Nature in the raw

In suburbia, we have a love affair with the natural world. And in the best human fashion, we’ve bestowed upon large animals, especially dangerous large animals, special spiritual appeal. We take them as our totems, our spirit guides, our “other” selves. We like to think we walk with the wolves, lions, tigers, and bears. Oh my.

Perhaps we do this because we need to confer the power of their hairy, scary hides onto our naked, shivering skins. Because without our weapons, our sticks and stones, spears and guns, we’re pretty helpless against other mammals. We’re the weak little brothers and sisters, easily damaged, spindled, folded, and mutilated. Even a mere house cat is able to fight us tooth and claw, and indeed, puss often wins the battle.

Let’s face it, non-human mammals are fierce. They are scary. They are dangerous. They bite, claw, and kick. Many of them can kill us with a single swipe.

When I lived in Northern California, I spent a fair amount of time wandering in parkland and timbler land with my dog, a smart yellow lab mix. On our regular rambles, we passed a bear tree. The bear had scratched the bark, shredding it to three feet above my head. Thankfully I never saw the bear, but they did sometimes show up in folks’ garages along the edge of town, eating the dog food or nosing through the garbage.

One day, while wandering through fields of ripening salmon berries, huckleberries, and bramble berries, the dog, running ahead of me, stopped in her tracks. The ridge line of fur along her back bristled up and, although she whined, she would not let me pass her on the trail, body blocking me until I turned away.

And even I, with my useless human nose, could scent the animal. It was a ferocious scent. I don’t know what kind of large animal it was, but I was not willing to find out. The dog and I slunk to the trail that led most quickly to the street, where, once again on human tarmac and turf, we felt safe. And very lucky.

For a scary natural history Halloween, I suggest you listen to Red Tooth, Red Claw at To the Best of our Knowledge. Who knew that chimpanzees want to rip off your jaws? Or that tigers could embark on revenge killings?

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