For the last month, I’ve been watching the winter moth caterpillars feeding like locusts throughout my yard, turning my trees’ leaves into green lace handkerchiefs. Last week I came down with poison ivy between my fingers, complete with boil-like blisters. I’ve spent most of the last two days bailing my basement out – for the second time in three weeks – as a result of Wednesday’s torrential storms. With up to three more inches of rain predicted for this evening, I’m beginning to wonder, is the Cape trying to tell me something?

We hear everyday about how fragile the ecosystem is here, out on this flexed arm of earth. The last month or so has me thinking that our environment has its own ways of defending itself against its human interlopers. And this time also has provided me with a crash course on just how important it is here to pay attention to my immediate surroundings in a way I haven’t had to in a very long time.

The biggest lesson I’ve discovered in the three months since I arrived is that one is much closer to the environment here than in a big city, like my old hometown of Chicago. I don’t just mean that it takes less time to get to the beach, but, in a larger sense, what happens around us here has a much bigger impact without the added safety net a big city can provide. Many of our homes (mine very much included) may look like something out of a suburban landscape, but they are built in a setting that has never been tamed the way those former farm fields have.

Sure, we got major rainstorms in Chicago, but we also had an extensive sewer system and a brand new, multi-billion-dollar stormwater tunnel that carried most of that water away. I’d occasionally get a slight trickle from the basement wall next to the gutter downspout, but that would be the most of it. Rain might slow down traffic a bit – Chicago drivers turn into raving idiots in the rain, ask anyone who drives there – but that would generally be the extent of any real impact.

And, in Chicago’s much-ballyhooed winters, we would from time to time get a major snowstorm. The television stations and newspapers would kick into gear two days ahead of time, pushing fears of an oncoming Armageddon with images of emptying supermarket shelves. But those of us who had followed the city’s political history knew we could ignore the hype. Mayors had lost their jobs in that burg as a result of botched blizzard clean-up efforts, so snow predictions there are like a call to war. With the first falling flakes, an armada of snow plows and salt trucks resembling the build-up prior to Operation Iraqui Freedom hits the streets, and doesn’t stop until the last frozen crystal has been vanquished.

Here, I’ve discovered, when a storm hits, it can have real impact. Weatherunderground.com has become a regular resource for me – I learned about it from my brother, who lives on the hurricane-prone North Carolina coast. Not only do I visit the site, I also pay attention to the forecasts and watch the radar. I also am starting to actually learn about the plants around me, especially since some of them make me break out in hives. And, though I ignored all those government urgings after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to stock up on duct tape and plastic sheeting, I’m starting to think about what I might want to have around if a natural disaster hits here.

This closer relationship to the world around me has amped up my stress levels a bit in the short term. But, it’s also made me feel much more connected to my environment than I ever did in my former, more urban home. When you’re one resident in a city of 3 million, putting up walls and ignoring the surrounding cacaphony can become an important survival mechanism. Here, one needs to pay attention and react, because there’s a chance that stock of bottled water and batteries could actually come in handy.

I’m learning to be more aware, to maybe be more prepared for the next way my new home will try to surprise me. I keep an eye on the water levels of the mighty Considine – the drainage ditch that cuts across my backyard. I mark the locations of particularly nasty poison ivy patches. I make a note to call the tree guy first thing next spring to spray against munching pests. I keep my senses open for signs of the next plague with which the Cape may threaten me.

So, tell me, has anyone else found the peepers to be especially loud this year?

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