Saturday, March 9, 2024

"Wildlife" by Janice Locke


I usually eat an apple on the drive home from work. It makes me feel virtuous and slightly superior, especially as I pass the lines of cars snaking around Tim Horton drive-thru.

In addition to the health benefits, I am eating local; the apples come from an orchard near our house. We live on a residential street near what used to be the border between suburbia and farmland. Increasingly the small farms that act as a buffer between the city and the large industrial farms have been selling and the road is full of those ubiquitous signs announcing zoning changes and coming developments. But our local family-run orchard is hanging on. I try to support it.

I usually time it so that I pull into the driveway just as I finish my apple – kind of a ritual and part of the transition from a stressful day to home.  Normally, I carry the core into the kitchen to the bin marked Organics, almost as a badge of honour.

But one day, as I climbed out of the car, I dropped the core. Guiltily, I kicked it toward the hedge that divided our property from the neighbour’s. I’ll come back later and pick it up, I rationalized.

Of course, I forgot all about it.

The next morning, there was a dusting of snow, and as I brushed off the wind shield I noticed animal tracks around the hedge.  I recognized the tracks immediately. Two small prints in front with two much larger prints right behind.

A rabbit.

I remembered the apple core and felt a moment of satisfaction that some woodland creature had found the treat that I’d left.  I imagined a full belly or maybe a den of little ones with Mom bringing home the treat to share.  My imagination went wild, and I thought of Beatrix Potter and Richard Adams. It’s only a rabbit, I said to myself. But I was grinning, and the happy feeling lasted well into the day.

That evening, I dropped my new core at the same spot near the hedge, and the next morning, not only were there rabbit tracks, but I now noticed squirrel, chipmunk, and several bird tracks.

I began to google different types of tracks, and for several months took great pleasure in identifying my visitors from the night before.  I felt connected to a different world that existed all around me. It took me out of myself somehow.

 I also began to notice the sounds of the different birds and learned to identify them.  It turned out that in addition to cardinals and blue jays, we had Hairy Woodpeckers, Black Billed Cuckoos, Short and Long Eared Owls, and Yellow Rails.

I didn’t share my new hobby with anyone and always checked the cores were gone the next morning – they were.  

I knew the arguments against my innocent gifts:

  • You’re creating a dependency, and the animals will forget how to forage for themselves.
  • You’re attracting other wildlife like coyotes.
  • You’re attracting insects like ticks.
  • You’re attracting vermin like mice.

I ignored all the imaginary cautionary voices and enjoyed my new discoveries every morning, learning more about all the different animals found in a suburban backyard.

One day, I noticed the tracks were completely overridden by extremely large prints that looked like the largest birds I had ever seen.

The next day there were more.

Eventually the entire ground around the hedge was dredged up and dirt, mud, leaves, and twigs were scattered across the driveway.  My husband noticed and immediately identified the tracks.

Turkey Vultures.

That weekend our dog was barking wildly. Through our front window we saw over a dozen turkey vultures clustered on our front lawn making the most piercing racket. They were huge. And hugely ugly.

Our neighbours began to gather at the end of the drive. It was an event!

“Should we call the police?” asked one woman?

“Bring in all the children!” cried another.

“I have a bb gun,” said a young man.

My secret happy co-existence with the wildlife around us had come to an end. I didn’t say a word but I stopped leaving my apples at the hedge. It seems that living in partnership with other species is a difficult challenge. But I remain optimistic that we can figure it out.


Janice Locke has been inspired to capture personal stories as a result of Brian Henry’s courses. She writes based on experiences as a senior business executive and as a grandmother. Janice lives in Ancaster with her husband and enjoys hiking the beautiful Dundas Valley with her Sheltie, Callie.

See Brian Henry’s upcoming weekly writing classes, one-day workshops, and weekend retreats here.  

See other essays, short stories, poems, reviews, and so forth by your fellow writers here (and scroll down).


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