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The change in weather, along with the recent arrival of gardening catalogs in the mail, is always a boost to the spirit. Reading the colorful pages filled with bright reds, shimmering greens, and vivid yellows can make one long for sun-filled days and warm nights that can’t come too soon.

I guess the promise of spring is the same for the bugs that visited our backyard last week. We have an unwritten agreement with all four-legged animals that visit us, offering them safe passage to another place.

Recently, a skunk walked through our back window. He looked around and apparently saw nothing he liked. We also assumed that the footprints we saw in the snow belonged to a neighborhood cat that appears from time to time at night. If it’s vermin he’s looking for, he should look elsewhere.

A skunk paid a mid-winter visit to Shnay's backyard in Park Forest.  Penny Shnay/for Daily Southtown, February 2024, Park Forest, Illinois
A skunk spent the winter in Shnay’s backyard in Park Forest. (Penny Shnay/for Daily Southtown)

A young raccoon visited us last week and was moving on a southwest path through the yard. Hopefully this young scavenger had other things on his mind and wasn’t looking for squatter rights over corners of our property.

Some friends of ours faced an invasion by a large family of raccoons a few years ago. They told me they set up a baited cage trap in their backyard that usually closed in the middle of the night. Making the ultimate sacrifice (waking up before 6 a.m.), they put the cage in the trunk of their car and drove to a rural location, freed the raccoon, and then returned home. In the end, the entire raccoon clan was sneaked to the same place at around the same time.

The lady of our house believes that they violated many rules regarding the capture of animals.

For fear of charges of complicity, I will say no more.

Deer, on the other hand, believe that their beautiful appearance gives them squatter rights over anyone’s property. It seems especially true in the homes adjacent to the forest preserve and, in some cases, in the homes bordering Park Forest’s Central Park, where they have been known to eat birdseed from the backyard of The Son and his wife.

Deer are also notorious for jaywalking. One collided with our car once. The animal drove away, but the vehicle was never the same and was soon taken to a car graveyard.

Let it rest in the ashes.

A raccoon recently seen in Park Forest backyards.  Penny Shnay/for Daily Southtown, February 2024, Park Forest, Illinois

Penny Shnay

A raccoon recently seen in Park Forest backyards. (Penny Shnay/for Daily Southtown)

The first task in the life of the Woman of our house seems to be to feed the birds and she does it with pleasure, devotion and money. She is also a devoted observer of winged creatures. When we are in the car, she counts the number of hawks she sees on trees or posts. She can be disconcerting when she shouts “37” and wakes up the driver who, along with the car, is on cruise control.

Fearing the traffic police, I won’t say more.

What we have seen throughout the seasons is the large number of starlings. These, along with grackles, are the bully birds of the avian world. They arrive in flocks and as soon as The Woman fills the feeders, these avian pests take over. Even the squirrels, which clear the ground by consuming seeds dropped by smaller birds, seem to shy away from the apparently hungry starlings.

More recently, The Woman photographed something yellowish called the northern flicker, which appeared without warning. They told me this is something strange.

“You don’t see this bird around here,” he informed me. He couldn’t argue the point.

The Woman’s camera is an extension of her hand, and at least three times a week she wanders the sprawling suburban area to the west, beyond the Illinois River, or east to wherever she goes in Indiana. Last week she captured stunning photos of eagles and bison. However, to complete her adventures, she was forced to fill the car with gas three times.

For obvious reasons I won’t say more.

Jerry Shnay, at, is a freelance columnist for the Daily Southtown.

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