Wednesday, July 04, 2007

wild animal kingdom: backyard in time

I went home for the July long weekend and was really looking forward to some serious rest and relaxation. The editor had other ideas. Not wanting to risk a mauling, I wasted no time in heading out the door with camera in hand, in search of material for the next starfish and waffles post.

A single, wild poppy flashes its brilliant, fire-orange colour in the backyard behind the house I grew up in. (2007). I know what you're thinking: how can Felix use a poppy as the cover picture of a wild animal kingdom post? Has he gone mad? Well, I beg to differ. Come on, people ... think of the opium!

I grew up in a working class neighbourhood on the eastside of Saskatoon, which, for those of you who have never been, is a small Canadian city situated under expansive skies, smack in the middle of the prairie. Many of the houses on our street looked the same - modest bungalows cast in a sloped-roof shape, typical of what an average kindergarten student would draw with his or her crayons.

Each home's backyard, however, had its own character, and ours was no different.

In its heyday, our backyard was a lively place under the summer sun. I remember lawnchairs, baseball, and barbecued burgers on the charcoal-fired hibachi. There was vibrant vegetable garden, filled with lettuce, carrots, eggplant, snowpeas, potatoes and tomatoes. We had a crabapple tree that produced fruit so sour it would make your face scrunch ... but also strawberries so sweet that if you made a sauce with them to pour over vanilla ice cream, they would make your teeth hurt. And then, there were the creatures of our animal kingdom - the wild animal kingdom, of course!

(Cue National Geographic theme music here).

Behind our backyard, there was nothing more than a lonely, two-lane highway and an open field, so maybe that's why there always seemed to be an unusual abundance of wildlife even though we were within city limits. While cheerful robins hunted for worms on our lawn, meadowlarks would sit on the posts of the chain-linked fence and sing, ignoring the odd hawk which soared in the blue skies overhead. Occasionally, a gopher pop his head out from a hole, no doubt worried about the clever red foxes which stalked the tall grasses in search of prey. Within our vegetable garden, there were plenty of creepy-crawly insects for a kid like me to be afraid of - so much so, that I barely even noticed the rattling sounds of the rattlesnakes nearby ...

This past weekend, I wandered into the backyard where I grew up, with camera in hand. Things had changed. The hibachi was nowhere to be found. Our unstained wooden fence looked old and weathered. The vegetable garden and strawberry patch had long since been overtaken by aggressive wild grass, dandelions and mint. Everything was lush and green yet grown-in and wilder; it was a scene befitting of a Robert Frost poem. I decided I liked the less manicured feel of it all.

Beyond our backyard, it was the opposite. The endless open field was endless no more, as new house suburbia powered by the booming local economy extended its reach further than I previously thought possible. I wondered where the foxes had gone. I wondered about the rattlesnakes.

Just then, a robin flew in and perched himself on top of the fence. After posing for a picture, he chirped and merrily carried on with his day.

Well, at least some things haven't changed.

The cheerful American robin is the undisputed harbinger of spring and summer in these northern, Canadian latitudes. (2007). When I was nine, me, my dad and a buddy of mine rescued an injured, abandoned baby robin and tried to nurse it back to health - but to no avail. I cried when that fluffy little bird died. When I photographed the robin above, I wondered if maybe he was a distant relative of the other bird I once knew and had grown attached to.

A prairie dog (gopher) pokes his head out from a hole in the back corner of our backyard, to check out the strange intruder sporting a camera. (2007). A rather impressive prairie dog town has sprung up in the field behind our house ... if they have a hole on our property, does that make our yard a suburb? My mom's old vegetable garden was not more than three feet from where the gopher above is standing.

The ladybug was one of the few insects I wasn't afraid of when I was a little kid. (2007). The elusive one above was difficult to photograph as she was too busy hunting aphids to stay in one place.

The aforementioned buddy of mine, the one who had helped me rescue the baby robin, got married last weekend in a beautiful garden wedding. Congratulations, Lee and Keith. The staff at starfish and waffles wish you much luck and love in your lives together.


  1. Thanks for the visit to the home you grew up in!

    It was interesting to hear how nature had taken over in some parts, while suburban infrastructure had elbowed into others.

    The National Geographic theme music added a lot to the experience as well:) Cheers!

  2. Oh!-- i almost forgot to mention how much i liked the firework-reminiscent opium poppy! When you get through processing it, give me a call:)

  3. Going home is always kind of a surreal experience - the vaguely familiar is the same, yet so different. It's tough to explain.

    And yes, without National Geographic theme music, there is no Wild Animal Kingdom!

    -c, please rest assured that I will be giving you a call when it comes time to, um, "enjoy" the poppy. Oops, maybe I shouldn't have put quotes around the word "enjoy." Scratch the quotes. No quotes. Check.

    At this point, the editor would like to remind all of the kids out there who read starfish and waffles to say no to drugs! Remember: not until you're 15!

  4. I wonder where that lone poppy in my backyard has gone. Our neighbour did see a bear-like creature swooshing by one early morning in July in my yard. Mmmmmm I wonder! Poppy? I very much doubt that it is the same kind of poppy you have in mind. Well, as for until you're 15, why at 15? Kids mature much earlier these days. As long as it is done under supervision, well......ok I haven't said a word...

  5. Zhu, oh, that was definitely an opium poppy. Trust me! :)