Tag Archive 'domestication'

Aug 30 2018

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Wild, Not Wild

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A flock of turkeys wandered into my back yard yesterday morning. About a dozen of them fed along the edge between the mowed grass and where I have let my yard go wild. My wife Judy also saw the birds, as did our dog Matika who barked at them once. They weren’t much impressed by that.

Later on, as Matika was in the other room sleeping, I spotted a turkey trotting right along the edge of the patio, about 15 feet from the door. Several others followed. Clearly these turkeys have no concept of the difference between a wild landscape and a domesticated one. Either that or they simply don’t care.

A barred owl swooped across the yard the other day, landing on top of my car. When Judy and I poked our heads out the door to get a good look at it, the owl flew to the next door neighbor’s roof. We have heard owls nearly every night since then. I usually associate owls with the wild, but two miles from town my home hardly qualifies as a wild place even though it does back up against a good patch of woods. Evidently, owls aren’t as skittish around people as I thought they were. Either that or they find the hunting around here too good to pass up.

Deer passing through, spiders making webs in the siding of my house, hummingbirds at the planters, toads in the grass, and the occasional garter snake slithering into the garage – my turf is overrun with creatures that simply do not acknowledge the boundary between what is cultivated and what is wild. The other night I saw a bat flying in circles overhead, no doubt feasting on mosquitoes. Better than citronella candles to be sure.

Along the edge between the grass and the wild part of my back yard, I have planted a few domestic bushes and flowers that also happen to grow naturally in the wild. I have pulled out grass, dandelions and other undesirables there, as well, making room for the ferns and other wild plants that I prefer. “Unnatural selection,” I call it. Judy calls it “cultivating the wildness,” in a somewhat humorous reference to a book of mine. Yeah, I’ve muddled matters in my back yard to say the least.

For a while now, I’ve been pondering wildness and being human, trying to get a bead on exactly what it is that separates us from the rest of nature. It’s not an easy task. And the creatures wandering into my back yard don’t make the matter any easier. Perhaps the difference between what is wild and what is not wild is not nearly as distinct as we like to think it is. Perhaps it is just a matter of degree.

 

 

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Nov 09 2013

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Denizens of the Forest

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deerThanks to the government shutdown, I had the Saratoga Battlefield all to myself when I visited it a month ago. There were no other people there, that is. But the fields and forests of that park were chock full of deer. I must have encountered twenty of them during my morning walk.

No doubt the deer were taking refuge from the hunters going after smaller game, sighting in their rifles and getting ready for the deer season ahead. I could hear the occasional report of a rifle in the distance as I walked. The deer must have heard it as well.

Even though I am not a hunter, I do not disparage hunting. Short of poisoning deer or introducing more predators to the wild, I see no other way to keep their numbers down. Nature culls the herd each winter through mass starvation, but as a woods wanderer I find enough winter kill each spring as things are. Besides, I engage in another blood sport called trout fishing so who am I to judge?  Oh, and yes, I like the taste of deer meat whenever I get a chance to sample it.

Here’s the bottom line: If I were a four-legged denizen of the forest and on someone’s menu, I would much prefer being hunted down and shot towards the end of my days than to be penned up my whole life only to be “harvested” or “put down” by the most humane means possible. Running wild is the main thing. The rest is just the natural (or unnatural) order of things.

All this said, I like deer more alive than dead. Up to a point, that is. There are so many of them now that a midnight drive home is a dangerous proposition. I’ve come close to hitting deer several times this year. And few things are more depressing than seeing their rotting carcasses along the side of the road. Such a beautiful creature when alive. How sad to see them lying there.

 

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Jun 08 2009

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Wild Things

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I read in the paper the other day that Alaskan state officials have cracked down on a guy named Charlie Vandergaw for feeding the bears.  Evidently, he’s been doing this for quite some time now.  Vandergaw lives by himself in a remote cabin and has befriended large, wild browns to the point where he can pet them. He’s been featured on a cable television network called Animal Planet.  No doubt he has plenty of fans.  But officials at Alaska Fish and Game can’t abide by it, so he’s been charged with illegally feeding game and could face a $10,000 fine or a year in jail for it.

Anyone who has a bird feeder in the back yard or who has tossed a nut to a chipmunk creeping into camp can relate to Vandergaw, I’m sure.  We all know we’re not supposed to make wild animals dependent upon us for food, but it’s hard to resist feeding them.  They’re so cute.  Besides, there’s something about the tentative approach of a cautious creature that urges us to share our abundance.  But a bear once fed will look again to humans for a free meal.  What happens if an unsuspecting picnicker doesn’t comply?  Everything is all very warm and fuzzy on Animal Planet, but sometimes our furry buddies get ugly off camera.  That’s what the Alaskan officials are thinking about, anyhow.

Cockeyed libertarians look at the situation and see the government oppressing a gentle, old man who’s not hurting anyone.  Calloused Alaskans believe the grizzlies will eventually turn on Vandergaw.  Still others see this as a strange form of profiteering.  After all, someone had to pay for the ton and a half of dog food that our TV grizzly man has provided.  All this misses the point, I think.  My question is this:  When does the wild cease being the wild?

We’re all guilty of it.  Nature lovers have their preserves.  Scientists have their tranquilizing guns and radio collars.  Hunters want the wild managed to optimize conditions for their prey.  Urban planners have their green spaces.  Even materialistic, money-mad developers, who clearly don’t give a damn about wild nature, still like manicured gardens and golf courses.  We all want a piece of the wild under our thumb.  It’s hard to leave it alone.  And why should we?

Heaven on earth is often depicted as a place where the lion lies down with the lamb.  This biblical notion has infected all of us more than we realize.  One could argue that it’s written into the very definition of civilization.  “Peace on earth” and “dog eat dog” are mutually exclusive concepts, aren’t they?  Why not turn the entire planet into a garden and make all creatures our pets?

I don’t want to belabor this point.  I’m sure that you can see quite clearly where I’m going with all this.  I read about some guy chumming up to Alaskan browns and a part of me, having been exposed to them once, wants to do the same.  Then it occurs to me how easy it is to love something to death.  Truth is, in order for something to be truly wild it has to remain beyond our control.  And that’s a concept we all find difficult to accept.

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