In the Company of Wild Things

Every night there is a little toad that hops to our front porch and sits by the door, ready to fill her belly with all the swarming insects drawn in by the lamplight. At first we would notice her upon arriving home in the evenings. “Look! The toad is here again!” the kids would exclaim, thrilled that it was turning into something more than a one-time occurrence. Then one night my husband and I were sitting out in the front, enjoying the breeze and watching the stars bloom in the deep blue sky, when we heard a rustling of leaves. As I peered down into the gnarly roots of the hibiscus bushes, I became immediately elated – there appeared our dear toad! I was just as excited as my kids had been. Here she was. And we had the pleasure of watching her arrive. I started to think of her as our little friend. Some time later this has become something of a tradition. Day after day, my husband and I sit in our chairs enjoying the peace of the evening rolling in, and we keep watch for the arrival of our little toad friend. My husband will say, “There she is!,” pointing. I look, and sure enough, hop by hop, she grows ever closer to the porch light and her special feast-for-one.

Our toad friend making her way to our porch

We have other wild friends in our midst. It started over a month ago when I saw a pair of wrens on our back porch. It’s a screened-in porch, and I wasn’t sure how they’d become trapped there, but I didn’t put a lot of thought into it, simply opening the door and allowing them to fly out. This happened almost every morning over the following few days. Finally Jorge came to me one afternoon and reported that he had found a nest in our Christmas tree stand on the back porch. There was a small opening in the screen created from the pressure of a bike resting there. On top of the bike sat the Christmas tree stand, and these wrens were hard at work creating a nest for their springtime brood. I was excited, but also assumed that eventually this bird pair would realize that it just wasn’t going to work out: there were humans coming and going frequently, and only one (slightly awkward) entrance/exit at their ready disposal. But the nest kept growing, taking its delicate, reedy shape, and eventually little speckled eggs appeared.

Sleeping wren babies on our back porch
(note the green of the Christmas tree holder!)

At about that time, my parents came to visit us. They love spending time on the back porch, so over the course of several days it experienced almost constant use. We couldn’t tell if the birds were still coming to their nest, and I worried that they would certainly stay away now with this crowd of humans so persistently present. At one point my mother said, “You guys attract birds!” She was referring our last spring in Michigan, when a bird family made a nest outside of one of our windows. We had a bird’s-eye view (pun sort-of intended) of the nest being built, the eggs being laid, and then hatching, the little birds growing and taking their first flight. It was awesome. Now it was happening again, a thousand miles to the south. My concern about the birds leaving their nest and eggs behind was for naught; days after  my parents’ departure we saw the wrens again, quietly tending to their little, growing family. Jorge and I would sit out on the back porch chatting, and the wrens would fly in and out right next to us, paying no mind to the potential danger that we might pose to them. It felt nice; they felt like friends. Now the eggs have hatched, and the wrens are busy feeding four rapidly-growing baby birds. I hear their pleading chirps through the open window as I wash the dishes, and smile. Sure enough, there goes papa- or mama-bird, insect-in-beak, to the rescue. I love these wild friends. I love that our toad hops faithfully to our front porch every evening, even if to feast she must perch at our feet. She doesn’t seem to mind. I love that our wren family felt secure enough to build their clever abode within our own home, and that they trust us, whether they’re conscious of it or not, with their well-being. We don’t have pets of our own, animals that “belong” to us. But somehow – perhaps precisely because they don’t belong to anyone at all – being in the constant company of wild things is deeply satisfying.