The trail is short and it ends at the garage.

Beyond, the alley and its busy summer residents.

 The mourning doves of evening – elegant cooing birds on a wire — and the fluttering robins of dusk and the tufted, grazing rabbits of all day.

A daybreak cardinal, high in a neighbor’s dying pine tree, greets the sun with his syrupy boasts.

When July is good like it is right now, the natural world just explodes and comes right to you.

Overhead at sunset, banking chimney swifts and circling nighthawks in their twitchy flight.

The meeping calls of those strange and beautiful nighthawks – thin, banded wings twisting in spazzy flight — are among the truest sounds of summer. The odd-shaped birds circle and climb and wander off in search of insect clouds, and I wish they’d eat more. Their calls fade to a faint buzz.

But in a parkway tree, a loud chorus of cicadas. Screaming, deafening creatures.

The windows are open at night and a cricket has taken up below our window, calling out in long chiming rhythms. I lay in bed trying to describe that familiar sound to myself in words, a mix of vibratory percussion and keening volume. Like very small claves played furiously through a Fender Twin Reverb, tense and electrifying.

We wake in the night to a full moon and a breeze through the screen and the sounds of that performance.

We rise hours later to heralding robins, singing finches. 

I carry a cup of coffee to the front yard and water the flowers, and the bumblebees are already up and at work.

Out back, a brown spider has built a web between a hanging flower basket and the garage gutter. I check her catch and it’s a little light for such a buggy back porch. Maybe she’s a specialist or just very particular.

Whatever the case, I take care to avoid her silken nets while dousing the plant.

We are not yet gardeners in this new house and that’s all right – I look across the neighbor’s yard and a fattening rabbit looks back, chewing. He’s feasting on the leaves and fruits of a vegetable garden and is almost arrogant about it.

Chew chew twitch chew chew

An insouciant animal. If I had a grape, he’d probably eat out of my hand. 

Without the grape, he keeps his distance. I tire of his furry little face and turn the hose his way but he’s out of reach and tilts his ears.

“I hear a lot about coyotes.” I say to the rabbit. “But we could really use some bobcats.”

Trail Conditions explores the woods, waters and trails out our back doors. Brett McNeil lives in North Riverside. Write to him at

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