Yesteryear’s Memories: Where the Wild Things Went

March 6, 2023

I haven’t really noticed much wildlife in the last few years. Maybe I was busy, or maybe I’ve just become a bit jaded over time, but this year it’s different somehow. I’ve noticed how many birds and animals have shown up in town. Over just a couple days at the end of February, I saw cardinals zooming around, a raccoon invading the backyard just after dark, a couple deer gallivanting through the neighborhood, and a hawk swooping around the treetops around the house. There was a skunk slinking down a nearby alley and about a million (I never exaggerate) crows screaming their heads off just before dusk. It seems that many little beasts that used to inhabit the country have moved into town. I even saw an armadillo — also known as a ‘possum on the half shell’.

I guess spring makes these things more noticeable — we get outside more and start to notice buds forming on trees and shrubs, and the harbingers of warmer weather make us more aware of things around us. The sunny, windy days of March awaken us to nature. But I think something else is going on.

Each year it seems that there are smaller areas of trees, bushes, and other undergrowth in the countryside. The farm fields just seem more barren — endless stretches of newly planted crops and fewer tree lines in the distance. Maybe there is less natural food for certain animals — crops are less like growing living plants in a field and more like manufactured products. The farmers put in fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides, and who knows what else at the right time and in the correct amount. I’m the first to admit that I know almost nothing about farming, and I fully respect the people and families who supply us with fruits, vegetables, and grains. It just seems that it has become a technological effort. I have a farmer friend who told me his route through the fields when he harvests is completely determined not by following the rows and not by deciding the best and quickest method, but by his GPS. He just turns where the little screen tells him to turn. Amazing. And it’s also more like following a recipe than the art of growing things. Grandpa planted what and when his instinct told him, not when some artificial intelligence voice dictated his movements. Less vacant land, more crops. More crops, less room for possums and raccoons and shy birds who want only to stay hidden and safe from predators. I can imagine Daddy Skunk telling the wife and kids to, “pack up — we’re moving to the city!”

So, all in all, I guess it makes sense that we see more critters in town than out in the country. Massive diesel combine and tractor operators don’t like trees and animals in the way. There are way more places to hide in civilization, there are less predators, and (maybe the most significant) — there are more garbage cans! More opportunities to get bits of tasty, human food right off the table. Imagine the possum getting his first taste of pizza rolls! It’s like visiting a fancy restaurant. I’d bet a skunk would be thrilled to sink his teeth into little Susie’s leftover tuna sandwich. Roxy Raccoon may just think she’s in heaven with a slice of shaved ham sandwich, and nothing could top it all off like a few delicious morsels of Mom’s apple pie that Uncle Freddy didn’t want. It’s like a smorgasbord for creatures great and small.

So, when you see a family of raccoons waddling down the street or Mom and Pop skunk sauntering through a maze of dumpsters remember that it’s like a bunch of famished tourists in the restaurant district — they’re just hungry varmints deciding on Mexican or Thai food tonight. So if you really want to be kind to animals, leave that last piece of cheesecake at the top of the garbage bag and the lid half open. It would be like giving a friend a gift certificate to their favorite steak house — and throwing in an extra dessert. Everybody doesn’t like something — but nobody doesn’t like a free meal. When you’re thinking about feeding the poor or helping the homeless, don’t neglect the furry little ones in your backyard. It’s easy and you don’t even have to get out your computer or credit card — just don’t be surprised if they leave you a token of their gratitude — like papers scattered across your backyard or droppings on the barbeque grill. It’s their way of saying thank you!

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