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Nature: Inside and out

Jeff Tome For The Audubon

Nature creeps, crawls and slithers into our world every day. It is hard to draw a line between what we consider the human world and the natural world. Really, that artificial line doesn’t exist. The houses we live in are no different from the dens and nests of animals, aside from providing an abundance of warmth and food that is not so common outside. There are lots of wild things that look at the habitat we provide in our homes as a blessing to help them survive.

Winter is a time when wildlife shelters with us. Spiders lurk in the corners. Mice crawl through the walls while bats roost in them. Salamanders slip into some basements while squirrels race through the attics.

Other tiny wildlife specializes in wintering in homes. Asian Lady Bugs sneak in through cracks in windows and walls to spend the winter inside by the hundreds. Pine Conifer Seed Bugs, often called stink bugs, also sneak in for the winter. Their brown-on-brown bodies often show up as a silhouette in a lamp shade or a black blob crawling up a wall. The occasional wasp finds its way from some hidden crevice to crawl on a window.

My job in the house is to be the spider rescuer. I scoop spiders off of walls, beds, and carpets to carry them gently outside, where I deposit them into a corner of the porch or let them go out a window to crawl on the chimney. Personally, I like the spiders and assume they would not be there unless something even more unsavory was lurking out of sight that they are eating.

Personally, I cannot bear to kill the spiders. My take on this is that we need to make peace with them. After all, if we create a perfect spider habitat with food and shelter for them, it seems rude to get mad at them for moving into it.

That said, I realize there are people who have uncontrollable fears of things found outside. Spiders, with their eight legs and many eyes and suspiciously speedy movements, are often hard for people to bear. Spiders are often met with squishing, squashing, bashing hatred. It can be hard to think of your home as a habitat full of things that the spiders are eating, such as centipedes, flies, silverfish, and other odd little critters that you might prefer not to know about.

The thing is, we like to think of our homes as something separate and distinct from the nature in our yards, while the wildlife looks at it as a part of their world. A house is a warm castle full of soft nesting places, interesting foods, and sometimes some other interesting animal friends to visit.

It’s easy to think of homes and yards as not-nature compared to the nature in parks and forests, but it is a false distinction. Wildlife doesn’t draw a line between the park and the neighborhood, the forest and the lawn. More animals lay claim to your yard than you may suspect. The cardinal singing in the tree may really be singing “mine, mine, mine”, establishing that your yard is his. A raccoon may deposit piles of, umm, piles at the base of a tree in the yard to claim that the tree is part of his territory. The neighbor’s dog may mark a tree or hydrant in your yard to establish that it is part of her territory, at least until another dog comes along. Feral cats may sneak along doing the same thing.

I find it useful to think of my house and yard as a habitat for wildlife. Plants in the yard are planted for bees, butterflies, and birds to use. Some plants I plant to be eaten by caterpillars, others to be used as nesting material or nesting locations. Others, such as blueberries, raspberries and rhubarb, feed me and mine with tastes of summer through the dark winter months.

That said, there are limits. Mice do not live long inside before finding their way to a trap. Garden-devouring voles in the yard meet a similar fate, though planting gardens in raised beds helped keep them away from some plants. It can be hard to find where your balance is. How many animals are you OK with in your yard? Do you draw the line at butterflies and birds, or do you also like to watch the rabbits, raccoons, and other occasional visitors?

The line between human and nature, good and bad, is different for everyone, but taking some time and figuring out what is truly harmful in your home and yard, what is just annoying, and what is a joy to have can make your time inside and outside more enjoyable.

Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn to dusk as is Liberty, the Bald Eagle. The Nature Center is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily except Sunday when it opens at 1 p.m. More information can be found online at auduboncnc.org or by calling (716) 569-2345.

Jeff Tome is a Senior Nature Educator at ACNC.

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