When we moved to Gardiner in 2005 our intention was to live in the woods, in harmony with the land and all the woodland creatures. We maximized the views with lots of triple paned windows (covered with bird deflecting decals) and used colors that blended the inside with the outside, blurring the difference between them to the human eye and, as it turned out, to some of our four-legged friends, too.
Since our intention was to live harmoniously with the creatures that lived on the land long before we did, we were horrified on one hot morning in June to discover three huge snapping turtles digging up our newly planted garden to lay their eggs. We had managed to build our house right on top of the prime laying ground in the area. It took several years of re-education (mostly ours) to come up with a solution—we created a wonderful mound of soil behind the garden and the snappers now use it every year.
Feeding the creatures was also part of our idyllic (and naïve) plan. Our birdfeeders drew humongous crowds of all different kinds of birds, and when the hummingbird feeders run out, hummingbirds appeared at our windows and stared at us until we fed them. Seed remnants under the hanging feeders attracted squirrels, chipmunks, groundhogs, baby and grown raccoons, wild turkeys and mice; we saw the most beautiful white skunk on our porch.
All the animals loved our decks and often sprawled comfortably, looking out across the verdant floodplain at the Wallkill river rolling by; two baby squirrels once entertained us for an hour, playing around the arm of a chair while grooming each other.
Our cats love watching the birds, and vice versa, and we fantasized about a love affair (through the glass) between one cat (Pippin) and a rabbit; we believe they met on one of Pippin’s rare outings. After that, they would gaze at each other longingly through the porch door. Our other cat (Zohreh) and a baby groundhog once touched noses through the glass.
All seemed to go well, other than some squirrel damage to our screens and plants, until what we call “the visitation,” one August morning. We thought if you brought the bird feeders in at night you’d be fine. Bears are night feeders after all, or so we thought.
Imagine our surprise to see a big bear circle the house, looking in doors and windows, standing on his hind legs and then leaning into the large window in our dining room, quite unconcerned with the humans inside. Luckily, he was as well balanced as a circus bear and didn’t fall through.
After calling neighbors to warn them, we called the DEC, shouting into the phone, “We have a bear, we have a bear.” Very calmly, a woman asked, “is the bear endangering people or property?” “Well, no, but he’s looking in our windows! Can someone come get him? He doesn’t belong here!” (Right!). Our education about living with wildlife really began that moment. She asked, “Do you live within a mile of the Ridge?” “We live in a neighborhood in Gardiner!” With a perceptible smile in her voice, she said, “Honey, you got bears.” She then added, “And we don’t relocate them unless they’re a danger or a serious nuisance. They don’t do well when relocated.”
So, living in harmony with nature means feeding responsibly. If you don’t, it can interfere with a natural healthy balance between wildlife populations and their habitat; we know of someone who has been feeding the birds in her yard continuously for 30 years, creating generations of birds fully dependent on human intervention for their survival. Feeding can also lead to wildlife overabundance (See Too Close For Comfort, page 1) and promote the spread of diseases. We have subsequently discovered that feeding the bears, even inadvertently, is against the law in New York. So is feeding deer and moose.
We’re smarter now: and except for humming bird feeders, which don’t seem to be a problem, we use backyard bird feeders in the winter, from the end of October until mid-March, when bears are likely to be in hibernation. We don’t leave the feeders hanging out all year, even if they’re empty, and we use only a moderate number of feeders, keeping them very clean. (Agway in New Paltz has a Birdseed Club. All poundage purchased is recorded at checkout and at 500 lbs, you get a $10 credit.)
We still love the animals that share our property, but we now understand that they are wild creatures, and that their survival depends on them staying that way.
Enjoy living in harmony with nature!