War and Peace

One of the fabulous things about our neighborhood is the abundance of wildlife.  In the middle of a small city, where the standard single-family residence sits a proscribed distance from the sidewalk and features a backyard just large enough for a propane bbq and two adirondak chairs, we were fortunate to locate a charmingly dingy neighborhood where houses sit on a minimum of .25 acres.  A nearby creek nourishes critters of all sorts, and a large field behind our property is prime hunting ground for the screech and barn owls native to this area. 

(One night, while standing on the backyard lawn, an owl flew directly over my head.  I watched after it, and saw that it landed in a neighbor’s tree where a large number of owls had already roosted.  Almost simultaneously, the owls flew away in various directions.  I’ve never seen such a thing before, and regrettably have not seen it since.)

Raccoons are a common sight.  On a recent morning, just prior to the time change, the dog and I were out for our early walk equipped with a flashlight which, inconveniently, began losing battery power just as we entered the darkest stretch of trail.  To our left we were confronted with a string of backyard fences in various states of repair while to the right flowed a canal managed by the municipal water district.  As we rounded a bend, we heard a squealing noise, similar to that made by predatory birds, followed by breathy grunting and the sound of long grass being disturbed.  We stopped to stare, and as my eyes adjusted to the dim light I saw four dark shapes running back and forth: two pair of raccoons, in earnest battle.  So focused on executing their war strategy, the critters did not mind the presence of me and the dog but continued their dance of rush, squeal, grunt, retreat.  It was an arresting sight, and something I will never forget.

Despite the darkness, the trail is busy in the morning.  People run, walk, exercise their dogs, and ride their bikes.  Some even use the trail as part of their commute, as it leads near the train station, and runs about 25 miles to the edge of the next county.  But no one else stopped to look and listen, or to wonder about the aggressive little creatures, to muse over the reasons for their battle, or even to care about the pleasure of walking in the still and chilly morning air.

It’s a pity – perhaps we have become so accustomed to war that we no longer care.

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