by Yvonne Bruce
It’s hard to think of Tremont as a habitat for nature, but there’s more wildlife here than in any other city I’ve lived. Raccoons, possums, skunks, groundhogs, cormorants circling Steelyard and blue herons stalking fish in the canal with Alcoa’s stacks behind them. Last July I was walking home from the Scranton towpath ribbon cutting when I heard clip clopping behind me on the most desolate stretch of Carter Rd. A six-point buck was crossing the street from the abandoned lot on my left to the riverbank on my right.
Raccoons have been the dominant wildlife on our block for the last two summers. Packs of them appear like shifty-eyed teens once the sun goes down. They swagger down our driveway and cross the street to the neighbor’s backyard, then slink into the ravines by 490 where the homeless folk camp. The babies hide under our cars and cry greedily for Mom. If you walk to the end of our backyard at night, it’s best to make some noise as you go so Papa coon hightails it up the fence and over the neighbor’s roof into his tree before you can surprise him in the trash bin.
People seem to divide all this urban wildlife into good kinds and bad kinds. Deer, even the ones eating your garden, are good kinds, delicate and beautiful. Blue herons, the geeks of the bird kingdom, are also good, looking regal as they stand motionless in the water, and exotic, though in Northeast Ohio they’re almost as common as house sparrows. The weirdly humanlike raccoons are bad. So are the pale, waddling possums.
It isn’t the behavior of these animals that makes the ethical division for us. Deer are more destructive than the raccoons and the groundhogs put together. Possums can be efficient pest controllers in urban areas, eating insects and rodents. I suspect what makes an animal a bad kind for most people is the time of day they’re active. I don’t worry about confronting a rutting buck when I walk in my yard at night, but I do worry about startling Mama raccoon with her kits. Glancing out the kitchen window at night and seeing a possum mosey past gives me a shiver. Even the house sparrows I think are so cute — but a naturalist friend tells me are opportunistic, nest-stealing, aggressive survivalists — fall quiet after their evening roost.
Last week I got up to go to the bathroom at 3:30 in the morning. Before I hit the light switch, I looked out the window into the driveway, as I always do since walking outside one morning two summers ago to find my Honda Civic resting on concrete blocks, all the wheels stolen. This time, I saw a man with a flashlight circling our cars and peering through the windows. I woke my partner and we called the police. By then, the man was gone from our driveway, but Denise kept watch for him from our front door. A clatter across the street suggested our man in hiding, but it wasn’t. It was a raccoon, easing across the neighbor’s porch. He’d knocked over a broom and dustpan.
The cops arrived almost immediately and, wonder of wonders, found the guy crouched behind a garage a few doors down. It was a relief, both that the sometimes indifferent, sometimes contemptuous CPD had been so courteous and prompt and that this fellow had been caught. Car riflers are the bane of Tremont, especially on the less-traveled residential streets like ours. We never leave anything of value in our cars, but occasionally we forget to lock the doors. Whenever we do, the next morning the doors are ajar and every cup holder and compartment is open. Neighbors who should know better have had GPS devices, laptops, clothes, and tools stolen from their cars. Sometimes the cars themselves (or the wheels) are gone when the whistling Tremont resident heads outside at seven a.m. If catching this fellow reduced our aggravation by even one percent, so much the better for the whole block.
Still a part of me feels almost sorry we busted our night burglar. He’d only been doing what other creatures of the night do, which is making his way in the world. That way meant taking advantage of the weaknesses and mistakes of others, true enough, but isn’t that what we creatures of the day do, too, in ways that don’t require the cover of night? We nudge the less affluent out of our growing neighborhood, we silence the voices of those less educated or less vigorous or less able, we build our successes on the failures and errors of others. And there was no active harm in our burglar as he went about seeking his opportunities. Our car locks were never forced, the cars were never damaged (I suppose having all four wheels stolen from my Civic counts as damage, but the four unlocked aluminum hubcaps were too tempting to resist, and the thief or thieves did leave the car unscratched and undamaged on its concrete blocks. The thievery was not my fault, but ignorance of the jungle’s laws is no excuse for leaving my car vulnerable, and do you think I have unlocked aluminum hubcaps now?)
We all have sunlight and moonshine in our natures. Some of us are mostly creatures of the day, however, and some of us are mostly creatures of the night. But we all live in the same wilderness, and the creatures of the day and the creatures of the night have to coexist. It’s not easy.