A good friend from my days teaching in Singapore now lives in London. Malcolm, currently a professor of history at King’s College London, just tweeted his account of meeting a wild animal while walking on a sidewalk in the city. This was his tweet:
“This morning at 9.15 in a road off the High Street in Balham an urban fox comes along as cool as you like towards me on the pavement. She didn't show any respect for the aging professor sauntering towards her & maintained her ground. I blinked first & lost the duel in the mist!”
I believe this is the best kind of encounter. We tend to forget about the nature all around us as we go about our busy lives, especially those of us who live in large cities. It takes a moment like this to put our lives into perspective and make us remember that nature goes on in spite of our civilized activities.
I read somewhere years ago that having an animal in our house helps reminds us of our own connection to nature. The writer said that when we walk into our house and bend down to pat the dog or cat lying there, we are in effect bowing down to the natural—the act reminds us that we too are part of nature, albeit removed by the accoutrements of civilization.
When in middle school in Lincoln, Nebraska, back in the 1950’s, I would ride my bike over to a friend’s house in the mornings and then together we’d ride our bikes to school. One fall morning we left his house and, as we rode down the quiet neighborhood street, a young doe ran between the houses in that peculiar way deer have of jumping. We both stopped our bikes and watched the beautiful animal disappear behind a house.
“It’s a kangaroo!” my friend shouted.
“You’re an idiot,” I responded.
My friend quickly realized his mistake and we went on to school though I wouldn’t let him forget his error.
That anecdote from my childhood demonstrates how we are often surprised by encounters with wildlife like the one Malcolm had above. Sure, if we are camping or hiking in the wilderness we expect such meetings. We look for them and may even feel shortchanged if we don’t have some kind of encounter with wild animals.
The focus of my ramblings here has to do with the loss of our natural selves, how we forget about our connection with nature, surrounded by technologies that further cut us off from nature. We need to be reminded of our roots—our connection with the other animals and the more natural state from which we’ve evolved. Sure, we may go camping or hunting from time to time. We may try to “get away” and visit the wilderness in our national parks and recreate. And most of us find these experiences to be healthy, invigorating, and renewing. But that feeling soon wears off when we return to our daily lives with cell phones, computers, and all the distractions of modern life.
The issue of humans encroaching on the habitat of wild animals is another topic altogether, though related. That may be the topic of a future post. Suffice it to say that I feel lucky to live in a ski town, a tourist destination in the mountains of Colorado, as it is easy for me to get away from town into the wild. Also, we have animals of all kinds visiting our yard as they wander through our area that is really part of the mountains. But as often as it occurs I still get excited seeing a bear, deer, fox, ermine, or moose.