On my way to the college this morning I narrowly missed hitting an already-dead coyote on the on-ramp. This particular ramp is close to an expanse of land that ties into the Yakima River Delta, a wild-ish area dense with trees, sagebrush, tall grasses, marshy parts with cat-o-nine-tails, and populated by otters, beavers, pelicans, herons, ducks, deer, all manner of birds, mice, marmots, ticks [shudder], and millions of other little critters. It's an amazing area, full of life, incredible smells, textures, sounds, all nestled between two freeways and poised at the confluence of the Yakima and Columbia rivers.
It's also a perfect example of the modern collision of cities and the "wild". Racing to school, thinking about the rushed morning rituals of showering, making breakfasts and lunches, squeezing in a little time to drink coffee over the paper, I glanced over and saw this beautiful, very dead coyote, and felt a huge thump down in my chest. Coyotes are generally vilified around here--where aren't they, anymore?--but they are still sentient beings with the same basic needs as us humans. Why the coyote was on the freeway is anybody's guess but it's to be expected. Nowadays there are constantly stories in the news about black bears, brown bears, snakes, wolves, deer--you can fill in the blank with any number of wild animals--coming into backyards and creating havoc. The stories mostly end badly for the animal. Heck, even here a cow can constitute a "threat."
A story ran in the local paper last week about an 8 month old bull-calf who escaped his confines and then, when chased by many different people in the middle of some businesses, was shot. Honestly, a calf? He was scared and running wild and confronted with modern life--cars, people, sidewalks, glass. How could he not to react and become aggressive, anything to get back to the safety of his field?
Ever since seeing that beautiful shaggy-coated coyote, dead on the freeway, I've been assailed by (or maybe just more open to seeing) these kinds of contradictions. Modern society and nature. It's an old saw, beaten to death in any number of books, both pro- and anti-nature, or pro- and anti-progress. We want our parks but don't want the rattlesnakes, squeezed out of their habitat, to show up in our playgrounds. We want our river front homes but not the really loud, messy seagulls who congregate there. We want to look at Bambi but we don't want Bambi eating our non-native, expensive, and carefully-cultivated plants.
This is not a touchy-feely anti-hunting, tree-hugging sort of post, here. I'm all for hunting for food. I wish more people did it and really knew where that meat they eat comes from. Or that more people tried to grow their own food and realized that there are plenty of critters out there who also want to eat, maybe even your plants.
No, this is about the inherent contradiction that we live with every day in our modern society. We want great big houses and vast expanses of beautifully tended lawns. We want our nature tame and somewhere else. Maybe in a zoo or something. But not in our backyards. We don't even know how to live anymore in balance with nature. Much better to kill off the scary spider than recognize the good it does in keeping down the insect population. Much better to kill off the brown bear or moose that accidentally stumbles into your yard, when you live smack dab in the middle of a place where you wouldn't even survive without the modern wonders of cargo planes and barges bringing necessary items into the "wild" so you can pretend to be some kind of modern pioneer.
I live in an area that wouldn't even work without the dams that line the Columbia from one end to the other. Without irrigation we wouldn't have agribusiness pumping money into our community. I'm grateful for that, truly; I love where I live. But how can I reconcile the loss of nature at the expense of progress? How can I even try? I don't want to go back to beating laundry on the rocks and growing corn just to keep my chickens going. I do, however, want to figure out how to live a balanced life where wild animals (and a bull-calf) are not seen as the enemy.