Tag: Garden Life

Meet Gretel, the Little Red Squirrel

Red squirrel with nuts in the snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

This is Gretel, the little red squirrel, so-called because it took her three tries to find the nuts I had laid out for her: I had to lay them down carefully in a trail that took her from the bird feeders to her own feeding station. The third time, she got it. 

Red squirrel on a bird feeder. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
Red squirrel on a bird feeder. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

She still checks the bird feeders and munches on sunflower seeds until she sees me. Then she stops and runs up in the oak tree, but not too high, just the shortest safe distance. One cannot be too careful around giant animals like humans, friendly or not. She’s watching me with those huge dark eyes while I’m laying out the nuts. I retreat to the distance I learned she sees as comfortable for coming down.

Red squirrel eating a peanut in the snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

I watch her eat, marveling at how tiny and delicate she is. She’s continuously scanning her surroundings, bending her head quickly to grab another nut and then rechecking the perimeter. Always on alert. When the birds sound the alarm, she runs back up in the oak tree without stopping to see what that was about. Be safe first; check source later.

False alarm. She comes down to eat; the birds settle on the various bird feeders. I grab my camera and start watching—time to take some photos.

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The Making of a Snowman

Seashore blanketed in snow. Photo by Mihaela LImberea

It’s been snowing steadily these past weeks, fluffy snowflakes dancing lazily in the air. And every time it happens, I run to the window, filled with the same wonder as when I was a kid. 

“It’s snowing!” I tell my husband. He looks out, smiles, and goes back to his book. “It’s snowing!” I tell Minette, and she stares back with that sphinx look that cats use to convey how silly humans are. You can almost see the shake of the head, the soft muttering, “Humans.”

I want to run out, make snow angels in the garden and build a snowman. I would have done it too, but for the lack of a carrot. A carrot! A carrot! My kingdom for a carrot! After all, what’s a snowman without a carrot for the nose? 

My husband tells me this snow is no good for building snowmen; it’s too fluffy and powdery. Pity. It would have been such a fine snowman. I have the perfect scarf for it, a mohair thing in bold blocks of color, bright red, buttery yellow, sky blue, green, and orange wool fireworks on a cold man. The orange block would have matched the nose—the one I don’t have.

Close up of plants against a snowy background. Photo by Mihaela LImberea

I shovel the snow around the entry and create a small path to the mailbox. I’m cautious not to step outside it. I love looking at all that pristine white blanket covering the ugliness of the world. 

Maybe that’s why I love freshly fallen snow. I love the purity of the world. I love the silence pierced only by the call of a blackbird or the rhythmic toc-toc-toc of the woodpecker in the back yard. The occasional passing car makes only a muffled sound, dying quickly away. Toc-toc-toc.

Close up of tracks in the snow. Photo by Mihaela LImberea

The snow continues to fall in a hypnotic rhythm. I’m thinking of marine snow. Such a poetic name for the aquatic detritus slowly falling from the sea surface to the seabed that can be visually likened to snowfall. I’ve read somewhere that fish can produce light in the eternal darkness of deep seas to defend themselves. They’d make this bright flash of light to blind their attackers, and they’d use the ensuing confusion to flee. Nature will find a way. It always does.

I walk to the window and look at the massive oak tree in the backyard. No squirrels. It’s probably too cold for them to venture out. Snow too deep.

I can see deer tracks in the garden, where they have trotted during the night. A hare’s too. They’re quickly fading, covered by white fluffiness. 

Two fawns in the grass. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

There are two fawns born in our backyard last spring. They were minutes old when I found them in the tall grass around the big birch tree, barely able to stand. The mother stood a few meters away, watching me anxiously. The little ones were so trustful, looking big-eyed at this new thing – the world. Imagine feeling the warmth of the sun for the first time. The low buzz of the insects in the grass. The calls of the birds.

I had gone there to check on the compost, and I almost stepped on them, well-hidden in the grass. I backed in surprise, not trusting what my eyes were telling me. I snapped a couple of pictures with my cell phone (the best camera is the one that you have with you) and then went back to the house, leaving the new mother to take care of her babies. They were gone in a few hours.

I guess they’re not fawns anymore; they’ve grown so much this past year! Last night they munched on the remaining pumpkins, leftovers from Halloween. They were completely hidden under the blanket of snow, of course, but they knew where they were and dig them out.

A doe in the snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
A deer in the snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

And during the time it took me to write this post, they came again, going back and forth in the garden, looking for sunflower seeds. Life.

I return to my desk with a sigh. I have to get back to work. A new chapter awaits. The snowflakes swirl around, racing each other to the ground.

I make a mental note to buy carrots. And more sunflower seeds.

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Of Squirrels and Woodpeckers

A red squirrel in the snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

The little squirrel, braving the snow and the cold, came visiting again. It was sheer luck that I noticed it because it turned up much earlier than usual. 

A red squirrel in the snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

I was about to open the bedroom window when I noticed two dark tufts by the oak tree. I had a closer look, and yes, it was the little cutie. I jumped in my rubber boots, put on my winter jacket directly over my pajamas (my neighbors are used to much), and grabbed the nuts bowl I had prepared. Out in two minutes and taking photos, ISO still high because there wasn’t enough light.

The birds were annoyed by me being there so early in the morning and told me so in no uncertain terms. They made an awful racket trying to drive me away. I did my best to ignore them; I’d be there for a short time.

Red squirrel standing in the snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
Frozen. What’s happening?

Suddenly – silence; all birds and the squirrel frozen in their places. Something was happening.

A Great Spotted Woodpecker Male. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
The Great Spotted Woodpecker Male

And then I heard it, the staccato drumming of the woodpecker, just above my head. I tilted my head slowly to avoid being detected, and sure enough, a great spotted woodpecker was working the oak tree. I managed a few photos before it discovered me and flew away. It was a male; you can tell by the red spot on its neck, females don’t have it.

The squirrel went back to her nuts. The racket resumed. I went back in for breakfast.

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Fight or Flight?

Close up of a a red squirrel. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
A red squirrel eating a peanut in the snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
Old hands in the garden

The usual squirrels haven’t visited for a couple of weeks now. I guess they’re all hiding in their dreys, munching on their nut provisions. It’s been very cold, and they must be as reluctant to go out in that frozen world as humans. 

A red squirrel in the snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
The new squirrel, so tiny in the deep snow.
A red squirrel eating a peanut in the snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
She appreciated the nuts. Very much.

A new one came twice, much smaller and thinner than the others. She must have been desperate for food. The first time it was wary of me, darting away at my smallest move. The second time, still suspicious, she let me come much closer. I took a few pictures, but then I let her eat up the nuts and the sunflower seeds. 

Her eyes were continuously scanning everything around her. She took only a fraction of a second break to pick up a new nut; the rest of the time was spent munching on the nut at turbo speed and checking the perimeter. 

I saw a small squirrel once, chased by a large cat in our garden. The cat was very bold, indeed. I had to push her, physically, to get her away from the tree where the squirrel had climbed in panic. She came back as soon as I turned my back. You cannot be too careful.

Eurasian jay in the snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
A jay who managed to steal some nuts from the squirrel. Squirrels and smaller birds have a healthy respect for jays.
A blackbird in the snow. Photo by Mihaela Limberea
A blackbird, with own nuts. The only way to keep the peace in the backyard.

It’s the same with the birds. They have to if they want to survive. They fly into the trees at the hint of a movement. Flee first, check later.

This is the same fight or flight mechanism humans have as well. Our ancestors faced mostly physical dangers in their environment, like a lion. The hormones released by the response to the threat would ensure that the body was primed to deal with the threat, either fight the lion or run away as quickly as possible. A survival mechanism, simply put. The threat of lions is gone for modern humans, or most of them, in any case. The threats are now mental, but the body response is the same. 

An important presentation at work, speaking in public, being late for a critical meeting, and so on. All the perks of modern life. The brain perceives them as threats and instructs the body to prepare for fight as it did millennia ago on the savannah: you start breathing faster, the heartbeat quickens, and your entire body becomes tense and ready for action. I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Reeds. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

It’s not so surprising. We’re not so much different from our ancestors, after all. We just have more technology; monkeys with smartphones.

What’s more, the brain only needs the thought of a threat. I.e., it will respond to imaginary threats as well. Hence, the phobias.

Luckily, this works the other way around, too. This is why visualization and affirmations work.

The fight or flight response is a fine-tuned survival mechanism, but we have to learn to handle it when the mental stressors trigger it. If you’re in a car accident, it’s a great way for the body to increase your survival chances. If you’re in a meeting you dread, not so much.

For my part, I learned the hard way (including a trip to the ER with a panic attack that felt like an infarct) that breathing and calming my mind helped. But that’s another story to be told, maybe, in a future post.

For now, I’m happy watching the little squirrel and hoping she’ll make it through the winter.

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Garden Time

Fear not, my blog silence was not due to anything dramatic. Sure, a certain amount of pandemic fatigue, to be expected after weeks and months of it, with no end in sight. But I’ve tried to stay calm and soldier on as there wasn’t much I could do about it.

With so much time suddenly on our hands, my husband and I have decided to concentrate our efforts on the garden. It’s quite a large garden (three times the size of our old garden) that has been neglected for the last few years. I.e., there’s a lot to do so we’ve been working every single day outdoors.

My new routine: write for a couple of hours in the morning, go for a walk, work in the garden for the rest of the day, then read a couple of hours in the evening. I suspect this will be my new normal, at least this summer.

Birdbath surrounded by forget-me-nots.

I was too exhausted to take any pictures; I just snapped a few with my cell phone. This is one of the birdbaths, surrounded by forget-me-nots. They’re everywhere, together with lilacs, lilies-of-the-valley, and honeysuckle. No hardship working in the garden then, as you can imagine!

So, stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay calm and soldier on. And don’t forget to laugh. This video is about 20 minutes long, but please, believe me, it’s worth the time!

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