The critters of the Hilltop

I’ve never met an animal I didn’t like…I can’t say the same thing about people.”                                       — Doris Day —


We see them every day. The critters of the suburbs and the woods that surround us in this rural state I live in. You can see deer, eagles, hawks, squirrels, chipmunks, hares and rabbits…a veritable cast of creatures that scamper and play in the woods. And you may take them for granted. You may think they are and always will be there.

The critters of the Hilltop are gone now…with a few exceptions.

shutterstock-307512593A lone squirrel still scampers about the now overgrown grounds. I’ve seen the little fellow running here and there, gathering what he can for his winter horde and disappearing into the now decrepid and decaying hotel. This squirrel, who I have named “Ratatoskr” after the squirrel of mischief in Norse mythology, knows me…I leave little bits of crackers and nuts and granola for him when I can. And it’s always gone when I check. I do hope he enjoys the provisions I set out for him. I just feel its going to be a cold winter, and I hate the thought of the little fellow going hungry. When I do see him, he scampers close to me…not close enough to pet him (although most anyone who knows me, knows how badly I would love to have a pet squirrel) but close enough for him to recognize my scent and twitch his tail before running up a tree or line pole. It seems that there has always been squirrels up on the Hilltop. They used to be everywhere. Guests would delight in feeding some of the friendlier ones by hand. We had a squirrel feeder station on the fence that overlooked the Potomac River. One could see this station from the “Maryland room” and guests would watch the cavorting little critters playing and “duking it out” over the peanuts and seeds we would leave for them. The squirrels gradually left after the old place closed down. There was no more food, no more peanuts, no more people who wanted their company. All but my little Ratatoskr. Like me, he is the last of the old guard.

Birds used to swarm the hotel too. All kinds of birds. My mother had a hummingbird feeder that sat outside her office window and daily she would have to fill up the jar with whatever nectar she was giving them. They would drink it dry 2 or 3 times daily. Now…the barely audible hum of their tiny little wings are heard no more. Robins, cardinals, orioles and a rainbow of other birds would nest in the trees and occasionally burst from those trees like a firework exploding in color on the fourth of July. They would often go to war with the squirrels over the seeds left in the feeders and more often than not, the birds would win by sheer force of numbers. The trees they nested in are dead and leafless now. The roosts of those little colorful squabs are gone and forgotten by them. Now, turkey vultures roost on the rusted and decayed roof of the old hotel, giving it an air of malevolence that the grand girl doesn’t deserve.

Although, in it’s current state, the vultures roosting seem to add a little something.

RavensYet not all my feathered friends have flown to better skies. There are two ravens that still keep watch over the grounds. When you see a certain animal often enough you can distinguish one from another by certain characteristics. I’ve seen the two ravens I speak of for years. I have named them “Huginn” and “Muninn” again after the pair of ravens from Norse mythology. Unlike the squirrel, these two just watch. They don’t approach or seem even the slightest bit interested in the seeds I throw out for them. They don’t seem to be interested that is until I walk away. Then they swoop down and peck away until they have had their fill. They squawk and caw to keep the other small birds that attempt to take from their buffet away. They are majestic birds, these ravens. (They aren’t crows, these birds are far too big to be a crow. And an ornithologist who watches for birds from the point has confirmed they are in fact, ravens) It’s odd to find comfort in the cawing of a raven when the wind is whipping from the river valley and the snow is drifting around my feet. I can hear that distinct cawing and look up to find the pair of them sitting on a wire, or a piece of roof that hasn’t quite fallen off yet, staring at me approvingly.

I used to take the myriad of critters that populated the hilltop for granted. And only now that they are gone, do I realize how empty and dead the place feels without them. Even the raccoon that would occasionally raid the dumpster doesn’t seem like a nuisance now that the little furry robber is gone.

This season, remeber all those furry critters that give us so much joy. get your ct, dog, rat…whatever…a nice present. Leave a suet block out on a bare tree for those little birds and squirrels who are looking for winter nibbles. Take a little time to appreciate the wonder of the wildlife around you…even in your yard.

When it’s gone…you will surely notice.

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