When the house I rented was sold and I moved into this fourth-floor apartment, I badly missed the garden, an organic downtown oasis regularly visited by hummingbirds, mantises, swallowtails and monarchs. One February day, I even watched a shrike stab a sparrow and impale it on a branch: wild kingdom in my city backyard.
After the move, I relied on flying things for my tie to the earth. The bird-feeding station on my balcony quickly drew a succession of finches, starlings and grackles, and encouraged two purple finch pairs to nest nearby. Everyone managed an entertaining, orderly succession at the feeder until the pigeons moved in.
Good-natured but totally without class, they scattered the seeds and filled the balcony with crap. My neighbours complained, so the bird party had to be closed down.
My current project is seeing how much food can be grown on the balcony. Salad and herbs aren't a problem, but the tomatoes and beans await collaboration from the animal world - the pollinators. If we humans left, the planet would only grow greener.
If the beetles, bees and flies left, starvation would follow, since their work in ensuring the fertility of plants and soil would go undone. The insect population has to build to its midsummer apex before any of them bothers to explore a garden four stories up.
Finally, here they come. As I write, a fat bumblebee zigzags up to the railing. The bee is an incredible beauty. Its black head, as shiny as the hood of a car, is trailed by a stole of pale yellow fur and an abdomen as soft and black as ermine. Now it stuffs itself inside a morning glory, its antennae making comical, moving dimples as it performs a kind of reverse fellatio in the flower's throat.
Its joy is catching. I've seen bumblebees roll deliriously in the pollen-rich centre of a rose or dahlia. This isn't anthropomorphism. Human emotions are the residues of instinct, which is a legacy of living messages from the ancestors and the planet. An insect's life isn't a grey, robotic response to biological on-off switches, but a maelstrom of sensation and desire.
When a wasp explores my drink, it may not be conscious that it hopes to find a dead moth or mouse there. But its disappointment at finding only gin, tonic and lime is amusing. So is its apparent perception of me as neither predator nor prey but something big, slow and structural, maybe a weird tree waving a chicken leg like a tempting fruit.
So I've resisted setting a wasp trap. Company is company. They only briefly explore the cocktails and peanuts, and once they start mining the shreds on the bone I leave as a decoy, dinner becomes peaceful enough. It's the least I can do.