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Living Where the Wild Things Are

By Tina Traster

August 4, 2011 -- Walking around Rockland Lake recently, I thought I’d taken a detour to the Galapagos.

Several mature and magnificent herons and egrets were escorting a huge flock of young birds across the southern end of the lake, a few short flaps at a time. It appeared to be a flying lesson. The young aviators took off and lifted themselves, just a foot or so, above the lake. Then, after being airborne for mere seconds, they’d skid across the lake’s surface, like shaky Cessnas trying to land in a storm.

Again and again it went. I, along with other walkers and runners and cyclists, stopped in my tracks to watch this bit of Animal Planet in a New York suburb.

It’s been like that all summer long. Abundantly abundant and then some.

Animal sightings, for me, never get old. Give me the chance to watch a chipmunk wriggle in and out from under a rock, and I’m warm on the inside. Even the squirrel that scampers along the railing on my deck is a treat.

But this year’s wildlife sightings are proving to be something akin to marriage vows -- a “for better or for worse” scenario.

First, it was the turkey vulture (a bird only a mother turkey vulture could love). The slick black-and-brown bird with the hooked red head showed up one day at the invitation of my neighbor’s uncontained refuse.

Swooping in, he headed for a collection of plastic garbage bags. From my window, I watched the bird furiously tear away at the plastic. Once it scored, it flew upward with a thick heaviness and, thunk, landed on my roof. All the while, my nearby chickens screamed like hyenas.

That was nothing compared to the cat-and-mouse game we have been playing with a brazen raccoon. Every morning, we noticed he had been trying to burrow under and into our chicken run overnight. So determined was this animal that he kept moving large rocks that we’d tightly packed along the rim of the run.

One night, we heard a loud crash. There we were, face to face with the dark-eyed raccoon that, unable to feast on our plump poultry, was trying to lift the lid of a large cedar box on our deck where we store their feed.

“Git the gun, Pa,” I said to my husband.

Well, we don’t have a gun, and throwing rocks didn’t scare the raccoon away. So, every night, as darkness falls, Rocky returns, like a killer with bodies to bury.

But last week was a whole different animal. As I opened the door to leave my house, I did a double take.

“What the hell is that?” I said.

I called my husband at work. “We’ve got a bear.”

“Are you sure it’s not a hedgehog, or Sasquatch?” he said.

“Very funny,” I replied. “That is a definitely a bear.”

“Take pictures,” he said.

By the time I grabbed my camera, the bear had ambled closer, onto my lower patio. He was enormous. The furniture looked small next to him. Bored, he made his way up a set of stone steps and stood less than 5 feet from my front door.

I could see him through the glass, the only barrier between us. He looked at me. I looked at him. He was cute -- well, kind of, in that way that a bear can look if you temporarily forget that his claws are as sharp as your best kitchen knife.

I was torn between fascination and fear. I wanted to observe him, like a wildlife photographer on assignment. But I had chickens to protect. I wasn’t buying that “Oh, bears are herbivores” stuff. I rapped at the glass until he eventually skulked off into the woods.

The next day, my local paper and every regional media outlet reported on a bear sighting in the Village of Nyack, about a mile away. The critter looked frightened, clinging to a branch up in a tree. If I were the bear, I’d definitely come back to my expansive wooded property. Though I’m hoping there are enough garbage cans in the village to keep him sated until next winter’s hibernation.

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