Because who doesn't want to read about animals?
Dogs and cats are the obvious choice for animal stories, and the bookstore has the titles to prove it. Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul. Simon's Cat Gets Neutered. 101 Tales of Noble Pets Guaranteed to Make You Sob Like a 20-Year-Old Who's Just Been Dumped by Wren, the Grimy Hipster Guy Who Makes Organic Soap Out of Sheep Snot. These are just a few of the titles you can find in the "schmaltzy dogs" section.
Schmaltzy dogs dominate the animal storytelling industry. Show me a movie about a dog that doesn't end one of two ways: a) with Rufus getting hit by a car or taking a bullet for little Bobby and dying with quiet dignity while his humans wail, or b) with the final scene revealing that Rufus actually survived the shooting/road rash and, as the crescendo builds, he limps over the rise in the dusty driveway and drags his ever-loyal hindquarters down the lane to the waiting arms of Billy. Er, Bobby. Whatever I called him. That's the MO for dog stories.
But if we pull back a bit, we can see how much room there is for a whole complement of animal stories that don't revolve around young Bobby's flat cat. We cross paths with animals every day, as soon as we leave the house. And, for most of us, those animals are urban critters like squirrels, crows, and deer.
|That time Mama Rat brought out her babies and|
then I poisoned them all.
|Skippy, the groundhog who lives under the porch.|
But what we're really doing is making room for the varmints. And though we've waged war on
varmints in the same manner that we waged war on the apex predators, the varmints reproduce quickly and adapt easily. Ever have a raccoon problem? I do. I caught two little jerks in my fish pond this summer at 6am. I went out into the dark to feed the cat and there they were, red-handed in my pond, reaching for my fish. They'd unscrewed the lids on my koi food and dumped it all into the water, and they'd thrown the cans into the neighbors' yard. My father came over when he heard the commotion and told me to call Critter Control, to get those two varmints out of there.
I declined to do so. First of all, my dad thought that the critter guy would just release them in a happy forest where they could go on to lead a life of raccoonly fulfillment. Not so. I know from past experience that the law dictates a trapped raccoon must be destroyed. But let's say for the sake of the discussion that I was okay with that. After all, raccoons aren't in short supply. Nobody is going to miss two trouble-makers. What's the harm in making them disappear before they eat my big, beautiful koi?
|Busted in the fish pond.|
This is why varmints are so successful. There are always more of them. Moreover, varmints are endlessly adaptable. In this article from Lousisiana Sportsman, the author reports on the state's feral hog problem. The gist of the article is that feral hogs have surpassed white-tailed deer in terms of what hunters bag, and that the hog has lots of hoglets (er, piglets) and most of them survive. They'll eat anything.
Now, granted, feral hogs are a different category of animal from deer and raccoons and possums. Hogs were introduced to North America back in DeSoto's day, while raccoons have been here for ages. Raccoons are a native species. But the point is that varmints adapt, and do so quickly. That's precisely why they become varmints. They're just fine with whatever changes we make. The big beautiful animals can't hack life with the humans, but the critters we love to hate thrive right under the porch. Grilling out tonight? Guess who's licking the drippings after you go to bed? Erecting a little storage barn down by the tomato garden? Way to provide a solid roof over their heads down in their hidey holes. Varmints. You can't piss 'em off. You can't drive 'em away.
|Research from the 1960's.|
Because they're varmints, and they're thriving. And on so many different levels, you've got to respect raccoons and varmints in general. They're adaptable. They're successful. They're bound and determined to make a life in a place that seems harsh and unfriendly. They're up for meeting a challenge even if it claims their lives. And they're driven to take advantage of every situation. that. In calm moments when you've finished picking up the scattered trash and pulled the severed frog's head from the pond waterfall, consider how well these creatures reflect human beings.
It's is interesting, isn't it? When humans take advantage of every situation, we're bold. Explorers, meeting our manifest destiny. By God, we conquered that wilderness and made a life for ourselves in the great unknown. Sure it was risky, and many of us died. But we made ourselves fit.
|Slappy, our resident fox squirrel.|
A.B.C. Whipple wrote about Canada geese in his book, Critters, noting that many geese have eschewed migration for a cushier life overwintering in city parks. It's easier than flying south, the geese have decided. The Canada goose is the only species we know of that has actually overridden its evolutionary urge to migrate. Stop and think about that. Think about migration. Some animals migrate knowing they'll die at the end of their journey, knowing that the trip will be hazardous and exhausting. Monarch butterflies take four generations to complete a full cycle of migration. But the Canada goose has decided within the last hundred years not to migrate. Boom, just like that. How cushy must life be among the humans for a species to make such a mind-boggling change, to override evolution itself?
|Sweet Pea, the deer I stupidly hand-feed.|
Varmints, you're golden.