My Turn: Our own Nature Channel just beyond the shades

Thursday, February 08, 2018

A yip, less than a full-throated bark, streaks across my backyard and disappears behind the hoop house. A dog, I think. But not a dog, I think. Minutes later, the soft raspy bark comes again. This time it’s accompanied by a reddish-brown tail. I’m not imagining things, I assure myself — though sometimes I do.

Peering through the window, sometimes a high branch is a hawk or a low bush a hunched over bear. But, not this time. Loping across the snow-covered yard, in full Technicolor, is a fox. Soon after the first fox, a second appears. A tag-team, they are circling and prancing as if playing a game of chase, or as a friend informs me later, taking part in a courting dance. In burnished winter coats, heads up, tails alert, they are a handsome sight and I a rapt audience.

Soon I notice them nose down into the snow. I have also been informed by my naturalist friend that just below the snow, there is something called a “subnivean zone,” where hibernating creatures (voles and mice) build tunnels, secure from winter’s perils. According to my source, my foxes can detect their movement below and will pounce, then try to dig out dinner. However, I continue to watch their progress, all from behind a wide bathroom window. I see them find a puddle of sun, curl up and what — sun bathe? “See, ” I want to tell my grandchildren, who were puzzled and concerned about the absence of a window shade, “this is why.”

“How come,” Rose wants to know, “there’s no shade in Grandpa’s bathroom?” She says this in a whisper, as though sharing a secret and not wanting to call anyone out. Due to family pressure, we have shades in the other bathroom and bedrooms. We have shades because our beloved visitors insist on it. They hesitate to use the facilities without it. We point out that there is no one out there, no one to invade their privacy. But clearly it’s not about reason; it’s about habit.

Which eventually leads to what I call — but not out loud — our “shade wars.” That is, they use them. We don’t. They pull them down. We pull them back up. Sometimes, however, the shade is jerked so hard, it loses its grip and won’t wind back up. After a slight tug, it unspools. Then, we take it out of its socket and rewind by hand, hoping the tension mechanism will revive, hoping it will recover its spring, but alas, often it doesn’t. It’s had it. It’s gone. And then we must all regroup.

“There’s no one out there,” I try again, pointing to the empty expanse, the verge of tall maples and riverbank. And yes, you can see slow moving cars, but only at a distance. And yes, there are neighbors on either side of our house, but not in the back. Yet, in the end, my husband, Gary, ambles off, good-naturedly, to buy a new window shade. “We should get those new kinds of shades, the ones that don’t have springs,” I say, but know we won’t. Once our company leaves, the shades will again be on inactive duty.

After all, I prefer to watch from my throne nature’s surprise appearances. This past summer, I caught a glance of what I took to be a doe and her fawn nibbling wild shrubs. A neighborhood tabby also showed up, defying territorial perimeters, to saunter across the yard with nary a hissing comment from our snoozing cat. And then there were the flocks of birds feasting on Gary’s ripe raspberries. It’s our own Nature Channel, shade up and tuned in.

“Let’s just leave the shades down this year,” my husband proposed, as we prepared for all our cautious holiday arrivals. He was thinking about shade preservation.

“No way,” I reply. I’ll wrestle with obstinate, oppositional springs, because, who knows, a red fox or two might just appear. And I don’t want anyone to miss it!

Ruth Charney lives in Greenfield.