One of the things I have noticed recently is that my wordpress blog is giving me odd prompts to write about. Most of the time these do not interest me, but I thought it would be worthwhile to explore the one today because it deals with the germ of a story that has been inside my head for a while but which I have not written about at more length, for reasons that are perhaps easy enough to understand when one realizes that I tend to let ideas marinate in my head for a long while before exploring them, which I do not always end up choose doing.
The prompt for today, as I write this, was: “Do you ever see wild animals?” And as might be imagined, the answer to this is less than straightforward. What does one mean by seeing, and what does one mean by wild animals? On a relatively frequent basis I see animals like squirrels and birds that are definitely not tamed, but which are not often viewed as being truly wild. Occasionally I will see a raccoon, and ever since the days I worked in 2020 late at night in a nearly abandoned office building I have pondered whether to write about the isolating experience of being a creature of a lonely and dark night, with police officers and vagrants and employees of fast food restaurants and raccoons and other such beings who inhabited the lonely spaces of a world gripped by fear and isolated as a result. I have not decided to put such a story into writing yet, but I have thought about the ways that people’s lives–and even animals’ lives–could intersect without there being anything more than the barest interaction between them. My own eating habits, for example, could provide foraging opportunities for a raccoon, while police officers and beggars and people like myself could drive silently by each other in the dark, going to the same places, all in a complicated world of isolated people engaging in what seems to be dangerous personal interactions in a dangerous time.
I do not necessarily think, though, that these were the wild animals that one thinks of encountering and viewing as truly wild, though. I spend most of my time living in suburbia, and there is a limit to the amount of wild animals that one tends to find openly. That said, the definition can be pretty broad. When I was growing up in Florida, an activity as simple as canoeing with a friend down the river near where we lived could lead to potential interactions with snakes, turtles, and alligators. When I visit friends of mine who live in the country, I can run into deer alongside the road in the woods where they live, hear the sound of coyotes, and see pictures of bears and bobcats who can interact, however furtively, with my friends. And sometimes, one can find other such interactions, as when one has to replace an air filter in one’s vehicle because a rodent has taken house in your own and chewed it up to make bedding for itself. The line between wild animals and human-inhabited places can often be blurred by the way that animals can insert themselves into the built environment and adapt our own lifestyle as a way to help their own. A bear can supplement its foraging of fruits and nuts in the woods by rumaging through garbage like a trash panda, or a chipmunk or field mouse can turn an air filter into a cozy bed & breakfast. These interactions can be exciting but they can also be dangerous for both sides.
It is hard enough to read the intentions and thoughts and feelings of human beings correctly. It is harder when one is dealing with animals whose behavior could range from the endearingly cute and cuddly to the deadly. I have spent my life, such as it is, in an environment where many animals are, and without being a particularly close person to animals myself, most of those interactions have gone at least as well as could be expected. When I was a small child traipsing through the swamplands of my neighborhood in rural central Florida just north of Plant City, I was able to step over water moccasins without there being violence on either side, as we were all minding our own business as we traveled. It might not have turned out that way. When I was an apartment dweller in Town & Country and my complex had the ill-advised idea to do nightly trash collection, and I had a close dusk encounter with a raccoon who had found the trash my roommate and I had put out before it was collected and was enjoying it as raccoons are wont to do, an awkward encounter nevertheless led to the sensible realization that neither of us wanted to attack the other and we could both walk by each other in peace. Other options were certainly possible, though, in such encounters.
As to whether or not my own experiences have been representative, I do not know. In contrast to many friends and members of my family, I have not chosen professions or hobbies that have led me to have many encounters with animals. I do not raise animals, I have never had a proclivity to own pets, nor have I volunteered for social causes relating to the safety and preservation of animals, nor have I ever worked at a stable or thought of myself as being best suited to be a veterinarian or anything else of that nature. Yet despite this I have often found myself interacting with animals, in my characteristically awkward way, and even in reflecting on the psychology of fish, hummingbirds who share my addiction to sugary drinks, and other creatures. Whether or not I have had more encounters with the wild than one would expect from someone who is as private and isolated as I tend to be, or whether I have had fewer encounters than most others have had is not something I feel myself qualified to say. My stories are only one set among many, and not even the most interesting that one could think of.