Monday, October 23, 2023

Teddy Roosevelt's Advice


I was sitting at a picnic table at Lake Merced when a racoon popped up on the other side. He casually walked across the table and put his paws on my two books laid there, as if to take them away. I shooed him and he slowly took a couple of steps back. Being a thoroughly modern person, I took a quick photo of him and then started to walk away, with him (or her?) following. Then another racoon appeared and moved towards me. I was looking around for some sticks, but none were in sight. I walked by a woman sitting at another picnic table and the racoons went over to bother her as she yelled “Shoo! Shoo! Shoo!” What is going on here?!


I walked to another part of the lake and sat on a bench and squirrels and chickadees and a couple of bluejays came around me. Mind you, I had no food of any sorts nor remnants of any food. One squirrel jumped on the back of the bench next to my shoulder, startling me, and then leaped off again. I looked around again and then found a stick to keep by my side.


Last month in Golden Gate Park, a woman was walking her dog on the path ahead of me when a coyote bounded up next to them. She started to shoo it away and then three more showed up! They eventually dispersed, but it was a tense moment.


On one hand, I should be happy to share my habitat with wildlife, the way humans have done for thousands and thousands of years. But I did have passing thoughts that the racoon might just jump on my face or the squirrel bite my neck or the coyotes attack the dog and its owner. And how would I respond? (In fact, I did have a dream the other night that a coyote attacked me and was sinking its teeth into my balled up fist and I had no idea how to get it off!). 


Walking back to my car, I thought about Teddy Roosevelt’s advice: “Walk softly but carry a big stick.” Now one of my favorite books as a kid was “Rascal,” a story about a boy and his adopted pet raccoon. And they indeed are good-looking creatures with intriguing personalities. But cartoons to the side, no wild animals are merely cute and none of them are obedience-trained. Which I heartily celebrate when they’re in their natural wild habitat, but confess to being less enthusiastic about when they’re in my city. So I had my stick by my side just in case—and of course, didn’t see  them again. 


I was going to write an addendum to yesterday’s “broken bones,” noting that while it’s true that our willingness to help our fellow humans with casts and crutches and ice cream for comfort is laudable, we are also the only species to break each other’s bones for reasons unfathomable to our animal brethren. You know the list. So while a brainwashed half-adult carrying a powerful weapon is far more frightening than any mouse in the kitchen, raccoon on the picnic table or coyote in the park, still we should be cautious. Walk softly on this great green earth, but consider that stick by your side.


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