For years I worked out of a basement apartment in Chicago, with a window view of the sidewalk outside. I saw the knees of people walking by, along with a glimpse of the occasional squirrel, pigeon, or rat. When I moved to Colorado, the view out my basement office improved dramatically.

On the very first day, inquisitive foxes stopped by to check out the two-legged newcomers, with a boldness that astonished me. I later heard that a resident down the canyon had raised foxes for their fur, but then yielded to the pleas of his teenage daughter, who begged him to release her “pets.” These domesticated foxes and their descendants lacked a normal fear of humans. On summer days when my wife and I ate outdoors, a red fox would climb the steps to our deck, curl up and take a nap a few feet away. My neighbor once encountered a gray fox that promptly grabbed the toe of his shoe and, like a puppy at play, shook the man’s foot back and forth.

I hung a large bird feeder from the deck and soon attracted more than thirty different species of birds. Some of them, I learned, you can train to eat from your hand. Place an old glove nearby with sunflower seeds in the palm. After the birds become accustomed to eating from the glove, slip it on your hand. Before long they’ll eat the seeds from your gloved hand. Final step: remove the glove, and they’ll eat seeds directly from your bare hand.

One handsome little bird, a flycatcher, proved so fearless that it would land on my toe or my knee and serenade me as I sat outside in a patio chair. Soon I learned the real story: she had a nest just above where I was sitting, and what I took as friendliness was actually her way of warning me away from her hatchlings. I moved my chair to give her peace.

A birdbath attracted deer, who would take long drinks between trips to the salad bar—our landscaping. One cold morning two fawns, regular visitors, jumped back in alarm as they raised their heads to drink and saw their own reflections on the ice. That spurred me to go online and shop for a birdbath with a built-in heater, encouraging even more wildlife guests.

Together, the bird bath and bird feeder supported an entire ecosystem. I spent many hours devising ways to keep squirrels and chipmunks from emptying the feeder. An elaborate cable-and-pulley system suspended from two trees did the trick, and the mammals had to content themselves with overflow on the ground. Foxes found this a convenient arrangement, hiding behind rocks to plan assaults on the ground-feeders. I watched a wily female fox catch two squirrels and a chipmunk in one morning; more often, the squirrels made it to a tree, where from a safe perch they furiously scolded their attackers.

It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and nature usually follows this rule: Big animals eat little animals. With two notable exceptions, small animals live in a constant state of anxiety, twitching their ears at the slightest sound and whirling around to look for enemies. The exceptions: porcupines and skunks, both of whom have built-in deterrence systems that cause even large predators to give them a wide birth.

The largest visitors, black bears, swagger around and do whatever they please. Before I rigged up the pulley system, our bird feeder hung from an iron bar as thick as a tire iron. I watched a hungry bear reach out and bend the bar like a toothpick, knocking the feeder to the ground. He then sauntered down the steps, lay down, and snarfed up the spilled birdseed. Thirsty, he grabbed a sprinkler hose, examined it carefully, then bit through to get to the water inside. I snapped photos through a plate glass window, which he fake-charged until I retreated to another room. Bears, immune to fear, almost always get their way.

Several times I’ve seen a bobcat stop by, a lovely feline the size of a large dog, though with a cat-like face. Nothing can prepare you for the sight of a creature wearing a coat of such exquisite design wandering through your front yard. And last year I had my closest encounter with the king of the Rockies, the mountain lion.

One night, a neighbor spotted a fresh deer kill in a gully beside our house. The next day it had been dragged through the snow even closer, a mere eight feet from a sliding-glass door. My wife and I turned on the porch light that evening to illuminate a scene that set our hearts racing. Not one, but four mountain lions had circled the deer carcass. Two cubs waited patiently as the large adult male ripped meat from the deer with his powerful jaws. The female kept an eye on us on the other side of the glass. Every time we whispered, her ears twitched and she turned to stare.

Living in a natural environment, I have a sense of creatureliness that I never experienced in the city. On mountain hikes I feel small and appropriately vulnerable, subject to such dangers as avalanches, rock slides, and lightning storms. At home I feel a guest among species that occupied this space long before humans arrived.

Though nature has its cruel side, it can also show a touch of whimsy. My town hosts one of the largest elk herds in the country. Elk are big, dumb animals that stand around eating grass all day—except for a few weeks in September when the males joust with their huge racks of antlers to win the right to mate with forty or fifty cows. Most years a bull elk steers his entire trophy harem though my yard, and they clean up any of our landscaping that the deer may have overlooked.

Adolescent elk act like teenagers anywhere. I’ve seen young elk pick through construction sites in search of sections of PVC pipe they can toss around with their growing antlers. Once on a golf course I watched a prankster remove the first-green flagstick with his mouth and charge his companions, holding the stick like a lance between his teeth. The seven-point bull was so impressed that he made the youngster drop the flag so he could give it a try.

Just this week I saw two mallard ducks negotiate a slalom course, careening around boulders as a white-water creek swept them downstream. Then, to my amazement, they flew back and repeated the course, apparently for no other reason but the sheer joy of it.

Three fox kits entertained themselves by stealing objects from our yard—a tennis ball, a garden glove—and playing a vulpine version of keep-away. The most cunning of the three learned to trigger a deer-deterrent water spray by dashing in front of the motion sensor, at once scaring and soaking her two siblings.

In a dark mood, naturalist John Muir observed about the fossil record that “it is a great comfort…that vast multitudes of creatures, great and small and infinite in number, lived and had a good time in God’s love before man was created.” Fortunately, in some corners of the world, including Colorado, vast multitudes of creatures still live and have a good time in God’s love. The least we can do is make room for them—for our sakes as well as theirs.

 

 

 

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34 responses to “The World Outside My Window”

  1. Lynn says:

    I am sitting in my back porch , here in East Texas ! I so enjoyed your story ! The Lord has reared w his creation of watching deer , foxes along w all kinds of birds . What often amazes me is that we happen to look out the window at the exact time for a look of God’s creation ! That is definitely a GOD thing! Always enjoy your ponderings Philip !

  2. Wow! Bears and mountain lions right outside your back door…good for practicing those verses on “Fear not…” -for real!
    Thank you, Philip, for all you share!

    Kam

  3. Jeanie Hunter says:

    Beautiful pictures and descriptions. Thank you so much, that is what we miss so much about Evergreen, a little slice of Heaven. God bless you.

  4. John Branner says:

    Thank you for the descriptive reminder of our years down the mountain. (Our pastor, Ted Travis, told us that you had visited Jubilee Community Church a couple of years before we moved to downtown Denver.)
    My wife and I just finished our favorite missionary bio ever, VISION FOR GOD. What a privilege was your’s to know both of the Brand docs! I also recently benefitted from your PRAYER. The mention of “ghost money” in Taiwan revived an early memory of our 18 years on the island. An invitation to a student’s home for dinner, with the $ burning out front, was a first “meat offered to idols” challenge. Where and when were you there?
    Congratulations on the Wheaton alumni assn. award. Just saw it in the program (a grandson just graduated).

  5. Patty Putnam says:

    This is one of the things I miss most about living in Evergreen! Thanks for the beautiful photos and well-written words.

  6. Jeannette says:

    Such beautifully descriptive narrative Philip.
    In the UK our animals are not so exotic! However I get such joy just from watching birds in my garden and especially splashing around in the birdbath.
    One benefit of COVID and being isolated was the time just to observe nature all B around us – we are continually blessed,
    Thank you for reminding us…..

  7. Caro says:

    Living in the Pacific NW, between the coast and the mountains, the catechism question “what is the chief end of man?” and the answer “to glorify God and enjoy him forever” rings true. Every morning I see (just now, springtime) ducklings, fawns, tiny lizards, baby snakes, eaglets…frogs croaking their wishes…on and on. It is the time of year of renewal of so many things, and it is a wonder and a delight to watch. Walking in nature gives peace so needed just now in this broken world. Thank you for noticing the wonders of Colorado!

  8. Margaret Wiggers says:

    Thank you for sharing this and giving city dwellers a captivating look at the wild creatures.

  9. Betty says:

    Enjoyed immensely the pictures along with dialogue!! Thanks!

  10. Terry Shaffer says:

    Thank you for sharing your view outside of your window, especially your comments regarding your engagement with fox’s. We have been blessed with five fox kits that can be seen sunning and playing from the boardwalk between Asbury Park and Ocean Grove. They are such celebrities they were featured in the local newspapers.

    Appreciate your thoughts regarding God’s great creation.

  11. Richard Gravley says:

    Love your musing as always. God’s abundance and blessings abound if your willing to pause and be quiet. We enjoy the rural life of North Dakota in summers and the warmth of winters in south Florida, what wonderful variety!

  12. Mike Carney says:

    Thanks! We were visiting my daughter and husband in Nederland so this sounded familiar! Thanks for your writing over the years!

  13. This read was a true respite in my workday. This morning, from the suburbs of Chicago, I’m editing a book that quotes Wonderfully Made, and I happily followed a rabbit trail to this post.

  14. Carol Allen says:

    I live your accounts of creature watching!

  15. Paul Baxendale says:

    Excellent article about all the animals you saw in Colorado. Enjoyed reading it.

  16. Thomas Hieber says:

    Thank you Philip for sharing these stories, memories and pictures from your home! It is wonderful to be able to admire God’s creation and to care for it.
    I just came across a lecture from one of my teachers many years back.
    Christopher Wrigth on: “The Goodness, the Glory, and the Goal of Creation”
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tTTh8rZy9fE

    wishing you many wonderful moments with all the wonderful animals in your front yard.
    blessings,
    Thomas

  17. Howard Hargrove says:

    This is so fun Philip! So glad you shared all of our feelings – of those of us that are fortunate to share this wonderful setting.

    So nice to contemplate God’s beauty in the midst of such difficult times. Good perspective. Thanks.

  18. Lois says:

    Ahhhhhh…. I love this. I feel like I am sitting with you watching the wildlife wander through your yard. I too love these creatures that have been loaned to us to enjoy. My little birdfeeder (supposedly not allowed on our balconies! Shhh….) attracts about 12 different kinds of birds, even though I live on a fairly busy street in the city. I have hours of enjoyment (even when a squirrel makes his way two stories up to steal some of the bird food). Thank you for such an inspiring post…filled with expressions of our loving God!

  19. Frances MacEwan says:

    Philip – I just love this. Your beautiful and eloquent description had me sitting right beside you and your wife watching these creatures. God’s creation is awesome!

  20. Susan DeAnn Harris says:

    Beautiful. Thank you for continuing to write and photograph these delights.

  21. Norman J. Marian says:

    Wonderfull.

  22. Dan Story says:

    As an animal lover since childhood, I greatly enjoyed your blog. I have written two books where I share my love of wild animals. “Where Wild Things Live . . .” and “Will Dogs Chase Cat in Heaven . . . ” You might find them enjoyable, and I review the latter book on my website (www.danstory.net).

    I have read many of your books over the years, and all have ministered to my wife and me. I pray God continues to bless your ministry.
    Blessings,
    Dan Story

  23. Jean says:

    This is absolutely fantastic. Thank you so much, Philip! I can hardly wait until the memoir comes out, as I still feel like Soul Survivor was the best book I ever read. I’m going to order four or five copies.

  24. Linda Brown says:

    This story is amazing. I’m a Canadian. Thank you for taking me into your world. God is so great.

  25. Marlene Chase says:

    Captivating to read; humbling to think of God’s vast, extravagant creation and to imagine that we too can have a good time in His love. Always a compelling read from you.

  26. Philip says:

    Ahh, Yes this is why I love living here as well:) Thank you for your accounting of this beautiful place in which we live.Ph

  27. Anne Brett says:

    Our home in Louisiana is surrounded by 3 sugar cane fields. Our usual ground visitors are snakes, alligators, raccoons, opossums, frogs, lizards, turtles and armadillos. Above our home, we see hawks, egrets, owls, purple martins, and 2 pairs of bald eagles. Of course, the insects are too numerous to count, especially the mosquitoes. God sure was creative!

  28. Rob Acton says:

    Beautifully written. Thank you, friend.

  29. Martha says:

    You are blessed! We live in rural Texas where we have seen deer, fox, and ducks in our yard, nearby feral pigs (scariest animal I have ever seen!), coyotes, and bobcats, and of course our normal bulls, horses, and cows. Sadly our neighborhood is seeing so many new homes built, all that is left are one fox family and a few deer in a shelter nearby. Enjoy your home!

  30. Wendy Lodge says:

    Thank you, Philip!
    We have been greatly blessed especially through Covid lockdowns with the nature on our doorstep- although nothing like as exotic as where you live – nevertheless I can delight in watching bees foraging, hatchlings exploring the world outside the nest and plants like snowdrops appearing apparently from nowhere! God’s gifts to us!

  31. Patricia says:

    What a lovely essay to start off the day.

  32. Alba Kelly says:

    Philip, ao ler seu blog, lindo e maravilhoso das cenas de interação com a natureza, minha imaginação foi levada a refleti como será a na vida na terra restaurada pelo Senhor. Indescritível, linda, e maravilhosa.

  33. DeLora Fennig says:

    God’s Handiwork

  34. Uwe Brammer says:

    You are truly Blessed living in that environment. Something we are striving towards. Thank you for sharing a section of your paradise! Something we as humans have done is lost the ability to be at one with nature and God’s creation. Be blessed as you continue to bless those around you! Lynn & Uwe!

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