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David Nightingale: Homestead

Three young deer, the same three that had touched their noses to my front windows in the snowy months, while I was at the computer barely 8 feet away, and who later ate the emerging hyacinths of March/April, today chewing at low-branched green leaves …

It seems I should put another fence up, if only to protect the tulips. Yet both are pretty – tulips and deer.

Ground hog in the middle of the lawn scurrying back as I leave the house. Not far from his entrance under a rock my parking area is sagging, seriously sagging – perhaps down onto the ceiling of his underground living-room.

A black bear loped across the driveway last week.

Yann Martel's “Life of Pi” character, Piscine Moritor Patel, says: … I have nothing but the fondest memories of growing up in a zoo [p. 14] ... it was after school that I discovered … what it's like to have … an orang-utan pick through your hair for tick snacks, its wheeze of disappointment at what an empty pantry your head is … [p.15].

Moles and voles have made haphazard pathways under the surface of the lawn, leaving raised ridges and occasional holes. Whose habitat exactly is this hillside? The zoo was here long before me, of course. On the other hand, humans have been here for centuries too. Boundary lines are artificial.  People move here, as also they move into tornado alley, and we can't expect to hold things at bay. Nevertheless, can't we all get along?

A snake at the back door – garter, fortunately. A small black tick on my leg.

Is the glass half empty, or half full?

It's a sunny Saturday morning. I settle to sandwich and newspaper, but now bits of sawdust are drifting down outside the window, because carpenter bees are chewing at the sofits again, like last year. Finger-sized holes at places along the wood. The holes don't go through; they simply penetrate, then turn sideways into what look like horizontal tunnels, but I can't quite see.

Yann Martel again: … Don't we say, “There's no place like home?”… and … the two relentless imperatives of the wild: the avoidance of enemies and the getting of food and water. [p.17]

But there is no water on my land, no stream, no pond – only a 350' drilled (albeit sulphurous) well from 25 years ago. And tightly-enclosed in piping which surely they can't detect?

I walk to the barn. Twenty small holes, 2 or 3 feet apart, outside the entrance. Who made those overnight? Can they be the 17-year locusts, I wonder?

Wasps are building a nest at the apex of the roofline, without a building permit.

Quoting again: A house is a compressed territory where our basic needs can be fulfilled close by and safely. [p.18] Yes, Yann Martel, it is – and my small territory, like Israel in the Middle East, or the Falkland Islands perhaps, is surrounded by others who have wanted the territory. Conflict, unsolvable by surveyors.

This week there are 3 baby fox cubs in a culvert of the neighbor's driveway; the mother's head turned anxiously towards me as I walk by. Why did she choose this as habitat? Didn't she hear – there is no water on this rocky land. Surely she would have done better deep in the woods and forests? Or did she feel that humans, albeit with their dangerous vehicles, might actually protect her?

One year, when I went to clean the chimney in the late fall, I found it blocked with twigs and leaves. Squirrels had decided to settle in, 12 feet down from the top.

Finally, even inside what Martel calls the 'compressed territory' there are the usual invaders. While great care was taken, long ago – poured slab, tightly-set walls, caulked windows – ants always arrive, of course. Tiny ones, interested in the region of my cooking range – which I thought I wiped clean every day – attempting to nest under the rectangular glass cover of the range's small clock; and larger ones, which used to arrive (from goodness-knows-where) at and in the cereal bag.

Ah, the homestead. Where would one have to go to get relief – the International Space Station?

No, glass half-full, I'll choose this. Indeed, can't we all get along?

Dr. David Nightingale is Professor Emeritus of Physics at the State University of New York at New Paltz, and is the co-author of the text, A Short Course in General Relativity.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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