a new coat  without losing the old one, and the white tips of their new feathers will make patterns of polka dots on their bellies and breasts that look like little tattoos or maps of the stars.

At dusk, or at the first sign of a predator, you might see a flock of Starlings take to the sky. They are capable of flying very fast, in very tight formations, as though they were one organism instead of many individuals. They twist and undulate and dodge and dance, in very much the same way a school of fish swims in the sea.

They call this a murmuration, which feels like the most perfect of words for such a thing. It makes me think of the word murmur of course, of  quiet conversations, and whispered thoughts.  Of heartbeats with an echo, steady and unsteady at the very same time.

And the hum the Starling wings must make, as they write one of earth’s stories across the clear, blue, sky.

“Starling” by Natasha



Nov. 13th

Nov. 13th

12:06 am, full moon, sunny and warm, 60’s, and chilly at night, 40’s

The moon will be at it’s fullest just before sunrise on this night. Closer to earth than it has been since 1948, almost 70 years ago, when I stepped out to look for it a few hours ago, it startled me as I turned to the eastern horizon, it was that bright. Orion was there too, and the seven sisters, flickering in vividly clear sky, and more visible than usual in the city haze of light pollution. I remember other nights, under clearer and darker skies, spent outside, watching the skymap turn slowly overhead, watching the full moon track across the sky like a beacon, bright as a lighthouse calling all the ships home.

Here we can see only a few stars, the brightest and closest, and they are familiar as old friends. Standing on the front step, chilly with no coat staring at the sky it feels like I could be anywhere, city or forest, mountain, desert, or sea.

Yesterday we had a fire in the backyard just before dusk, in the steel fire pit we found a few months ago on trash night, and I was struck by the same feeling. That we could have been anywhere, at any point in time. We listened to the birds calling their goodnights, and watched the sun slip down into the cement canyons of the city streets and the world felt wild and abandoned, like we were the last holdouts in a city that was long ago reduced to rubble. The salvaged fire pit worked perfectly, holding our small fire made of Wil’s scrap wood in its welcoming arms, and the three of us sat around watching the flames and talking until Rev got chilly and we moved inside.

We saw this beautiful kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) earlier in the week at a local pond. While we watched, he scooped a minnow out of the water and flew up to a low hanging willow branch where he proceeded to pound the fish against the branch until it was dead, and then he ate it! by natasha20170302_121738


First blog post


Nov. 11th

The fall is extra warm this year and the leaves are extra bright. The sun shines through them at an impossible angle so that you must squint to see the person you are talking to, or the color of the traffic lights. The yellow of the gingko floors me. Caught underneath in a gust of wind the leaves are a waterfall; I am a thirsty traveller desperate for a drink.

This morning I made a point to clean up the yard. In the thick and humid of mosquito season the tiny patch of green was sacrificed to the dogs; the only ones willing to brave such conditions. The city mosquitoes are vicious and relentless, in the height of the summer worse than many of the wilder areas we’ve been in. Mostly they are Asian Tiger mosquitoes (Aedes albopictus), a transplant from southeast asia with a penchant for mammal blood and a willingness to feed throughout the day, not just during the reliable dusk and dawn business hours of our native mosquitoes. With several frosts under this season’s belt, it is finally safe to go out there again, and I am glad.

In the early spring Wil harvested three small logs from a neglected scrap of forest near the city’s edge. He wanted them for a project he was working on, but I ended up co-opting them for seats for the kids. Really, they just ended up laying dormant and the grass grew up around them and they were forgotten for a large part of the summer and fall.

Today I rolled one over and was shocked to discover a red-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus) hiding underneath! She was sluggish from the cooler temperatures, but warmed up in the palm of my cupped hand and wriggled around a bit. We settled her back under the log and left it where it was. A few minutes later Revel picked up a brick and there were two more, tiny sized, in their black phase and squiggling all over in a nice sunny spot! All told we probably found six or seven, of varying sizes, and several little piles of eggs too. A promise of more to come.

So amazing, how when we moved here in the spring the yard was just a patch of sad grass, and after a season of planting perennials and a healthy dose of rampant neglect, a little woodland habitat is blossoming out of nowhere. My heart’s bursting about it, even just sitting here writing this, thinking of nothing turning into something, and those wriggly little amphibians finding a home in our backyard.

A week ago or so there was a huge rainstorm, accompanied by a quick burst of lightning and wind. I had just reached out to close the back door when I heard a huge crack and saw  most of the old silver maple in our neighbor’s backyard come ripping down. He hired a company to come clear the debris and, anticipating future trouble from the other old maple on his property, had that one taken down too. Now there are just two rather tall stumps standing guard, some displaced squirrels and a vague absence of something when I look out our window, the same empty space I sense in my mother now that her cancer is gone.

The squirrels lost a few good nests in those old leafy trees, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they crawl into attics and under roofs looking for a warm place to sleep. Trees are scarce on this end of the block and those of us that care to notice mourn the loss of even one.