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The View from the Dining Room

Photo 126028831 © Pat Lalli |

On Labor Day weekend, the unofficial end of summer, I am very mindful of the

gift of a view of nature. It is so ordinary it could go unnoticed: my dining room

windows. Particularly when the seasons change, they offer an ever changing scene

of nature’s wonder. I look out through native rhododendrons and ewes (hemlocks).

The lowbush blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium) that I planted a year ago are

just visible and a dogwood (Cornus florida) that contributes a canopy bursting with

white flowers in spring and the first signs in its leaves of Fall.

Every kind of bird that I may see in my immediate surroundings are frequent

visitors. Some gorge on the berries that are so abundant; others peck at the boughs

for invertebrates that live companionably with the trees. Squirrels race about in

play and toward destinations that are a mystery. Migratory species also visit. Alas,

my late comer bird skills are inadequate to my wish to greet them properly.

Out of view, but still part of the mind’s eye, are azalea, dianthus, potentilla and

hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), Russian sage and a lawn that has been

turned into a space my neighbors would call a patch of “weeds.” The growth has

been the chance to observe what happens when the much favored green sward of

lawn is turned into a space that is more like a meadow or a roadside.

When the weeds grew to three feet in spring because I adopted the “No Mow May”

movement, a strategic way of avoiding intruding on the life cycle of pollinators,

the City of Poughkeepsie’s building department took umbrage. I found a door

knob citation on the front door. The 48 type bold print informed me that In 72

hours I would be subject to a municipal appearance--perhaps in City Hall or City

Court-- and a fine, if the lush, tall growth in the front yard was not mowed.

Naturally, I complained to the building department. Why had I received the

warning, while I was actually trying to comply and the area was at least one-half

mowed? More to the point, I politely suggested that the City get with the No Mo’


I also asked if someone had complained to them about my weeds. Had I offended

most of the neighborhood? Almost all of the immediate home owners use noisy

lawn service and ugly pesticide dispensers to create tidy and environmentally

unfriendly spaces to the wild life that also live among us.

The flora and fauna of the Mid-Hudson Valley are here for our reward. How many

city residents see grouse, wild turkeys, water fowl, all manner of woodpeckers to

name just a few of the critters that enter my field of vision? Nor are the four footed

denizens of the area insignificant: coyote, fox, deer are regular visitors. The

bedazzling sight in the headlights at the end of the driveway of a red fox fills me

with joy. She or he never linger, even though I lower the light to invite a longer


There are species who may be dangerous, either because they are rearing young or

because of rabies. The peril is greatest to the small pets we own, cats, dogs, ferrets,

pot-bellied pigs—a hoot on the leash. A sighting of fox or coyote puts everyone

on high alert.

And the deer who accept the carefully tended local horticulture as their salad bowl

have adapted to city life. Three or four deer walking single file on the sidewalk is

probably the reason few become roadkill in the City of Poughkeepsie. They train

us, too. When I meet a doe who does not spring in flight, I stop and wait for her

young to appear. Usually within minutes at least one and often more family join

her and then they grant me leave to continue my walk or drive.

Recently I had the privilege of observing a cardinal pair dining, appropriately

before the window of my dining room. The female shared some of her finds with

the male. The act made me question if he were her mate. Or could the male be one

from the season’s clutch now mature but still part of the family? Among many

aviary species, unmated birds are uncles and aunts to a mated pair and help raise

the offspring. The behavior went unnoticed until some ornithologists changed the

model for understanding survival rates among bird populations.

If birds and beasts be the most dramatic examples of God’s blessings for city

dwelling, the deity did not stint on the creepy crawlers with whom we share our

spaces. They comprise the greatest mass of all creatures on the planet, 90% of

living mass. Some forms we see, while others are stages in the life cycle, invisible

in the earth or inside plants and trees for the earlier stages of life cycle. Without

the invertebrates, life as we know it would not exist.

So, the next time you meet an invertebrate, say “thank you”, even if it stings or

looks scary. The organism like ourselves is part of an amazing design, but only we

have the responsibility to carry out God’s command to care for the earth and all

that is in it. And better yet, we glory in the wonder of creation.

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