In the pond behind my house—tiny by any standard and manmade to boot—life abounds. This little pool of water is home to myriad creatures: turtles, a couple of alligators, and an astounding variety of birds including (but certainly not limited to) sandhill cranes, great blue and great white herons, anhingas, coots, ibis, limpkins, ducks, and even the occasional pelican, though I’m quite far from the nearest shore. A heron once chased a pelican out of the pond and sent him packing.
Even more birds find rest and refuge in the cypress trees that line the pond: noisy blackbirds, blue jays, sparrows, warblers, mourning doves, and a hawk who announces, with loud screeching, the start of his day of hunting around dawn most mornings. Anhingas balance on bare cypress branches, their wings outstretched to dry after a morning spent diving for fish.
Blackbirds chase one another from branch to branch on the cypress trees, grandstanding in their peculiarly avian way, screeching and fluffing their feathers to intimidate each other. Tiny warblers flit nonstop, sometimes alighting on the ground, grabbing a bug here and there in the coarse grass.
Two alligators—one much larger than the other—peacefully coexist with every other life form. During the winter, the big one often hauls himself onto the same spot on the grassy bank to heat his cold-blooded body, lying perfectly still for hours at a time. Soft-shell turtles do the same, often ending up in a messy clump. Wood storks with their beautiful, white wings lined with black and their craggy heads stand hunched over on the banks between fishing excursions.
In my postage-stamp backyard, a live oak provides sustenance and endless entertainment for squirrels, who chase one another up and down its trunk in dizzying zig-zags. They scurry under its branches, stealthily burying acorns with their adroit paws, hoping to remember later where they hid the tasty morsels. Sometimes one will scurry across the screen of my lanai, an acorn in his mouth, his tail twitching when he spies me out of the corner of his eye.
Something is always happening here. Blackbirds collect Spanish moss for their nests. A white ibis swipes his bill in a puddle to wash off the dirt accumulated from digging in the grass for insects. A handsome hawk eats his meal on my next-door neighbor’s roof. A turtle starts to dig a hole near another neighbor’s downspout to lay eggs. Because the earth is more sand than soil and surface roots foil her progress, she discards the idea and plops back into the pond. A woodpecker tries fruitlessly to bore a hole in the metal fascia of my roof, his beak producing a rat-a-tat like an electric drill makes when it has finished its job but you keep pressing the power button.
A spiny-backed orb weaver spider has constructed his ornate web between the lanai and a corner of the house. A spider weaves a perfectly symmetrical web. It’s his gift, his job, his livelihood. Sadly for him, because he lives within his masterpiece, he is unable to step back and admire his handiwork from afar to truly appreciate its perfection. If he could, he would no doubt be amazed and astounded at his innate ability.
The latest spectacle around here is the baby sandhill cranes, born less than two months ago. Their parents, who mate for life, are superior providers. For every worm Mom or Dad eats, a baby gets at least half a dozen. Sometimes the babies will flop down in the grass in a fuzzy heap or stretch one of their legs out behind them or flap their tiny wings, which are useless as of now. They stay close to their parents, safe within their sphere of protection.
When these little guys were first born, people camped out nearby for hours, their professional-grade cameras mounted on tripods to capture images of one of nature’s most majestic creatures in infancy.