Perfumed Nights, Skunks, Spiders, Clouds, Bird Calls and Kittens
By Anna Daniels
Spring is all about sex and sugar. The birds, skunks, opossums and cats were doing “it” while the vegetative world turned green, tendrilled and flowering. Summer on the other hand is about flight and foraging, storing up and going to seed, with more sex thrown in just because that’s how it works for spiders. And that’s how it works for cats, to my great dismay.
All this happens here in City Heights, in this flat, densely populated, concrete covered place. This summer has held surprises, variations on the planetary theme of long warm sunshine filled days. Even here in the city we live within a natural world that is shaped by the cycle of seasons.
It has been ten degrees cooler than this time last year, with a cool onshore flow in the early mornings tamping down the building heat. There was an unexpected early morning July shower accompanied by a slow steady drip from the eaves. It was the kind of morning that seduces you into turning onto your side, purring into the pillow and falling back to sleep.
It has been a Billy Stewart kind of summertime this year–but without all the cowboys in the video.
Archival Footage of Billy Stewart singing Summertime
This was a year of something new and it was also a year of returns after an absence. Skunks moved into the neighborhood for the first time around seven years ago. This year a female skunk built a loose nest of grass under the back porch and two tiny skunks, their bodies as small as my hand, turned up one evening. As the weeks went by, they would jockey with each other for the cat food on the front porch, making angry chirps and sometimes nipping each other. They have become accustomed to my quiet presence, sniffing my feet, walking across my shoes.
The hooded orioles that used to arrive before Memorial Day have been absent from the yard for the past four years. This year, they returned. I heard their distinctive scolding before identifying two fledglings and the female. These birds migrate to the Mexican coast. It is difficult to determine whether their past absence has been the result of habitat pressures here (predatory crows and reduction of nesting sites) or in Mexico or simply the perils of such a long migration.
The large silver argiope spiders have built webs close to the ground in the flower garden.
The green lynx spiders blend into the foliage of the geraniums, where they wait for bees. These spiders don’t build a web–instead they ambush and pounce on their prey.
Summertime is when the orb weavers build a web every night, consume the web every morning and hide among the leaves before beginning the whole process again the next evening. These spiders build their webs at face level which has necessitated the “orb spider salute” at night–chopping the air in front of your face with a stiff outstretched arm to disengage an unseen web and the spider, of course.
The angel trumpets have bloomed throughout the summer. During the day it is difficult to detect their perfume, but if the night is warm and slightly humid, their perfume wafts through the windows and open doors. The house feels far removed from the grime and fumes of city life.
The five kittens that were dumped into our yard a few months ago have turned into small catlings. Our neighbors have a washer and dryer outside in their back yard exposed except for a roof. They have become an endless source of “prey.” The kittens have successfully hunted a pair of socks, a glove and parts of a stuffed animal toy. They have over turned flower pots and generally trashed the side yard. Afterwards they nap. Spaying them all has turned into a urgent challenge.
Last night there was a full moon that lit up a night sky puckered with high small clouds. Sunrise this morning was accompanied by a cloudless blue sky and a faint breeze. The angel trumpets sway almost imperceptibly. The music that is struck from their apricot colored throats is a variation on the theme of Summertime.
Angelique Kidjo singing Summertime
All photos by Rich Kacmar