I’m a nature geek — I own it. I was raised by a father whose first response on seeing a new bird was to root out an old identification guide and learn everything about it. I’ve got everything David Attenborough ever filmed on DVD. I drive AJ batty by shrieking “Squirrel!” every time I see one while she’s driving.
American wildlife is so much more exciting than in the UK. At home, I was lucky to see the occasional hedgehog in the garden (not native to North America, sadly), and when a fox set up den nearby and let her cubs play in the driveway, I was in animal heaven. (I wasn’t so good at badger spotting, but that’s another story.) Here, though, there are opossums and raccoons and skunks and coyotes and maybe even a wolf or bear or moose if I go north and rural enough. Last summer, a groundhog in the garden kept me entertained for literally weeks.Sadly, most of the animals I’ve spotted have been the pancaked versions on roads. This year I must have seen a dozen possums, but I’m yet to see one actually living and breathing. I saw a live raccoon last year, but it was running across the neighbour’s yard in the dark and I’d only got as far as “That’s a weird cat…” before it was gone, leaving my “OMG THAT WASN’T A CAT!” epiphany with nothing to show for itself.
Nope, the only thing I can reliably watch are the cardinals (which are especially lovely), and the freakishly over-armoured and over-sized insects of death which pass as wasps in this corner of the woods. I’m talking about mud daubers, the sort of mutant creature that wouldn’t look out of place in an Alien movie. They make nests on the house, in the barbecue grill on the back deck, and basically anywhere quiet they think they can get away with it. And they’re fascinating.
Their nests boggle me. Give me as much mud and time as you like, I’d never be able to produce anything as intricate, delicate, and complex as they do. Not the same size as theirs, and certainly not to scale. Through last summer I watched them flying back and forth with tiny amounts of mud, lovingly crafting every perfect hexagon, every little tunnel to house the next generation. Yeah they’re scary-looking, but providing I don’t flap around and disturb them, they don’t disturb me. By this point they probably just shrug at each other as they note the weirdo’s back again. And did you know they’re the primary predator of black and brown widow spiders? As far as I’m concerned, the wasps can stay.