The street where I live is always bustling with activity. There are briskly walking women in their 60s, deep in conversation about last night’s dinner, GMOs, consciousness, their thighs. There’s the pack of wild boys, hopped-up on sugar, racing on their bicycles down to the gas station on the corner for more sugar to fuel their ride home. Young families pushing strollers, dog walkers, joggers, skateboarders and men walking with coffee and purpose as they talk into some hidden device – hopefully. Couples walking home from the grocery store with reusable bags laden with tonight’s dinner flung over their shoulders. A man on a scooter walking his chihuahua.
Among all this human expression and activity live wild creatures and critters. Not just your garden variety flies, mosquitoes and squirrels. But hawks, armadillos, opossum, luna moths, brilliantly colored dragonflies and butterflies, giant grasshoppers and even deer.
My neighborhood was the first subdivision built in the once little town of Oviedo, Florida. I think there are something like 2500 homes here. I’ve seen every one. I’ve walked every street in my neighborhood many times. We have big, beautiful, old oak trees that reach across the street to court each other. Crepe Myrtles and a few tall pine trees left. The four hurricanes that passed through in 2004 took a lot of those. It smelled like Christmas for weeks as crews worked to cut the trees into pieces and remove them. In their place were planted new trees that have recently passed through that awkward adolescent phase to blossom into lovely full oaks and crepe myrtles. On the main street the sidewalks have been laid in a gentle wave that wraps around the trees and palmettos. They pass by a couple of marshy areas with adjacent small dense forests, and a duck pond shared by loons, egrets and blue heron, next to the playground, tennis and basketball courts. At one end of the main street is an elementary school and next to it a retention pond the Sand Hill cranes made their home for many months. At the other end, the main entrance; a shopping center with a grocery store, restaurants, and other necessities. Across the street, a gas station, a new neighborhood bakery and the karate studio.There is only one main street and it cuts a meandering swath through the entire neighborhood. It is the only way in and only way out; each street winding its way back to that one main road. There are no houses facing this street, instead along the sidewalks there are beautiful, chest-high brick walls providing privacy but not hiding the houses behind them. This is no gated community. We know our neighbors. We nod and say hello to each other as we pass on the street. We stop to pet each other’s dogs, remark at how big the baby is getting, yell at speeders to slow down, and pick up trash.
If I had every neighborhood and every town or city to choose from, I used to think I probably would not have selected this one. Not the suburbs. I think of myself as a city girl, cosmopolitan, thriving on the energy of big city. But the truth is, I had choices. I may not have seen a move to New York City as a viable choice or filling a U-haul and schlepping across the country as an option, but they were both available. Anywhere and everywhere was available. So I chose to live here. I know that now. To buy a house, meet my neighbors and live here. And now it is home.
In the 13 years since I’ve been here, my little town has grown to almost 30,000 and it is the proud owner of “city” status. My little town is a suburb of Orlando. One of those towns that melts into and from the towns around it. You could drive for miles before you realize you are not only, no longer in Orlando, but you’ve also passed through two subsequent towns to arrive where you are. Suburbia.
So, when I’m told there are deer in my subdivision my first reaction is excitement. We don’t see deer this close to the city. My next thought is; why? Are they developing somewhere nearby and it’s driving them out? Is their population too great? And if so, why? Who’s next up on the food chain? Where are they? Unfortunately they are probably the Florida panther and there are only about 3 left. But when I see a deer walking along the edge of a copse of trees, dipping it’s head on occasion for a little nibble, all those questions go right out the window. The traffic goes silent. The kids waiting for the bus are muted. It’s just the deer and me. In the middle of my suburb. It’s beautiful, graceful, gentle, curious. I am the luckiest person alive in that moment. I get to make eye-contact with this lovely creature. She keeps looking up at me as she skirts the edge of the little forest. She’s joined by another, smaller deer; no longer a fawn with spots, but not quite full grown, maybe a daughter. They look sneaky, almost surprised to find themselves out in the open with an audience of one.
For a moment I break away long enough to realize there are cars driving by on their way to work. I want to run into the middle of the street and point frantically to the deer! I want to share this experience, brighten someone else’s day, prove that it’s true. But they are here for me today. Just me. As I inch along the sidewalk to try to get just a little closer, they continue to inch along the woods, keeping the distance between us the same. After a few minutes they slip back into the forest and I’m left with wonder. And a few photos.
After seeing the deer I felt light and complete, like I’d accomplished what I set out to do. But my morning critter walk and encounter was not yet over.
I crossed the street to check out the little pond by the playground. The sun was becoming stronger and it might be reflecting nicely in the water. Before I reached the pond I was distracted by movement I caught out of the corner of my eye. As I looked over I saw a bird swoop low the ground as it made it’s way from branch to branch. A predator. Probably a hawk. I knew from my owl hunting experiences that predator birds tend to stay on low, unobstructed branches for the best view and easy access to ground prey. I walked slowly toward the branch, pretending to have another task in mind other than capturing the hawk. You know, to put it at ease, trick it. It didn’t work. The hawk swooped once again to another branch farther away.
Undeterred, I continued to stalk the little guy. As I was walking through the manicured, yet tall, dewy grass the thought occurred to me that as I’m following my prey to get a good look, a good shot, I’m not even aware of what I might be stepping in or on. I let the thought go, I had work to do.
Then I spot him on a low branch, facing the sun. I very slowly moved to position myself between the sun and this beautiful, young hawk. He posed for quite a while, turning his head this way and that, giving me options. When I had taken up enough of his time I thanked him and was on my way. When I reached the sidewalk I turned back around just in time to see him swoop away once again.
Time to conclude the critter walk. On my way home I saw many squirrels busy with their morning routines, a small blue heron, ducks, storks and lots and lots of dragonflies. It would be so easy to miss all of this, to take it for granted. Life gets busy, the to-do lists are long and loud, demanding a lot of attention – nature can’t compete with that. It takes effort to stop working, to stop the busyness and look around. That effort is always rewarded with the magic of the present moment.