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Living on the Edge

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Published on: May. 2, 1999

Last revision: Nov. 2, 2010

I don't think that many of us really understand how closely our lives are aligned with the wild things that surround us. Now and then we get a clue-sometimes even a jolt-that reminds us that almost every life form lives on the edge of some other creature's habitat.

I live in an old neighborhood in the middle of Columbia, which is a venerable college town in the center of Missouri. Although the town grows larger every year, the core of it remains much the same, a place of shady neighborhoods, ancient trees and old houses.

Thanks to some long-ago builder who admired a large yard and trees, I live with a big stretch of lawn, fenced in by grape vine, wisteria and honeysuckle and lined with beds of perennial flowers. This takes considerable mowing, and lawn mowing-a slow job-affords an opportunity to observe the ground a yard at a time, an intimacy usually only afforded to cows or sheep.

Each time I mow, I get to sit at a table in the shade to cool off and watch the results of man's urge to trim the landscape to please himself. The general slaughter I have created with my noisy blades might be invisible to my eye but not to the wild birds, who are just now raising young and whose shopping never ends.

The grackles are always first, in pairs or bunches, to take advantage of the crippled bugs and thousands of small creatures addled and carried to the surface of the grass by the vacuum of the thrashing blades. The robins come, too, hopping like leg-chained convicts among the grackles with their stately stride and yellow stare.

When I'm interested enough to get a magnifying glass and see what the birds are harvesting, my presence just makes them move a few scant yards-they figure there are enough bugs to go around and don't worry about the amount I'll eat.

My lawnmower is a side ejection model and throws a small windrow to the right. If I had one of those vacuum bags, I could go through the mess in a pile, but since I don't, I have to crawl down a windrow and sort through blades and clover tops.

It doesn't take long to find out what creatures are my fellow residents on this piece of turf. Leaf hoppers, thrips and ants seem to be the main survivors, too small and tough to be killed by the

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