Cultivating Life: Wildlife among us


By LeAnn Locher, PQ Monthly

It’s been trying to get my attention. I’ve been hearing the loud pecking over the past few months, and what started about a block away is now staring me in the face. Literally. I’d recognized the sound of a woodpecker and couldn’t spot it. But this past week as I went to my car in the driveway, the sound was closer, and soon I discovered, right in front of my face.

The large fir tree adjacent to the driveway was hosting what I eventually found to be a Northern Flicker, a bird of the woodpecker family. Not hidden high atop the branches, but precisely at eye level, pecking at the trunk while vertically holding on, stopping only to eye me as I approached. I stopped short only a few feet away, and it held its ground. I was running behind that morning, but it didn’t matter. To finally see the bird I’d been hearing for months was a gift and one I needed to make sure was for real. We both paused, he from pecking and me from my busy-ness. It was worth being late.

The next day I heard him again, this time coming from the roof of our house. I stopped myself again to find him. As I turned back and surveyed the garden, his head popped up and he eyed me from atop our two-story house. “Aah, friend, there you are,” we said to each other. He tapped a few out right in front of me, a sign of declaring his territory to any others in the near vicinity. I smiled and said, “It’s all yours.”

There’s more to wildlife in this urban garden than the rare running Shih Tzu Maltese.
There’s more to wildlife in this urban garden than the rare running Shih Tzu Maltese.

We live among wildlife, even in the city. During changing seasons I think of them as messengers. Perhaps my woodpecker friend was telling me he’s keeping busy because we’re going to have a lot of snow this season, or to protect the tropical plants in pots in the garden because temperatures may dip into single digits (for a change). Let’s hope he wasn’t telling me we have insects to eat in the exterior boards of our house.

It’s the time of year when elk herds can be seen on my partner’s commute to work over Germantown Road in NW Portland. I look forward to the day when she sends me a photo, having pulled over to watch them, awestruck, for a few moments of silence and pause. Just a few minutes outside of Portland and between suburbs, majestic elk roam in herds of 20 to 30, catching commuters off guard yet providing moments of wonder.

Our North Portland house sits between two rivers, the Willamette and the Columbia. Our small urban garden lies below the commute of flocks of geese, honking as they fly in formation from one river to the other. We are host to raccoons who wash their paws in the backyard fountain and a trail of a nighttime bumbling possum. Hummingbirds fight in the air and visit the rain chain to take their tiny, frenetic baths. The trellis along our fence was built for hosting vines but the squirrels appreciate it as their own personal racetrack. Lately they’ve been scurrying with nuts stuffed in their cheeks, seemingly panicked that the weather is changing and they best get busy. I’m grateful we’re not in the path of the neighborhood skunks. There’s lots of talk on the community Facebook page about coyote sightings, usually followed by an uptick in missing cat announcements.

We are surrounded by wildlife, and I look to them to remind me that nature continues on, even if we build among it. We are in their world, they are not in ours.

LeAnn Locher dabbles in the home arts and is busy squirrelling away canned goods for the season. Connect with her and other likeminded domestic arts badasses at