Our home place, perched on a ridge overlooking the Virgin River and adjacent to Zion Park boundaries, is sufficiently remote that unexpected human visitors are rare. One of its most endearing qualities is that the opposite is true of our friends from the animal kingdom who have enjoyed the right of passage over its 20 extraordinary acres for untold centuries of earth time and – so far – have shown a generous willingness to share it with us. Virtually every day we are witnesses to the co-habitational character of this plot of land we might think of as “ours”.
Early on we were startled to hear someone “knocking” on the glass door opening onto our south-facing rear deck. Knock, knock KNOCK! Taking the required moments to get there, lift the sliding sun-shade and peer out, we would find no-one there. The experience would repeat itself with confusing frequency. It still happens, but now we smile knowingly before confronting our “guest”, a roving road runner who enjoys watching and challenging his reflection in the double-layer glass. Others of his kind – probably siblings or aunts uncles and cousins – keep an almost-predictable schedule as they come and go on their tail-flicking journeys, sometimes stopping to measure the leaping distance separating them from a humming bird leaving our feeder.
Two days ago a glance out of our living room window caught the stealthy glimpse of a beautiful gray fox ghosting across our back yard in a way no other animal quite duplicates. It brought to mind the mental image of a 70-year-old memory: It was the summer of my first year living in Vermont. I was approaching a clearing in the deep forest above our farm where a long-abandoned hilltop farm had been left behind when main roads moved to the valley floor in the wake of rural-electric power lines. My silent footsteps revealed an antlered white tail buck and an adult red fox playing their own version of tag, taking turns chasing each other in circles; obviously for the sheer fun of it and with no thought to the normal enmity of their kind.
The ten acres of irrigated pasture we look down upon each day is a natural “highway” and gathering place for deer, wild turkeys, Canadian geese, coyotes and the occasional mountain lion. Black vultures, bald eagles and a host of hawks and falcons regularly patrol its margins, while seven families of great blue herons nest high in the nearby cottonwoods, returning each year to raise their broods in large stick-built nests they are constantly repairing. I was most impressed several years ago by a visitor whose story I will always remember as that of the three-legged coyote. The lower field is pockmarked by tunnel-entries of dozens – perhaps even hundreds – of gophers. This particular hunter was handicapped by a missing front leg, probably the legacy of an encounter with a steel trap. (Coyotes are not beloved of Utah farmers, ranchers and teen-agers with a new shiny Ruger 10/22.) This coyote however had a partner to help with the digging, a mate with four perfectly good legs. (Their relative size suggested that this companion was the male.) When an inhabited den was detected by the nose of either, the big male would start digging with his mate waiting for the right moments to take over, nosing her way through the tunnel and then pulling the unearthed prey to the surface where they would share the bounty before moving on. On several occasions I observed the pair at work, sharing a perfect division of duties and exhibiting a binocular view of the wild kingdom’ s lesson on just how a good marriage should work.
When we first “zero-scaped” our front yard we capped off the colored gravel with several large boulders native to our area, the largest of which looks down on everything around it. Its dominance does not go unnoticed and at this moment a large green lizard is claiming ownership. A “squadron” of Gambel’s quail frequently (and noisily) transits our property across this route – east to west or return, - their black top-knots waving proudly. Always, one of the two dozen-or-so will advance ahead of the others to take up sentry duty atop our boulder, from which prominence it watches for trouble; TO OUR NEVER-ENDING HUMAN DELIGHT.
Caught sampling shrubbery, two well-fed “visitors” pause 20 feet from our front door.