Friday, April 29, 2005

Living with Nature

I am in the process of moving here from another Blog service, this is a test copy...

Interesting coincidence..

Today driving back home from my workout, I was noting the amount of roadkill racoons, and thinking how they had increased drastically over the years. So as I check out Instapundit, I find Glen has a link to his book review and commentary on The Beast in the Garden: A Modern Parable of Man and Nature.

Ok, this brought to mind a period from my childhood, and some trends I had noticed here lately. Then, Lo, and Behold, John at Power Line posted this article.

When I first moved into my present house back in the mid 70's, I was an avid bowhunter. The area was (and is) located between Gallatin and Hendersonville, TN., a few miles Northeast of Nashville. There were a few subdivided areas scattered throughout farmland and wooded areas, bounded on one side by highway US31E, and on the other by the Old Hickory Lake impoundment. Deer were nowhere to be found. Nor racoons. Squirrels and rabbits were scarce. No fox, no coyote, and by God! no bear, cougar, or wolves. Seemingly the only abundant wildlife were skunks and possums, again judging by roadkill amounts. I mentioned that I was a bowhunter to indicate that I was at the time actively out and looking for game.

Well, my bowhunting days are long since over, development has continued apace (and increased in intensity) leaving many more subdivided areas, businesses, and even several schools, and much less farmland and wooded areas. Wildlife? It's all over the place. Deer are common, sometimes as close to the house as my back yard, and seemingly unconcerned about our penned dogs barking at them. A week or two ago as I returned home, I had to stop to let a flock of wild turkey cross the road. Once in a while I will spot a fox. Although they have been reported in the county, I have seen no coyote... yet. Racoons, as mentioned at the start, have increased dramatically, and possums are still very plentiful. I assume that the snapping turtles are staying in or near the lakes and ponds.

So, is this increased presence due to wildlife learning to live with human activity, or due to construction activity moving them out of their normal habitats, or simply a dramatic increase in population? I don't know the answer, but can attest to the result.

For several years during my childhood (10-13) my family lived on the Northern California coast in what is now Redwoods National Park. My father was an employee of the state park system, and we were housed in an old Coast Guard station directly on the beach, accessed by three miles of dirt road. We were the only residents on the only access to approximately twenty miles of beach. Today it would be said that the place was so remote that we had to pipe sunlight in. Our electricity was supplied during daylight and evening hours by a deisel generator. Ok, now that the scene is set...

Gold Bluffs Beach, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Redwoods National Park, CA

(The house I referenced is set back about 100 yards from the beach in about the middle of the bluffs shown in the left center of this picture. Less my daughter and son in law in the picture, and a few picnic tables and grills added, this scene is much the same as it appeared 40+ years prior to this image. The house is long gone, with the spot occupied by several modular buildings housing Park Rangers. Electricity is still provided, I believe, by generator.)

We had a couple of pet cats, and each evening we would put our table scraps on our small back porch to feed them. One summer we had an uninvited guest, a young black bear. For a couple of months he would come up to our porch during the evening and eat the cat's dinner. I still remember vividly watching him eat through the window in our back door, being separated from him by a quarter inch of glass and about five feet of air. He never caused any problems, just ate and left. He spent most of his time on a hillside adjacent to the house, feasting on salmonberries. Unfortunately for this bear, he made a major tactical mistake. My grandparents really did not like the idea of their five grandchildren playing in the yard at the side of the house, and a real live bear eating grass just across the driveway from them, approximately fifty feet away. I mean, they REALLY did not like this! So my father did the sensible thing at the time, and shot the bear (Shhhh, don't tell anyone, but this was an unauthorized procedure. I will say, though, that bear meat smokes up pretty good, and there is still a small bear rug somewhere in the family.)

During this period, it also wasn't unusual to be awakened early in the morning to the thumping of elk antlers whacking the side of the house as elk ate my mother's flowers.

I related this to explain that I have always found that wild animals tend to ignore humans as long as they don't feel threatened, and humans don't approach too closely. However, an elk would not consider you as a food source, and a black bear only if you were already carrion. After reading Glen's review, I've been giving serious thought to how I would feel about this live and let live attitude if an animal, cougar or otherwise, looked at me as his next meal. Hmmmm.