Regulars and Shorts, Slightly Off Center

Slightly Off Center: Nature Isn’t Flowery

By Dennis Hinkamp

I’ve never cared much for nature writing because there is usually too much wafting, glimmering and shimmering; things that seldom happen in real life. I prefer to think of our backyard as an Elmore Leonard short story:

It’s just another day at the hummingbird bar where an ugly mood hangs in the air like secondhand smoke. Every hummer is nudging for position like it’s the last five minutes of happy hour. The jukebox keeps playing that one shrill metallic song. Punch drunk on sugar water, the males zip awkwardly up and down like wounded helicopters to impress the ladies and scare off other males. The females fidget on the sidelines waiting for their turn at the juice when some saucy Oriole plops down on a sugar well bar stool. She tries to act like she knows what she’s doing but the piercing stares of eight pairs of eyes convince her she’s in the wrong neighborhood. She takes just a sip of her drink and quickly leaves.

The lowdown on what’s really happening in the back yard.

One frantic hummingbird comes within an inch of my ear. I shouldn’t have worn a red shirt today. I curse them and threaten to replace their sugar with Splenda just to see what would happen. But in the end I relent and restock their bar with the good sugary stuff because I know what it’s like. Sometimes we all need a drink and an excuse to puff out our chests.

On the other side of the yard the squirrels bark at me as they tap dance down their powerline highway. They think they are cute and clever, hiding their winter stash all over the property. In truth, they are belligerent and greedy. They loot the dog’s outdoor bed for nesting material. They squabble with magpies over a useless bit of turf. Neither of them will back down but they agree to disagree as if one is Hamas and the other Israeli Likud.

I discover their cache of seeds and nuts in my travel trailer. I curse their existence and put an iron fry pan over their entryway. I throw their stash in the compost heap with no regrets. This is war and I’m not the United Nations.

The rabbits freeze in their clover patch, imagining themselves invisible. They act like shy teenagers who think if they’re quiet for long enough, you’ll stop asking questions and leave them alone. The rabbits flourish only because this neighborhood has only house cats and lazy dogs. Their only enemy is the little girl next door who has a slingshot and an eye for mischief. So they live a lavish life as a solitary link no longer connected to the food chain. Yeah, they are cute, but cute will only get you so far in this world; just ask Lindsey Lohan.

There are also a couple quail families; one a perfect nuclear family of a mother, father and five chicks. The other family is a single mother with a lone chick. It’s mean streets out there with all the hawks and owls and she only pops out in the open for the briefest moments. I wonder what stories she could tell. Was her mate eaten? Or did she split because he was fooling around with that bar fly Oriole?

Dennis Hinkamp would like to thank the cast of characters in the yard for inspiring him.

This article was originally published on September 1, 2011.