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Retired publishing executive ecstatic with the idea of spending most of his time on the coast of Maine

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Country mouse, city hawk

Our house in Massachusetts is in a suburb, not city but not country either (this picture, taken by a neighbor after a winter storm, might suggest otherwise). As in many American towns, appearances are deceiving (or we try to make them so), and we are abetted in our rural illusions by a variety of wildlife that approaches that of the country. All of the following have been seen in our neighborhood.
  • mice and chipmunks (of course)

  • vole or mole or whatever it was tunneling in the yard

  • squirrels, to the delight and anger of the dog

  • rabbits, but they don't appear to be breeding like...

  • the occasional garter snake acting nonchalant

  • all manner of birds, as you'd expect in a leafy suburb, including skeins of Canada geese in the fall, cardinals and chickadees and wrens at the feeders, and a hawk or two (why isn't this a hawk paradise, with our abundance of chipmunks?)

  • a coyote, as breathlessly reported by a daughter walking home from school

  • a flock of turkeys, who must live boringly in nearby Cold Spring Park, and who need the stimulation of a weekly jaunt through back yards and streets

  • deer (well, a deer was only seen once, but still...)
This is an evolution of sorts, I'm convinced. Something or someone is trying to tell us something, like "if you won't come to us, we'll come to you." And not just on PBS, in our living rooms. These are real, living wild things that are trying to change us. Listen up.

The list above is not all that different from a list I'd make from our neighborhood in Maine. The hawk is replaced by the osprey, deer are merely more numerous, no turkeys but grouse, no coyotes (yet) but fishers and foxes, no ducks or loons or gulls or eagles. The difference is a degree of wildness, an expectation of rarity, an illusion of wilderness. I'm much more open to wonder in Maine, my ancient hunter/gatherer molecules singing. In the city, I see those six fat turkeys in the yard of the big house on Lincoln Street and rue what is lost, not wonder about what is being gained. I'm not evolved enough to mix my drinks of inspiration.
Will the suburbs, the exurbs, and the country eventually become one big Noah's ark of coexistence? I hope not. I'm afraid it would mean that humans had become all head and no body. I'm afraid that a deer facing death would rather take her chances with a Volvo wagon than with a coyote or a Winchester. I'm afraid that hawks would eat at bird feeders.

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