Little patches of clover are working their way up between the cracks in the driveway, while grass, weeds and flowers seem to grow and transform overnight with all the recent sun and rain.
The warm sun beats down upon me while birds call out, sing and flutter around in the big old cedar tree that stands proud and tall in my front yard.
As I take all of this in, a gray squirrel of an impressive size ambles assuredly around the corner of the house holding a peanut in its mouth.
I can’t help but smile at the sight.
The squirrel notices.
It seems to make eye contact before freezing momentarily.
The squirrel remains still for several seconds, seeming to think I might want to steal its precious treat, but eventually scurries away to hide or enjoy the peanut in privacy.
As I turn to look behind me, I see a crow slinking around the backyard. It takes small, slow steps through the grass, bending its head down to the ground every so often.
All the while, a little gray squirrel watches the crow from behind a tree.
It begins to head in the direction of the crow’s turned back.
The squirrel’s exact intention here is a mystery to me, but as the squirrel scampers closer to the crow, the crow seems to sense the intrusion and takes a few warning steps toward the squirrel.
The squirrel turns away and retreats for a moment.
But it becomes clear the squirrel doesn’t seem against playing a little game of chicken with the crow.
Something like a little dance between the unusual pair ensues.
The duo repeats their respective approaches and retreats a few times until the squirrel scampers away, seeming to admit defeat in the game of chicken with the crow.
The crow, seemingly almost proud of the little victory over the squirrel, returns to its survey of the lawn and the food it may hold.
And just as this odd little dance is over, I’m startled by the sound of wings flapping overhead.
A different crow followed by a smaller bird suddenly flies around the corner of the house, headed for the treeline at top speed, a strange aerial parallel to what I’d just witnessed on the ground.
I found myself enthralled by all I had just witnessed, all the little dramas of the animal kingdom that played out in my backyard in a few minutes.
And I can’t help but wonder, perhaps all of this activity was here in years past, but maybe I was just too busy to notice it.
Maybe the events of this year have caused me to slow down, spend more time at home and in my backyard.
And this new attention to the wildlife in my backyard has paid off in so many ways.
Several weeks ago, I was amazed to discover the source of a strange noise I’d been hearing coming from a tree in my backyard. It was a nest of northern flickers hidden deep within a hole in the trunk.
I could see the parents take turns flying off to forage in the grass and the wooded border of the yard before returning to the tree trunk and their hungry, vocal chicks. As the days passed by, the chick vocalizations seemed to change and mature.
There was a certain magic in knowing those little birds were growing up, right in that old tree in my backyard, just outside my kitchen window.
And that nest is just one, small beautiful part of the backyard animal sightings that have provided me with such joy and entertainment over the past weeks and months.
The flicker nest, crow and squirrel standoffs, pairs of bunnies hopping around the yard, blue jays racing between the treetops, robins bobbing their heads as they hunt through the grass, families of chipmunks racing around in the backyard, it’s all felt like a little gift during a spring and summer that have required much more time at home than usual.
And we can find so many gifts in the natural world and our own backyards when we take the time to look closely.
We can find so much beauty and joy when we truly take stock of the wild things that surround us each day.
We can also find enduring sources of hope, compassion, love and even humor when we take note of all the creatures great and small that surround us.
And we might just find there is nothing like spending a few minutes in our own backyards to calm us, ground us, center us and remind us that we are part of a beautiful world.