The Pros and Cons of Nature

The Pastry clan was all up north this past weekend, partly for business, partly for pleasure. Little Jo spent all last week being spoiled by her grandparents and needed to be retrieved. The rest of us had business — ranging from meetings to shoe shopping — to get done. It was all pretty urban stuff.

Yet these days a visit to a big city like Chicago doesn’t preclude interactions with the natural world. It’s a big change from when I was a kid. Then, sparrows and goldfinches were considered exotic. Today Chicago — the “City in a Garden” — is something of a wildlife mecca. It’s the urban coyote capital of North America, home to hundreds if not thousand of the creatures (estimates vary). It’s got snakes, it’s got bats, it’s got birds of prey. Hell, a wild cougar was shot near a grade school in my old neighborhood just four years ago. I mean, if skyscrapers and mass transportation systems don’t insulate your children from predation by big cats anymore, do cities actually have a purpose?

I wondered something similar as I stood in the kitchen of my boyhood home in the ritzy western suburb of Hinsdale late Saturday. Mrs. Pastry, my mother and I were discussing the latest Olympic action when suddenly a smell entered through the kitchen window. It wasn’t your normal odor, friends. This smell had a vibration. It was like a dump truck of sliced onions poured on top of a tire fire to which road kill had been added. It was skunk…up close. We all ran for cover as the odor flooded in the window. Feeling heroic, I turned back and cranked the windows closed. Never in my life had a smell beaten me senseless, but the feeling was like being struck repeatedly in the face with a tire iron.

Fortunately after a few mintues the smell began to fade, though it lingered to some extent in the house all night. The next morning I walked outside and under the kitchen window. I couldn’t detect anything skunky, making me wonder what exactly happened. Had a skunk really sprayed there? Had a dog that had been sprayed wandered past? Whatever it was, I thanked God it was over.

Once I thought the gains made by conservationism were a blessing. I spent my entire childhood never having seen a fox. Now they’re a regular sight in Hinsdale. Small herds of deer — including six and eight-point bucks — now roam parts of River Forest in the early mornings. Just this weekend we saw bird life that included a snowy egret, a peregrin falcon and an American bald eagle. Still I’ll never shake the experience of having been skunked in Hinsdale…Hinsdale, where driving last year’s model of Lexus is a souce of shame. Are the local going to have to start keeping coon hounds and scatterguns to protect themselves from the varmints now? Chicago and Kentucky aren’t as different as they once seemed.

7 thoughts on “The Pros and Cons of Nature”

  1. Wildlife certainly has made a comeback. Years ago I hardly ever saw a deer and never a wild turkey and they are all over the place now. Coyotes were something I heard on the soundtrack of a western movie, but a couple of months ago, one crossed the road in front of my car.
    There’s a big groundhog that lives in the field near me and occasionally comes by to eat windfall apples. I am fine with all the critters around me, but I draw the line at bears.

  2. Ahhhh Nature! My house backs to a “wash” (for those not from the southwestern US that’s a river of sand that run with water only when it rains) where the birds chirp and the desert vegetation smells sweet. The wash is lined with urban cookie cutter houses on either side maybe 50 yards apart for several miles and a busy shopping center backs to it as well. Daily, we see javelina, rabbits, quail and lizards of all sizes. Several times a month we see coyotes, snakes, scorpions and tarantulas. We have had mountain lions in the parking lot at the shopping center and I’ve even had two baby bobcats in my backyard tree while mom stood by on the other side of the fence. Thankfully, we only have the poisonous or ferocious types…. not the horrible smelling types! 😉

    1. I love seeing all that stuff…from a distance. Then I like to go home, sit in front of a game on TV and not worry about being eaten or poisoned by anything. Thanks Eva!

      – Joe

  3. Around Kansas City (where I’m from) our suburb always had some kind of annual wildlife disturbance. From huge snapping turtles to bob cats to skunks, my sister and I were always careful when we played out by the drainage creek that ran through our backyard. However, it seemed to get worse when high-end development sprung up all around. I guess the critters were tired of being pushed around, and decided the older suburbs (with lots of mature vegetation) were a close enough substitute for nature!

    1. Hey Catherine!

      Yeah, you know it doesn’t take too much time out in nature before you figure out that just about everything in it wants to kill you…or at least make off with a couple of your fingers or toes. Where did the flower children of yesteryear ever get the idea that nothing in nature can hurt you? Obviously most of them must have come from Hinsdale (the old one). That’s all I can think.

      – Joe

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *