As autumn settles in, I am getting busily to work on my new book called, in its working-title, The Urban Bestiary. It’s a wonderful project (if I may say so!) that explores our constant continuity with the wild earth through our daily coexistence with wild animals (as well as other animals that are breaking down the clarity of the old urban/wild/rural boundaries, such as goats and chickens…). Various urban-wild creatures,from coyotes to hummingbirds, are explored through myth and lore, science, natural history, personal encounter, and what I call “home practice”–the things that we can do in the places we dwell that help to cultivate meaningful, creative, intelligent coexistence with the more-than-human-world.
I’m hoping y’all will help by sharing your stories–what encounters have you had with urban-wild animals? Has a coyote eaten your chicken or your daschsund? Have raccoons come in through your cat door? Has a hummingbird fed from the flower-barrette in your hair? How did that go for you? What do you do in your household to navigate the complex tangle of urban and wild with a sense of grace? I would love to hear your unique, absolutely true stories, with any kind of urban creatures, not just the flashy ones. Share them here on The Tangled Nest, and/or email me: urbanwild-at-thetanglednest.com (with URBAN-WILD in caps in the subject line, please). No promises that any stories sent will end up in the book, but they will help jangle the ideas in our collective brains. Many, many thanks.
If I can stop watching the animals long enough to actually write it, The Urban Bestiary will be published by Little, Brown in 2012.
Thanks to Flickr users mybulldog, indigtaylor, and AVernon.
In the early 1970s, a coyote lived in the urban setting of my parents’ kind of in-town acreage in Lincoln, Neb. When they first noticed him, it was because our very elderly dog was interacting with the coyote through the fence of his dog run. The coyote would put his paw on our dog’s head. My mom and a neighbor often put dog food, or table scraps out for Coy-Coy (rhymed with Boy-Boy). Some grad students from the University of Nebraska were interested in urban wildlife; they darted him and put a radio collar on him (they shot him from the window of my bathroom!). They tracked him for several months, learning his territorial range and what he ate (mostly road kill, or the food people put out for him). He played with a lot of the neighborhood dogs, esp. our old spaniels and a neighbor’s golden retriever. He was not aggressive with dogs or people, actually.
He was very stealthy and would come very close to you to observe while you were doing something else. For instance, one night my father was dragging out the trash cans, and he felt a “presence” and Coy-Coy was just feet away…no doubt waiting for my dad to leave so he could examine the garbage.
He met a sad demise as someone shot him and then used the lame excuse that they had not noticed the large hunter-orange radio collar. I’m sure when they saw it was tagged with University of Nebraska, they got a little worried. Anyway, two grad students earned Ph.D.s off the research of our coyote.
I live pretty close to where I grew up (maybe 10 blocks) and we live near a parkland trail. We have seen in my neighborhood: turkeys, deer, possums, raccoons, owls, red tails, kestrels, and of course, rabbits and squirrels (red and black).
For the past decade or more we’ve had a large colony of turkey vultures, which I like to observe. They come to town on or about March 15, and leave on or about Oct. 15. Great masses of them come (like 100), then they disburse and only perhaps a colony of 20 or so summer in town. About the first of September they start to come back, and then it’s as if there is some magic switch and they all disappear, going south for the winter.
Great book project. We are interested as well in crows and ravens.
By pure happenstance, I live in a very upscale neighborhood at the edge of San Diego Bay, overlooking the ultra-prestigious San Diego Yacht Club, whose entrance is 50 yards from my window. This is also a very popular dog-walking spot, since there is a path along the waterfront with public access.
One morning two weeks ago, in the pre-dawn darkness, I noticed two dogs trotting down the street toward the path access. No owner in sight. I thought, “How RUDE! What inconsiderate dog owners, just turning them loose and not even caring where they poop.” These two nosed around the bushes a little, then ambled off toward the yacht club. “Of course,” I’m thinking. They turned into the entrance gate to the yacht club, and the guards stepped out of their little guardhouse and said something to each other that I couldn’t make out. The animals stopped in their tracks, looked at the guards for a few seconds, then turned and casually trotted back the way they had come. As they passed under the streetlight in front of my window, I was able to make them out more clearly. Two coyotes. Turned away from the yacht club. 🙂
I’m sure you know about the mountain lion that was wandering Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto (where Chez Panisse is) a couple of months ago. The lion ended up being shot by the Berkeley police at 3 in the morning because they were worried about him attacking homeless people.
An alternative approach has been taken by Lawrence Berkeley Lab (where Chris used to work :)). A mountain lion and her cubs have been feeding off deer that live by/in the lab, and the lab has hired a biologist to monitor them. Apparently the three lions like to hang out on some of the stairways up there.
I think Peggy Orenstein did an article about the conflicts over wild turkeys in her neighborhood sometime last year.
Love to you all,
We have a resident squirrel who is so comfortable in my yard, i’ve witnessed him slide around on a piece of plywood like a skateboard and toss it up in the air (he loves to play!). Everything is in our compost box. Blue Heron’s have tried to land in our koi pond. I have skunks that have their babies and raise them in my backyard (under the shed) every summer. Bears sometimes swim across the river looking for berries, they are sometimes found huddling up in apple trees terrified (and then shot because enforcement thinks they are habituated).I live in a suburb near Vancouver, B.C.
I’ll send you the story about the time TWO raccoons tried to come in through the cat door–with one ending up bouncing off the walls in the back room. I was NOT amused.
My mom had a possum run into her kitchen once. She lived at the time in a suburban neighborhood of Bloomington, IL, and had a possum that was living under her deck. She let her dog out onto the deck when the possum happened to be on it, and the dog chased the possum right into her kitchen. They herded it out (unharmed) back outside with a broom. I was not there at the time (wish I had been) but I have no reason to doubt that it is a true story.
Kathryn – I went to Point Loma and can picture exactly where the coyotes were ambling through your neighborhood (lucky you! It’s beautiful there.) We occasionally saw the odd fox on campus in the wee hours of the night when no cars were out. What was even more fascinating was the flock of green parrots and long-tailed macaws that roosted in the trees around campus. The could raise a loud ruckus with their chatter and were a very social group, but scared of humans.
About a decade ago, I lived in Missouri and had a big, treed yard in which we’d often watch our resident Cooper’s hawk. One day, while driving up, I saw the hawk holding some prey perch in the closest tree. I sat in my car and watch the hawk adjust his grip on a blue jay in his talons as the jay was feebly attempting to peck at the hawk’s feet to escape. After a minute, the hawk flew away with the jay firmly gripped, so I never saw the outcome, but we often found piles of feathers or bits of fur under trees in the yard.
My parents live in Seattle and just this morning we posted pictures on our blog of the deer that has been wandering through their yard this summer. I grew up here and have yet to see deer within the city limits. We were so excited!
My parents have a pond is regularly cleaned of fish by the great blue herons and kingfishers; I remember one winter watching the heron walk across the iced-over pond, slipping, and doing a very un-graceful gymnastics splits there on the ice. It left in a huff.
I also looked out our back window one morning to see a coyote rambling by with Christmas brunch in its mouth: our neighbor’s cat. They made a pretty clean sweep that year; outdoor cats were pretty wary after the coyotes took up residence.
Sonja, where in Seattle was the deer? That’s amazing–I’m writing about deer because so many east coast cities are dealing with them, but I haven’t heard of any IN Seattle. Love the ice-skating heron. Thanks!
A few years ago I was getting ready for work, hairdryer screaming and radio blaring, the usual a.m. chaos — but over the din I became aware of an even louder cacophany in the front yard. Apparently every crow in the world was in our cherry tree scolding a large coyote standing in the front yard with a dead cat in its mouth. The cat looked to be my BEYOOTIFUL brown longhair cat, Greta. I shouted at the coyote, “you DROP it!” To my surprise, she did. On closer inpsection, I realized that this was another cat that looked just like mine. I went in the house and determined that Greta was alive and well, eating her catfood. So I quietly left the dead cat for the coyote – I think it may have been a female and she probably needed the cat for her pups.
Wow, nice job bossing around a coyote. Actually, I have heard that this works frequently, though of course not always. Thanks, Erica.
I work at a library located in a community park, and last summer we had a crow parent + child who would frequently beg for food from picnickers.
Toward the end of summer, when the crow child was as big as the parent, it was still acting like a baby, bobbing up and down to beg that the parent pick up and feed it the bits of sandwich I had thrown down at the crow child’s feet.
The crow parent flapped down to the crow child and looked at the bread bits all over the ground.
Then it looked at this full-sized crow child, squawked loudly as if to say, “GET A JOB!” and flew away!
The sanctuary of the church I go to is circular with floor to ceiling windows around 2/3 of it, with views of surrounding orchard, lawn, and shrubs. One Sunday morning during the service a very skinny, mangy looking coyote trotted out of the orchard and circumnavigated the sanctuary, appearing in one window after the other, to the fascination and distraction of the congregation.
We thought our backyard squirrel was pretty cute when it would come to the back door and beg, even taking peanuts from my hand, until it started coming in the cat door, eating cat food, tearing open bread sacks, and burrowing into bags of chips. I had to lock the cat door and get a cat box and a screen for the back door, and it tore a hole in the screen!
I watched a crow while I was having tea in the back yard. It was acting funny, but crows are always acting funny, so I sat there and drank my tea and woke up slowly. Then the crow fell from the tree, dead. When I examined it, there was blood coming from its beak. The vet on the phone suggested that perhaps it had eaten rat poison (warfarin), or eaten something that had eaten rat poison, and that it had died from internal hemorrhaging.
I am so happy to hear that you are working on a new book! So nice to meet you at QFC last weekend! Take care & best wishes,
Wow, thank you everyone for the amazing stories–I hope you’ll keep them coming!
Hello Lyanda et al,
I am a grad student with York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies (one of the very first truly inter- and trans- disciplinary programs of its kind in the world). I also work with a grass-roots, place-based enviro education organization (www.pineproject.org). At present I am (read: “should be”) working on an overdue paper for an Environmental Reading and Writing class. Last week, for this class, we had to compose an extended poem in the tradition of the pastoral. I chose to invert certain pastoral tropes. (Is the pastoral as a convention/trope/form even possible in Canada? Has it ever been possible here?) The poem is drawn from my recent exasperation with virtual representations of nature and how they re-envision “nature” and environment for us. We begin seeing and reading the phenomenological reality of “nature” through the simulacral reconstructions. Those are big academic-y (+ gimicky?) words…What I mean to say is that Disney and James Cameron’s computerized versions of nature are the version most children are growing up with nowadays, myself included (and I was born in ’84 and grew up on a rural farm). I am slowly re-learning what it means to be natural, to be a part of nature, to BE nature. I am also learning how to appreciate birds, raccoons, fish and foxes that speak in their own languages and don’t wear trousers. I have had a number of experiences with the urban wild since I moved to Toronto in January, many of them whilst working in urban parks with the PINE Project. Here is the poem, living into these influences in all their gritty glory.
Though the Tree of Souls
Sways on a planet in Pandora’s matrix
concocted by artists and electrical signals
connecting American minds to the collective conscious
(Jung’s archetypal myths, now communicating
truths for the Cult of the Market)
Giving us the indigenous experience
even as a white male hero is still
the white male hero—even when his hair grows long
and his skin turns blue
And the goddess works miracles
and mediates her blessings
through a silver screen
Believe me, there are yet real things
Although soundbites of the Circle of Life
reach our pink and pounding ears
in the voice of a singing lion and dancing baboon
And the ancestor spirits belt out pop tunes
to serenade the shepherd and his nymph
with “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?”
Though film soundtracks are babe’s first
encounter with orchestral strains
Believe me, there are yet real things
Even though any wildlife we want to meet
whistles, wears trousers and carries a newspaper
(still with red fur, snout and bush-tail, of course)
or is the gruesome monster
at the end of our digital bazooka
blow off his slobbering head
and watch the guts spray and spring
without having to clean up after ourselves
Believe me, there are yet real things
And although Pocahontas in the body of a
tanned Jolie-Aphrodite dives off five-story waterfalls
without a scratch, hears the voice of Grandmother Willow
and knows herself to be the dear sister
of brother Wolf crying, the blue corned moon
and asks the grinning bobcat why he grins
Though young girls will fondle
her buxom leggy likeness, plastic mould, complete
with wigwam, buckskin hide and moccasins (all plastic too)
And sing with all the colours of the wind
And though she “comes by wires and not by wings”
Believe me, there are yet real things
There are yet real things…
There are still acorns growing on their mother trees
despite the blight and the sprawling cement sea
There are still those kids who crack the capped, smooth shells
brave a bite of the bitter meat
find a weevil and screech in delight
and ask if the nut is any good to eat
and how to prepare the leeching bath
that washes it clean of bitterness
to make a flour and a bread
of the sweet wild treat
and discover the pleasure of knowing
the same techniques have been, and are still,
used by the First Peoples
in the fashion of the Old Ways
There are yet real things…
There are still grey salmon in our freshwater lakes
the size of a woman’s fertile thigh
laden with shining coral marbles
swirling with the breath of new life
fending their way up the Humber
over the manmade dams, passed the screaming fans
(the dog-walkers and kid-pushers)
sucking heavy metals through sparkling gills
to the soaked, gritty grounds of their own births
and if they make it living, to bring new birth
There are yet red foxes that don’t stand upright,
don’t wear trousers or carry newsprint,
but stalk the parks where dogs and kids are walked
and laze in the September afternoon sun
on a rock in a unkempt grassy spot
just off the paved mixed-use path
lounge and yawn and stretch their lean
knowing legs, padded toes splayed
observing unobservant passersby with their satellite ears
and golden keen fox eyes
(I watched one do this for sometime, when even
the dogs didn’t smell or notice his musk-real presence)
There are yet sandhill cranes pecking and rattling
in my parents’ cornfields on their way to the holiday-south
Their long pterodactyl forms imprinting the earth with
their dagger-beaks, their downy feathers and the memory
of their prehistoric lizard claws
They can be seen with binoculars on Thanksgiving eve
or snuck up on (just don’t bring the new farm pup)
There are yet Cooper’s Hawks sparking notes as they dive
for their prey in the gunmetal sky
of Toronto’s scraperlined urban core
You can see, taste, and hear these real things yet
Without a screen, without headset
Thanks for reading!
P.S. I found out about your blog and about Crow Planet in the “Wild Issue” of Geez Magazine. I have carried the magazine with me everywhere since I bought it at a locavore restaurant near High Park on Saturday. 🙂
Oh, Amyann, thanks for sharing your lovely thoughts and poem! Wonderful. “There are yet real things…” Indeed there are!
you DID mention hummingbirds.
Last year we painted our new front porch fire engine red. I spent a little extra money and put finials on the 4 corners, they look like artichokes, and they are also painted bright red.
Last December we noticed hummingbirds trying to eat off our red finials. We quickly ordered hummingbird feeders from the audubon society and they fed from them until spring brought real flowers…
My recent encounter may not qualify, because the goat in question was not really “wild.” But I think you and your readers will enjoy it nonetheless.click here:
I live in North Carolina and have been all over the East Coast. You’ll find no shortage of deer stories, of course.
They strangest deer oddity I’ve seen is on a small island on the South Carolina shore. Fripp Island is the next island north of Hilton Head Island and just a handful of miles from the Georgia border. This island is a gated resort-style development, complete with golf course, tennis center, swim & beach club, and midwesterners in golf carts.
The surrounding water and gated bridge entry keep at bay all hunters and predators, leaving the deer free to live without fear. You’re also more likely to encounter a golf cart than a fast moving car or truck. This adds to the deer brashness.
There numbers have grown over the years, unchecked until recently. Now they are tagged and controlled to some degree. Some have even been tranported to neighboring lands to keep their population down.
The younger generation of island deer will approach you in hopes of landing some food handouts. Obviously tourists have been feeding them. They are so docile, they’ll come right up and put their head in your golf cart. Some will even let you pet them.
They strangest sight to me on this deer haven, occurs in the extended dusk of summer. Our house is beachfront, but the beach has been growing over the years. The ocean was originally about 100 feet from the back step. Now it’s a good quarter mile hike through the brush and dunes to get to the actual “beach.” In the dusk hours, you often see deer roaming the dunes, walking through the sand. Their inflated population has forced some of the deer into the dunes, searching for food amongst the brush and grass that grows in the sand.
It always amazes me when we visit there. We see these animals that I associate with the woods, grazing the warm sands against an ocean backdrop.
The dislocation of it all is striking.
Thanks letting me share
Lyanda, thanks so much for the inclusion of my raccoon pic, with credit. Always much appreciated. It’s a strange coincidence but I landed at your blog tonight for the first time, after just finishing your book, Crow Planet.
My husband and I recently relocated to the Northwest from the Bay Area, and I’ve been enamored with and awed by the number of crows we see regularly now in urban settings. Their nightly fly-overs to roosting spots are nothing short of spectacular. Seattle crows have, in fact, become an emotional bridge for us, between the open spaces and wildlife we’ve been missing from home, and our new existence here, marked by these transitional observations.
I wondered about crows and their relationship to Seattle, so I went seeking information. I couldn’t believe the good fortune in finding your book. Your text is at once poignant, illustrative, insightful, humorous and compassionate, all the while bringing me closer to the crows I love –and helping me retain the element of hope you so aptly describe as a conscious responsibility for the future.
Thank you for your beautiful work and perspective. I’m happy to have stumbled upon this life changing tome. I have always loved crows, but that love now incorporates greater understanding, appreciation and respect.
Ingrid–so glad you stumbled across your wonderful photo here! Thanks so much.
A few yrs ago while walking at the far end of the south beach at Discovery I noticed legions of crows in a big maple, calling and flapping like they were at a boxing match. As I approached to investigate I was dive-bombed a few times. Then as I started to walk away I noticed a dead crow behind a piece of driftwood. I immediately went home and googled “crow funeral”. If you ever want to meet an aggressive barred owl I can suggest a prince mushroom patch in the middle of Seward park that is “guarded” by this formidable creature. For 2 yrs in a row I was attacked at the same location in late summer.The first time I was clawed in the back of my head and chased for 40 ft [I could see the wings inches from my head peripherally as I sprinted and screamed] Last August I was more careful and escaped his pursuit unscathed. One of my main obsessions is exploring the parks and greenbelts around Seattle and catalouging the mushrooms, herbs and wildlife. In my adventures I’ve run into small pot farms, knife wielding squatters and other urban cave-men doing things I wont mention here. I’ll leaf through my journals and report back if I find some interesting stories.
I know this is an older post, but as I’ve earlier said im new to your blog.. I have to share this!!! We live in a very scenic, thou secluded part of Camano Island… Its beautiful, quiet, serene and we love it ! But I will say, that even after nearly 30 years of living on this island, things still shock me to my core.
We had just finished building our house a few years ago. It was a quiet early winter morning. My daughter had requested “the good oatmeal” .. you know, the old fashion oats cooked slow, w/cut up apples, brown sugahhh (as we say) and milk added. So of course, I thought “great idea!” So I went to making the request… finally got it all done, I even got some of our pretty bowls out, dished it all up for her and I and we sat down and said our morning prayers… As we were finishing up our prayers, we heard this rumbling sound and a loud “clunk clunk” on our newly installed deck… I looked out the slider door and there before us was the shock of our lives… Our Great Dane had apparently gone on a little “hike” shall we say thru our property, and obviously decided he needed to bring us back a treasure he found. There at our doorside, was half of a deer carcus! I’m not talking about something small here.. I’m talking about literally the back half of a deer carcus!!! Two legs w/hooves, tail, half of a torso.. the wholeeeee works. My daughter screamed so loud, I stood in horror. “WHAT DID YOU DOOOOO WESLEY?!” I yelled at our dog… he looked at me, ears perked up, so happy to bring me his “gift”… I thought to myself, there is noooo way this dog did this. He wasn’t aggressive, he wasn’t dirty, covered in water, mud, blood or anything. Hummmmm … so, after a paniced call to my husband, we ended up having to bag this thing up and dispose of it. I will never forget that moment, and all that led up to it, nor will my daughter. I might add, that we didn’t even touch our oatmeal !!! Turns out, like I thought, it wasn’t our dog that did it… We found out a few days later the coyotes would use the bottom of our property near the pond as a “stash” location to hide their kills… Least to say we quickly put up fencing, leaving as much of the “wild” on THAT side of the pond as we could.
There of course have been more stories… Bald eagles landing literally in our yard to mate. Hawks plucking wild rabbits out of our field for dinner. Snow Geese honking there way overhead every winter on their way to the farm fields. Deer munching their way thru our yard (and flowering cherry trees), making their way to the pond. Its been a trial and error for us, but we’ve made it, and I wouldn’t change a thing. You learn to cope w/what you have been given. Our home is our home, its all a blessing. The good, the bad, and even the ugly. Thanks for letting me share…
Amy, oh my goodness, what a story! I can just picture it all. Thanks for sharing, and so glad you found the Tangled Nest.
We had a raccoon move into one of our barns. I have a blog post on how we handled it with the best posible outcome for all invoved.
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We live in Temecula an hour north of San Diego. We had in our garden for a season a western fence lizard named Lenard. Lenard had a useless front left leg he had to drag about with him. We felt Lenard to be very old and experienced. He was calm and not disturbed by much. One afternoon I observed Lenard dive off his garden wall perch run across the path leap into the raised bed and pounce on a tobacco hookworm. The prey was formidable. The worm was almost the size of Lenard and proceeded to put up a fight. Lenard held fast thrashing the worm left and right. I could sense old Lenard tiring. Suddenly a house sparrow appeared . She intended to steal Lenard’s hard won meal (still hanging on to life). So now Lenard was fighting off the sparrow while still clinging to the active worm in his mouth. I so wanted to come to his aide but I was concerned I would frighten all away. The bird ultimately won and flew off victorious. Lenard looked visibly defeated. He remained in place with a deflated air, head held down. After some moments he slowly left the raised bed to cross the garden path and resume his position atop the wall.
A few weeks later I heard a ruckus out front. Lenard had found a cozy nap location in my neighbors sons shoe. She wacked the shoe on the side of the curbside trash can when her son informed her there was a rat within. No just old Lenard. She tipped the can over to allow his escape. There went Lenard across the street dragging his useless front leg. I worried it would become scraped and cause him more discomfort. We never saw Lenard again.Although Donald our neighbor across the street said he had placed a saucer of water out for a visiting lizard.
Jennifer, I thought I responded to this earlier, but now I don’t see my comment. I LOVED this story, and your attention to beautiful little Lenard. Thanks so much for sharing it.
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