Tuesday, July 01, 2008

A stretch of river XLVIII: Close encounters

Before Scruffy and I go on our morning walk, I have two cups of coffee. If I'd known ahead of time what would happen on this morning's version of the walk, though, I would have foregone the coffee.

In the home stretch of our walk, there's a part of the path that comes quite close to the water's edge. We were there when Scruffy suddenly barked and lunged and, right at head-height and not three feet away from me, I heard a growl. I of course turned--anyone would--and there, shinnying up the wooden lamp post I was standing next to, was a young raccoon, just a few months old. Scruffy went into full You-wanna-piece-a-me? mode and my heart was doing its best imitation of a jackhammer. Once it registered with me that it wasn't an adult, I calmed down. Still, that cool morning suddenly had turned quite warm. We moved away and watched it as it struggled to the top of the post and then turn toward us, waiting for us to leave.

This sort of thing doesn't happen every day, of course.

We've startled the occasional possum in the mornings--and they us--as they toddle on to wherever they den up for the day, but I've never felt the desire to make note of those encounters here. I have a low regard for possums, for one thing: for all their uniqueness as the Western Hemisphere's only marsupial, they are loathsome animals. I have considerable respect for raccoons, though (even as I thought about this one this morning that it needs to do a bit more conceptual work on what "nocturnal" means)--they are intelligent, resourceful creatures, the adult versions of whom you do not want to corner.

Today's encounter also served as yet another piece of evidence that, though certainly an urban river where Scruffy and I walk it, the Little Arkansas still isn't fully urbanized. What happened to Scruffy and me today is not the reason people go to the park or walk along the river's banks. An implicit objective of the urban park is precisely that such things not happen to its visitors. If people want Nature, the not knowing what lies around the next bend, Riverside Park won't be very high on the list of possible destinations. That these encounters potentially can happen there, though, means that even here, on the edge of a business district, we can be startled into awareness, however briefly, that we haven't quite managed to fully fence Nature out of our versions of the world.


R. Sherman said...

There's a lot to think about here, not the least of which, what such increasing encounters say about our abilities over the last decades to better coexist with the environment.

However, I've long thought about the inherent philosophical conflict between the Darwinian view that we humans are nothing but another life form v. that which holds that we are special on Earth if not in the Universe. As I've mentioned elsewhere, one cannot have it both ways. Either Man, and everything he does, is a part of nature or separate from it. I would suggest, that that separateness is provides us the Morality necessary to modify our behaviors to be better stewards of God's creation.

Which in turn, increases the likelihood that you're going to be seeing more raccoons on the trail.


debra said...

I live on the edge of my little village (there is a corn field across the street) so I have seen a few out-of-the-norm creatures cross my yard. The most odd (and dare I say the ugliest) to date was the wild turkey that I startled when I stepped out onto my deck one morning. It does kick the heart into high gear when something like that happens.

By the way, I'm glad you're back! =)

Ariel said...

Nice to have you back, and the return to the River is especially appreciated. This is one of the higher octane installments... I haven't seen a raccoon for years, but I'll bet there are some living within miles of us, with the Muddy Mo' so close by.

Ashley said...

At first I was afraid you were going to say you encountered one or more pit bulls. A few weeks ago on the news there was a story of a jogger by the river who had to choose between diving into the river or climbing up a tree. I'm quite glad your encounter did not involve much more than your wishing you had skipped your morning java!

Additionally, your experience reminded me of the time my family and I were hit by a deer. Admittedly, this is not a strange event in Kansas, however, this deer did not come running across the highway after exiting a field of wheat. Instead, we were on a major highway in Kansas City (I'm still not so familiar with the city, but we were in the city and within what would be called urban limits) when a deer leaped a fence to a local park (complete with joggers on jogging paths) and ran right into the side of our chevy spectrum. Fifteen years later, I am more aware of the danger we should have experienced... as it was, after noting the "splatter" on the car, my thought was "I'm not so sure I want to eat meat."
Nature can certainly exist regardless of our ambivilance to it. Perhaps that's why it's so shocking when we abruptly encounter it in whatever form.