Six years ago today, Jim and I declared our independence from middle class life and drove out of Idaho headed for Colorado. Ten days later, we rode out of Colorado on bicycles loaded with clothes, food and camping gear, and began our journey across America. (You can read the story on this site.)
We returned to Colorado in August of 2011 and settled into a small apartment in the heart of Denver. After our 25 years of living in Wyoming and Idaho, with Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks in our backyard, we were now urban dwellers. No longer do the howls of coyotes and wolves, the hooting of owls or bugling of elk fill our nights; now sirens, train whistles and klaxon horns interrupted our sleep.
No longer can we step out of our door and enter a wilderness to hike or ski or canoe or bird or botanize. Now we step out of our door onto a concrete sidewalk, a traffic-swollen street, and wildlife visible only spilling out of the bars on Broadway.
We sorely miss the wildness of the places we’ve lived, but we have learned, over time, how to find the less-tamed places in our city. Birds and wildflowers, and sometimes coyotes and deer, have surprised us in the old neighborhoods and parks of front range Colorado. We’ve learned that the animals we share our planet with don’t adhere to the human constructed borders and boundaries that define our cities, towns and urban greenways. Birds nest wherever the conditions provide enough food and shelter to raise a nest-full of youngsters. Prairie dogs colonize any flat, dry, sandy-soiled field where they can construct a burrow community and provide an unobstructed view of possible predators.
Coyotes prowl the edges of backyards, prairie dog towns, parks and waterways, searching for food — be it dog kibble, young prairie dogs, squirrels, or duck and goose eggs. Opportunistic skunks, raccoons and squirrels make pests of themselves scavenging trash bins, birdseed and pet food. Nocturnal Western cottontail rabbits munch on the grass and flowers of suburban gardens. Deer quietly browse shrubs in parks and greenways. Once, a long-tailed weasel flashed across the Highline Canal bikeway in front of us.
This morning we sat on our balcony sipping our first espressos of the day and watched a wild bee maraud the flowers of our bright red geranium. This bee was relentless in stuffing its pollen baskets and mining nectar from every single blossom’s flower. Round and round the plant it flew, hovering over each blossom for only a nanosecond, testing the air for the electrical currents generated by pollen. According to scientists, as bees fly around flowers, their own positively charged bodies attract negatively charged pollen grains that fasten themselves to the bee’s body. We watched that bee through two rounds of espresso and breakfast, and still it returned time and time again.
This morning we also noticed that young crows have fledged and their parents are working hard at teaching them to fly with more confidence and accuracy. A murder of crows landed on a low roof and concrete wall below our balcony, squawking and calling repeatedly to each other and their parents. They are such intelligent birds, they surely must have been communicating their fears and accomplishments to one another. After a raucous few minutes, they all flew off to continue their conversation elsewhere.
The charm of finches inhabiting the fretwork of the balconies on the building across from us seems to be raising a second brood. We can hear the urgent peeping of nestlings as the adults fly off to gather food for them. From our balcony we have watched agile sharp-shinned hawks swoop in silently, talons out, aiming for those very same finches. Cooper’s hawks have discovered the bounty of pigeons scavenging the dumpsters behind the nearby grocery store. Cormorants, white pelicans and Canada geese fly by our building as they move between Denver’s lakes and ponds. Red-tailed hawks soar high above the 100-foot Ponderosa pines in our view, and an occasional bald eagle graces our neighborhood skies.
So here we are — living the suburban life and finding bits of nature to feed our souls in unlikely places. If you have read previous blog installments here, you will know all about the house finch population that entertains us year round. You may also have read about our walks and bike rides along the Highline Canal where more that two dozen bird species have delighted us with their songs and birds activities. Stay tuned for more.