As winter’s creep slowly changed my landscape from encroaching jungle to naked trees and brown vistas I found myself staring at dreys. They are everywhere. Well, that’s not true. They are only in treetops. What I mean is they are numerous.
If I stand between my house and the studio and make a 360° turn, I can count 8 dreys. Nine, if you include the one that fell through the chimney into my dining room last month. Thankfully, it was abandoned. I made note of at least 5 more on my last walk. Dreys are squirrel nests or homes. A tight, waterproof nest of leaves that tends to look like a jumbled mess hurriedly constructed and thrown into the uppermost branches of trees. Actually dreys are meticulously constructed with a layering of materials – coarse leaves on the outside and ever finer materials on the inside. An entrance hole is made in the bottom, which functions to keep out rain.
Seeing these dreys in the naked trees, I realized that while I think of the other life forms at Halcyon, I don’t tend to think beyond the organism in a concrete manner. Yes, I learn about their habits and niches. And if I understand their niche, I clearly understand that they have a home. My epiphany came when I realized that I never thought about all the homes that exist here at Halcyon. I just think of my house. I equate the word Halcyon with my home at the same time that I am happy to find other life about the property.
Thinking of all those dreys led me to wonder about all the homes needed to sustain life through the winter: soil burrows for rabbits, mice, and moles; mud burrows for frogs and turtles; ophidariums for snakes (I wonder how many are in my walls); formicaries for ants; hives for wasps and bees; tunnels for worms and beetles; nests for birds; brush for deer; lairs for fox; owlery for owls; and leaf litter for overwintering caterpillars. Some terms are non-specific. Others, like lair and den are used interchangeably. All the terms are human constructs. While many animals instinctively know when and what kind of home they need, we’ve no indication that they think of their homes with the same level of emotional connections in which humans do. And I doubt they name them.
Ironically we tend to call animal shelters a home and people shelters a house, that is until the house becomes a home, and then we are referring to how we’ve made memories and enhanced our comfort within the walls of said house. To us, a house is a structure to keep out wind and rain, and a home is so much more. Dreys and lairs and dens are also structures designed for shelter, but I’ve only seen cozy chairs, tiny dishes, and fireplaces in animal dwellings in my childhood fantasies of animals and in depictions of animal homes in wonderful picture books.
But I digress from my epiphany, which was about numbers of homes, not their contents. As I take my winter walks, I will take care to wonder and realize the number of dwellings at Halcyon. Some are for a solitary organism, like a frog burrowed in the mud. Others, like ant nests, hold hundreds or more individuals. There is still a lot going on out there, in just a mere 14 acres, of which I am unaware. What animals have built homes next to yours?