It is nighttime and our cat is climbing up the screen door, meowing loudly. When I open the door, the cat races inside and behind him I see a small raccoon sitting near the cat's dish on the patio. It is a young raccoon and it is not alone. A pack of cubs, adolescents, has invaded our backyard. I count five. They are raiding the cat's dish and crawling around the porch looking for more. A week earlier, our grape arbor was stripped of fruit by a climbing animal and now I am facing the culprits. I run and grab a baseball bat and flashlight to face the varmints. But they are so young that they have no fear. They do not move but just stare back when the flashlight hits their masked faces. Some of then are crawling up the tree right next to the door and I hear them cooing, a raccoon noise I have never heard. I put the bat down and just watch them climbing, cooing and exploring the yard and patio. They seem to be playing. They want to be my friends.
Near-death by Parrot
I shifted in my chair in my office at Fuller Seminary and subconsciously wondered what the hell that incessant scratching was outside--though the thought didn't fully come to the front of my mind until mid-morning. It was at that point my mind had sorted through the morning's annoyances, realized the scratching kept happening, and I finally went outside to investigate.
Hm. The scratching is coming from inside the trashcan outside the door. The same trash can in which I had thrown away a half-eaten muffin I found left outside when I came in that morning.
I cautiously leaned over and held open the floating lid to peer inside, and what do I see but a pair of beedy eyes belonging to one of the famous feral parrots of Pasadena, CA staring back at me.
Before I even start to gather my wits, the bird takes its opportunity and files straight up at my face, banks a hard left and disappears into the sky.
I nearly have a heart attack. I guess that's one way to start your day without coffee.
Lessons from a Mosquito
Today, I'm sitting in front of my computer. I'm at work. I'm trying to be stoic, but I'm in an unbelievable amount of pain, because of an undomesticated animal friend I made while hiking at Sequoia National Park over the weekend. We were at high altitude, and I was wearing long pants and sleeves, so I figured that I'd be pretty much okay, even though I saw the mosquitoes around and flicked a couple off of me throughout the day.
My girlfriend, Abby, who was hiking with me, spotted one on my shoulder and swatted him and immediately yelled: "Gross!" Somehow through two layers of clothing he managed to bite me eight times, all in my shoulder. At least, he or she had a great last meal.
Later when I Googled "home remedies for mosquito bites," I went down the Wikipedia rabbit hole and read that the pain caused by the bite is actually an immune response. The mosquito leaves all sorts of treats behind that can cause infection, and our brilliant immune system recognizes the threats and goes into overdrive creating white blood cells. That's what causes the irritation and itching.
Pain is pain, and this is weird to wrap my head around, but somehow knowing that the pain is part of the solution and not directly caused by my dearly departed friend, makes it easier to stomach. It's a better story to tell myself that I have this extraordinary system of self-preservation that’s been evolving over millions of years to protect me from a dangerous planet. I like that story better than: I was an idiot who didn't spend $4 on bug spray when hiking next to a river in summer.
The Fable of The House Cat
I used to put my cat on a leash and let him sit on the porch and go birdwatching. At night I figured he was bug watching. The harness on the leash did not promise he would stay put, but for the most part he did. One night I got an extra burst of energy at 11PM. Tonight was the night I was going to set up my new router. I put Wizard on the leash and let him too explore this wondrous time of night where no one bothered you and you could do the chores you'd been putting off for ten days. I'll admit I knew I was taking a risk rewarding myself with a bath while Wiz still remained on the porch. It seemed like an extra layer of carefree trust that my pet and I were developing for us to be so independent. The bathroom window was right next to him. I'd hear anything that went awry. Proudly sitting in the bath feeling free, I hear a peculiar noise. Bolting onto the porch in a towel I found Wiz calmly still on his leash, inside his harness, taking a meeting with three raccoons who looked exactly like him. Wiz is a Maine coon and if you wanted to know what that looks like, think about a raccoon. The raccoons were petting Wiz on the head but I'd heard stories of raccoons killing cats over food squabbles. Grabbing Wiz I quickly checked him for mortal wounds but he seemed fine. The raccoons however were not budging. Feeling ridiculous I said, Shoo! Really loudly and they also felt embarrassed for me and blinked. Their eyes were not beady they were human. I am 99% sure if we started fighting they would have won. I quietly walked away ashamed that they had the power to make me feel helpless. Wiz still goes out on the porch even though a stray cat slit his throat a few months later and after 1000 dollars I still haven't learned my lesson.
The albino turtle
I grew up on a lake and used to fish. This thought surprises me still. Today, I don't eat meat: I think, why cause an animal pain unnecessarily? Yet at ages 5, 6, up to 10 or 11, I put worms on a hook and fished. (An aside: At those same ages, when I saw a worm squirming on a hot sidewalk, I would carefully put it into nearby moist dirt. Yes, at other times, when I fished, I would also stab a worm onto a hook in order to stab a fish in its whatever.)
My main memory of those days, other than bad fried catfish with lots of ketchup for dinner (my mother would cook for us what my brother and I caught) was the day I stopped fishing. It was the day I pulled in what I thought was a big fish. What I pulled in, hooked somehow, was a big, pure white turtle. I ran up the yard, away from the beast, leaving our babysitter to deal with the poor thing. I was told by someone at some point that it was a hardback turtle -- an albino hardback turtle. At the age of 10, it was like catching the Loch Ness Monster.
Till today I have never wondered if such an animal even exists. Now I wonder what became of it, besides the fact that it left a snapshot of my childhood in my mind.
When I was in college, USC ran out of housing for its growing undergrad population, so a number of us were involuntary assigned to a "residential college" in downtown, about three miles from campus. In truth it was an old hotel in a yet-to-be revitalized section of downtown, called the Embassy Hotel.
Embassy had a few advantages over dorms. Each room had its own bathroom, and there was a pool table the the basement.
It was also full of rats.
My fellow midwesterners, who were essentially carless and stranded often in this odd hotel, would play pool for hours. We'd poke the drop-tile ceiling with the rubber end of the pool cues and listen to the rats scurry above us. It seemed funny at the time. It should have seemed like a health hazard.
Part of the issue was that a building has just been torn down across Ninth Street to make way for the new Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, FIDM. But the now-demolished building had been full of rats — who all needed a new home. They moved into our building.
How disgusting this all was came home to me on a Sunday morning when we were in line for brunch and a rat with an oozing sore on its back ran across my foot. And then I got some scrambled eggs.
A Pelican Saved
When I lived near the ocean my home was right next to a four lane highway that typically saw plenty of traffic. Day or night, there were always cars driving by, and within a few days of living there I grew accustom to their sound, which was just a louder, closer version of the sound of waves breaking on the shore.
One day, I'm going to say it was a weekend, a pelican was flying over the street and I was sitting outside, watching it. It would swoop and dive and climb, the same way all the other pelicans did when they weren't busy where they should be, over the ocean filling their bellies.
The pelican I was watching, instead of heading out to sea and going after all those tasty fish, instead settled down on the double yellow line that runs down the middle of the street and divides the traffic.
It seemed flustered, and scared, and most people driving by gave it some room. It tried a few time to get up to speed and take off, but it was never able to do that.
So, instead of letting it die in the middle of the street, with no thought of self, I ran out to where it was, picked it up, and let it go on the side of the street where it could get some air beneath its wings and take off.
Which it did, while I was busy polishing my fingernails on my T-shirt.
The undomesticated among us
I was mindlessly pulling the car back from the garage when something dark caught my eye. Over the years I have learned those instantaneous "what is THAT!!?" moments are best left alone as they generally turn out to be something that terrifies me, such as a snake, but this day I ignored my instincts and took a peek. A sizable, somewhat gaunt looking brown bear was exceptionally interested in my garbage can. At school, we get warnings all the time; "There is a bear on campus. Do not approach the bear." I was unable to resist, however. Knowing I could take retreat back into my car if needed, I ventured forth to see what this stealthy creature was doing. How something of such mass could wander through the forests so silently is amazing to me.
I got out of the car, trying to not make any sudden movements, with my phone in hand to capture this guy and show the folks back in Arizona was our wildlife looks like. He looked up at me, literally up and down as if sizing me up, and went about his business. I was of no consequence to him at all. In fact, he appeared to not have a care in the world, until he encountered our cat. A tiny little thing, all of maybe seven pounds and extremely pregnant, she gave that bear a hiss like I have never heard from her before. My bear friend jumped back in alarm, saw the cat, and retreated back into the woods. Since he was not even remotely phased by seeing a human approaching, I can only conclude that my tiny little cat is a badass if it can make a 300 bear scurry off into the woods, leaving my delectable garbage for another day.