My granddaughter, the adorable Rosalie, is almost 16 months old and was being fed breakfast in the screened porch area of the cabin we rent each summer in the woods on an island in Lake Superior when she pointed her little hand and said “Da!” In Rosie’s language this can mean many things: There! What’s that? Dog. Airplane. School bus.
This time it meant “bear.”
A young black bear was climbing up the steps to the unscreened area of the porch, about 10 feet from us. It looked around, sniffed a few times, then turned, strolled through the front yard and disappeared over the edge of a cliff. A few minutes later it returned, this time from behind the porch. It shuffled around in the daisies and lupine, then again went down to the big lake, this time taking the stairs.
Despite Rosalie’s presence and the proximity of the bear, it didn’t feel threatening. It was about 6 feet long, maybe 3 feet high, and looked to be just under 200 pounds. A skinny, curious creature. In my old guy’s mind, I figured I could take it if need be. Or at least hold it off until Rosie was removed to safety. But this bear was just ambling around. And maybe looking for garbage.
The bear-in-the-woods-on-the-island episode quickly became part of family lore. When we returned home, we discovered signs of more aggressive wildlife. One of the second-story bedrooms had wood splinters all over the floor near a window air conditioner. Apparently a squirrel had chewed and slashed its way through the extension panels of the air-conditioning unit, become trapped inside and then chewed and slashed its way out.
It was scarier than the bear. What had this dumb rat-with-a-bushy-tail been thinking? There was no food around. The AC wasn’t on, so it was as hot inside as it was outside. There were no nuts. I wasn’t even there.
Encounters with wildlife are getting more frequent as the climate changes and people, well, populate. In our Minneapolis neighborhood, we’ve seen eagles, hawks, deer and at least one large fox. I’ve seen (and heard) coyotes on local bike rides.
“Wildlife” also could describe some of the humans we’ve encountered around our city and state. On recent meanderings we’ve listened to Trumpites and Republicans whose views (and reasoning) might be described as unevolved. When we returned to the city from our island vacation, we found everyone with their backs up over the city’s 2040 development plans. Hands were thrown into the air. Signs were posted in yards. Exclamations more often heard aboard ships than inside churches were frequent.
A few days ago I was sitting in my garage, catching up, when I heard a loud whoosh of wings. The biggest wild turkey I’ve ever seen flew across in front of me and perched on a roof. It was nearly twice the size of a bald eagle and it looked aggressive. You could see why Benjamin Franklin recommended it as the national symbol. It stayed on the roof for about 10 minutes, watching over its clan — a couple of other smaller turkeys and four young chicks. Then the whole squad decamped to a neighbor’s yard.
As the primaries and elections get closer, conversations about politics are heating up as surely as August summer days. Those who support Trump and his enablers are sure of themselves. They don’t care about the lies, the hypocrisies, the self-enriching, deficit-exploding tax bills, separating young migrant children from their parents and putting them in cages, gutting environmental protections, the vulgarity, the attacks on allies, the embracing of enemies.
Trump supporters don’t even seem to mind treachery. Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write: Where’s Joe McCarthy when you need him? His anti-Commie paranoia took hold more firmly than all the reporting about Trump and Putin and Russian engagement in American politics has done. Like most wild critters, Trumpites appear to have little knowledge of history. Then again, McCarthy’s spinning moral compass was as distorted in the 1950s as Trump’s is now, so it might not matter: It’s harder to blacklist billionaires than writers.
I’ve been swimming in the city lakes recently. The water is fine — warmer than Lake Superior — and there are fewer black flies. Recently I saw two people swimming out to a diving platform. They were carrying a couple of small creatures with them. I asked what they were, some kind of small dogs? “Ferrets,” they replied.
As Rosalie would have said: “Da!”
Doug Wilhide is a writer who lives in Minneapolis.