A couple of weekends ago, I found the fabric cover of our barbecue grill loose and crumpled on the patio, something that couldn’t have happened by itself. Maybe a burglar had come to look the grill over but decided it was too rusty to cart off. But I also wondered if a possum had crawled beneath the barbecue to escape the cold, dislodging the cover as he left.
I had found a possum under the grill cover last year, which surprised us both. Slipping off the cover to cook some burgers, I discovered our visitor curled beside the lid. He wasn’t happy, of course, that I had disturbed his sleep, staring at me like a drunk startled off his park bench. He was a young possum in the bloom of adolescence, and since he was in no hurry to surrender his spot, I fetched a broom from the kitchen to nudge him along. Grudgingly, he climbed down one of the grill’s iron legs and waddled into the bushes, the shrubbery concealing him as quickly as a trapdoor. It made me think, as I often do, of the other wild things in secret places all around me — creatures who come to the surface of my awareness from time to time, reminding me that even a suburban yard can be a colony of the unexpected.
One recent morning, while tending a rubber cattle trough we use as a water garden, I noticed one of our goldfish on the ground nearby, still gasping for life. He revived when I dumped him back in the water, but I knew he hadn’t gone so far afield himself.
The likely culprit arrived a few days later as I was at my laptop in the dining room. Looking up from a paragraph, I spotted a red-tailed hawk atop our Drake elm. He was a couple of feet tall, his wingspan no doubt even larger when he silently glided, grand as an archangel, across the yard to perch on the rim of the cattle trough.
I cracked open the patio door to sneak a picture, which says a lot about how years with a smartphone have trained me to think — or not to think. I was more interested in getting a picture of my hawk poaching fish than in saving the fish.
The hawk, sensing my presence, flew off without any lunch, and I was left without a snapshot, too. My only record of the raptor’s visit is this story I’m sharing, something I’ll mentally file as a tale of a winter now fading from view.
In winter, these modest backyard dramas seem easier to notice, since the season is so quiet that even small rustlings can register as news.
Spring, with its bright pageant of distractions, is a busier time, but it brings its own rewards. I’m looking forward to grilling more, though I’ll keep my broom handy in case it’s needed.