By Jack McShane
I have indelible memories of encounters with wild things in my youth, some not appreciated by my parents at the time. Somehow they put up with me and survived some uncomfortable moments. Having just returned from a three week trip with a like-minded buddy to the Florida Everglades, I secretly placed a prized catch in the big sink in the basement of our house in Queens and was immediately off to bring other friends to see my bounty. Little did I realize that the sink had a pipe taking the soapy water from the washer above in the kitchen and it of course overflowed as I had put a plug in the drain to hold some water to comfort my catch. Hearing the overflow, Dad went down to clear the clogging and reached down and to his rather great distress grabbed a well-washed and writhing, three foot long alligator. Oh well, he survived, barely, that is, as he was a banker and not really into or appreciative of this wild stuff. I never brought to light, a few days later, that my two deadly cottonmouth water moccasins had escaped and were somewhere in the house, never found. There had been enough stress for the time being. The alligator, along with two others, were eventually and surreptitiously dropped into the alligator pool at the Bronx Zoo, but not before putting a dab of silver paint on their heads so that we could identify “our” gators on later visits.
Now that spring is over and we are in the middle of summer I am keeping my eyes open for baby turtles. We had numerous females planting their eggs in what they think are safe places, which a number of them were not, such as along road edges and often-mowed areas. Most notable was really “big” momma–a smooth shelled snapping turtle, not an alligator snapper which has very rough carapace. She has not yet returned to what had been her favorite basking rock in our upper pond. I must say, if entered, she would not win any beauty contest. According to the NYS DEC in New York, thousands of turtles are killed each year by vehicles as they migrate to their nesting areas. It may take more than ten years for a turtle to reach breeding age and they lay just one clutch of eggs each year, so the loss of a breeding female can have a significant effect on the local population.
A very real indication of mid-summer is the silence now in the forest. As you walk the forest trails you sense hardly a breath. The spring symphony of birdsong has much toned down as territorial disputes have been settled, young have dispersed, which I guess could be called the empty nest syndrome most literally. Pollination has been accomplished, which might beg the question, “What do the bees do now?” It appears that there will be a bountiful wild apple crop since they have been well pollinated and can survive a couple of days of late frosts. The hen turkey we spotted back on the July 4th appeared to be doing her due diligence in protecting her twelve very young poults (see photo at right), going very slowly so the little guys could keep up, very cautious and looking very proud. Now if all her girlfriends are as fertile and as protective all will be well with the wild turkey population.
That little fawn that Nancy and I watched being born is now going through a phase of what I call “prepubescent irrational exuberance,” racing around trails and fields of grass as his mom stands in apparent dismay, although she sometimes chases after him and then eventually gives up and awaits his return. Does she chastise him for his recklessness? I don’t think so, just proud.
How about this? He, not the fawn, was coming down the side road at a very rapid and determined pace. He was rather tall for his species and very dark gray. He was approaching a very dangerous place unbeknownst to him, I think, I slowed my car to block him, but he paid no heed–he kept coming. The gray fox was about to cross Route 30; I honked loudly. He now paid attention and quickly reversed his course. I felt like a Good Samaritan as three cars flew by in the opposite direction at a very high speed (55-60 mph at least). Made my day, saved the creature, got no thanks and didn’t need it.
Friends of Music, a classical concert series in Stamford, had a fabulous string ensemble called the Tesla Quartet named after Nicola Tesla, author of the following quote: “Though free to think and act, we are held together, like the stars in the firmament, with ties inseparable. These ties cannot be seen, but we can feel them.” I would add that the same holds true for our relationship with our wild friends.~