Finding sanctuary in these 8 acres


These 8-1/2 acres I have managed to save from almost wall-to-wall development represent such a small refuge, but refuge it is, and I constantly marvel at the variety of wildlife that has found it.

Here I can blink back at the fireflies over the pasture at dusk so it resembles a trackless city. Here I can look in every direction except one and see green and even in that one direction, I have let the hedges grow so the traffic on the street is only briefly in view.

Here I can be amazed that a pair of rufous-sided towhees appears each spring at just about the same time as the previous year. They obviously remember the free lunch and safe nesting sites in the jungle.

Goldfinches, too, fly in expecting, and finding, the loaded thistle feeder where they cling and argue all day as to which one gets to perch where.

Here for several years I watched for, and saw almost daily, a male cardinal with a luminous tail. Sadly, he is absent this year. Perhaps his unusual coloring made him too good a target for a hungry hawk or an owl.

And it is obvious that groundhogs and chipmunks remember where the good dens are and return year after year.

Sighting the red fox is always a thrill, at least to me if not the bunnies, and lately I’ve been observing a large black snake that has found a likely sunning spot. I talk softly to him and assure him he is welcome, as both he and the fox are responsible for a balance of nature in this limited sanctuary.

Here, several species of woodpeckers depend on the suet holders I keep filled, and there is literally a pecking order as to which bird remains to eat. Only when that one flies away is another allowed to move in.

Catbirds also enjoy the suet and they are such a pleasure to watch. The male’s courtship ritual was sweet as he pranced and fluffed his feathers and picked up a shiny leaf to offer his ladylove who didn’t seem terribly thrilled with the gift.

It must have worked, though, as they now bring their family to the picnic site.

Doesn’t it seem to you that interest in and concern for the natural world have increased with the warnings of global warming? Daily, not just nationally, but worldwide, millions of acres of wildfire habitat is lost and it is not just wildlife that is being affected. (Readers are aware of my near fanaticism about over-development!)

The words of early naturalists and poets are reminders that there is no more when all of this is gone. Here are some of their musings which were published along with lovely photographs in West Virginia Wildlife, a publication of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.

Thomas Jefferson: “For if one link in nature’s chain might be lost, another might be lost, until the whole of things will vanish by piecemeal.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson:In the woods, too, a man cast off his years as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life is always a child. For the woods is perpetual youth.”

William Wordsworth: “Come forth into the light. Let Nature be your teacher.”

John Muir: “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.”

Theodore Roosevelt: “Wild bears and birds are by right not the property merely of the people alive today, but the property of unborn generations, whose belongings we have no right to squander.”

Sigurd Olson: “Joys come from simple and natural things, mists over meadows, sunlight on leaves, the path of the moon over water. Even rain and wind and stormy clouds bring joy, just as knowing animals and flowers and where they live. Such things are where you find them and belong to the aware and the alive. They require little scientific knowledge but bring in their train an ecological perspective, and a way of looking at the world.”

Richard Jeffries: “If you wish your children to think deep thoughts, to know the holiest emotions, take them to the woods and hills, and give them the freedom of the meadows; the hills purify those who walk upon them.”

In retrospect, I know I was extremely blessed with parents who encouraged and indulged me in my interest in the great outdoors, as it was then phrased.

I recall the glass fishbowl filled not with fish but with lilac leaves and hideous caterpillars that had a place of honor in the kitchen. They went around and around, head to tail, as they neared making their cocoons, and I waited with great excitement the eventual emergence of the beautiful cecropia moths.

There was one long-ago night I can still see in my mind when Mother and Daddy awakened me to show me an exquisite luna moth that had fluttered to the ground beneath the street light. We kept it safe until daylight and then released it in the willow tree.

There are many published authors today who lament the loss of children’s contact with the natural world, and there are some parks with emphasis on what is still the “great outdoors” which is virtually a foreign land in today’s technological world.

They have no plastic or electronic toys or other artificial entertainment and the children are introduced to Mother Earth’s fascinating inhabitants.

If these children are lucky, as was I, they will retain the interest into adulthood and perhaps they will help save what will be left by then.


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A lifelong resident of the Mahoning Valley, Janie Jenkins retired in 1987 as a feature writer and columnist at the Youngstown Vindicator. In June of that same year, she started writing her column, "On My Mind" for Farm and Dairy. She loves all animals and is an accomplished equestrienne. Local history is also one of her loves, and her home, the former Southern Park Stables, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.



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