It's a savage wilderness, here in my city yard. From a distance, it looks like a Victorian postcard — a pastoral scene of sweet flowers, sun-kissed vegetables and trilling birds. The reality is considerably rougher. Hang around, and one sees a Darwinian jungle of predators and prey. The Animal Planet's "Untamed & Uncut" program has nothing on my backyard.
There are lots of birds this year, but for a brutal reason. At least one coyote had apparently been killing and dragging off neighborhood cats. Fewer cats, more birds.
I know a coyote was around last year because I saw him (or was it a "her"?). He was trotting down the middle of my tree-lined street baring that trademark creepy smile. (Coyotes are not a friend to humans, either. They recently attacked small children in a New York suburb.) Shortly after, signs were power-stapled on the telephone polls reporting cats gone missing.
Sadly, we know what probably happened to those beloved felines. But such tragedies — plus the decision by some cat owners to keep their pets indoors — have enabled the bird population to recover. Thus, cardinals, blue jays and other Major League mascots are now blessing the trees and power lines with song.
The exploding bird population, however, has led to some rather violent scenes at the birdbath. For example, every morning several fat robins do their ablutions. When sparrows try to join them, the robins run them off.
That doesn't bother me much, because as cute as sparrows can seem, they are an invading species (native to England). They run around in packs and kill the American blue bird. I don't care to encourage sparrows.
Of course, bird proliferation has unleashed mass panic in the worm world. Worms are precious little helpers in the garden, and I do all I can to make them feel welcome. But the moment dawn touches the dewy lettuce leaves, a robin crashes to the earth and takes off with a squirming worm in its beak. Nothing is free in this world.
As for mammal traffic, my backyard might as well be the African Serengeti. Squirrels leap about, burying nuts, unburying nuts, drinking from the birdbath and, in winter, trying to break into the bird feeders. I've also spotted skunks, raccoons, opossums and bats, among other warm-blooded creatures. I once picked up a big zucchini plant leaf and found a whole rabbit family living under it.
No, I will not chase away the bunnies, except when they munch on a prized hosta. But I have at times put down Critter Ridder to discourage the squirrels. If that also sends the rabbits elsewhere, I can live with myself.
Pandemonium broke out a few weeks ago when a tree service came by to top some scraggly pines. In addition to making a racket, the men threatened some nests. The ensuing animal panic resembled the fire scene from "Bambi." Some fled, but others fought back. The squirrels ran off into the yard next door. But the robins dive-bombed the tree cutters holding onto their ladders. Some humans in the area called the police about the noise. (Sorry, neighbors.)
A falling limb luckily just missed a doves' nest in a roof gutter. A dove pair comes back every year (I like to think that they're the same doves). As penance to the bird god, I put up a hummingbird feeder and scrubbed the bath.
Not long after the men drove off in their wood-chipper truck, the creatures — avian, mammal, invertebrate and human — all settled down. The Peaceable Kingdom seemed to return, but only if you don't look too closely.
Froma Harrop is a syndicated columnist and a member of The Providence Journal's editorial board. E-mail her on the Creators Syndicate Web site, www.creators.com.