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Bird's eye view of nature from the seat of a tractorPosted Thursday, October 18, 2012, at 9:19 AM
Many people may not realize it, but despite our many state and national parks, the truth is 85 percent of wild animals live on private land and farms. With more urban sprawl, and less open land, the acres kept in farm production provide a haven for the animals.
Although I have a very strict stay-out-of-my-yard policy for snakes, I love to share the rest of the farm with nature. (Actually, my policy for snakes is more like stay-out-of-my-sight-always.)
But for someone who loves most animals, and once thought it a good idea to put a box turtle on a leash (I was 10 and duct tape does indeed fix everything), living in the country has helped feed my passion.
In fact, seldom a day goes by when I don't catch a glimpse of a deer, turkey or raccoon on a trip out of my home.
From the skunk who slowly walked across a woodsy trail while I had a UTV loaded with my mother and young sons, I've been able to learn a lot about the animals themselves. For the skunk, she certainly wasn't in a hurry and seemed to know we would stop and let her pass. Apparently, having the secret weapon of unpleasant scent made her very bold. We, on the other hand, held our collective breath as she slowly sauntered across the trail, just a few feet in front of us.
Another lesson in nature came one late night as my husband and I drove home. Heading down a hill on our gravel road, an owl came face to face with us through the windshield. Despite the heavy load she grasped in her talons, she was able to get enough velocity to sail over our truck. But not before we had a close-up view of her very frightened prey, a small possum. Although I had heard many stories of owls scooping up baby kittens and other small animals, it was the first time I witnessed the feat in living technicolor. It was a reminder that nature can be cruel: for something to live, something else must die.
While some may think large tractors frighten away wildlife, the truth is the animals have learned to adjust quite well. In fact, safe in the knowledge harm won't come from a loud engine, coyotes, hawks and others have learned to use them to their advantage.
Waiting for loads of beans to fill up my grain cart this fall, I spent time watching hawks use the combine to flush out prey. They would swoop down and land on a just-harvested terrace, watching the combine move up and down the rows, waiting for a field mouse, rabbit, or snake to run out of the soybeans. The hawks were successful more than once, leaving for awhile, presumably to enjoy a snack before coming back to add another course.
As the sun set one evening, two coyotes followed the combine, and lurked along side my grain cart also looking for a meal. Seeing a hawk stalk its prey is fascinating, but watching coyotes is a little unnerving. After dark, parking my tractor in the field, not sure where the coyotes might be, I loudly assured them I was not appropriate prey as I walked back to a waiting truck.
As we move into fall and hunting season, I am sure I will see fewer wild animals for awhile. The volley of gunshots in deer season tends to make even the bravest of animals a little fearful.
When I first moved to the farm, I hated hunting season. My view of deer and hunting had been shaped by Disney's "Bambi." However, a few years on the farm taught me that left unchecked, deer would soon eat more than their fair share of my crops and squeeze out other wildlife, and eventually even themselves. I have also learned that, still today, deer and other wild animals provide nutritious meals for many people.
Each day, as I observe the animals, I am reminded of the delicate balance of man and nature.
And I'm thankful each day for the opportunity to view all of it up close.
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