Wild thing
You make everything groovy.
So. Yes. Hello again, loyal readers!

Where have I been, you ask? Well. I have been leaving California, is where, off to the wilds of Colorado whence I came. In order to do this I have bought a car. Since doing this I have been taking care of the car, and also applying to graduate school. This latter is a real bitch, but it is mostly done now and so I am more or less happy again. And will be, inshallah, until the rejection notices come in a few months.

I cannot promise that I will return to regularly updating this website, as I am not good with regular updates. I will do what I can, however; how's that? And to start things off, here's something I was thinking about.

I live in the city. Why shouldn't I feed the wildlife?

City folk are not, actually, devoid of wildlife. There are pigeons and crows and mice and the like, of course, but there are also raccoons and foxes and coyotes and if you live in Boulder the occasional mountain lion. Now, I put out a birdfeeder, ostensibly to help the birds on their winter migration or whatever, and I have to wonder: why is it socially acceptable to feed birds, but not raccoons or foxes or owls or whatever? (yes, owls are birds, but nobody puts out owl feeders except for the people with "outdoor cats").

There is some conventional wisdom out there, but like most conventional wisdom it is heavy on the convention and light on the wisdom. There are a few that are especially common, so let's take them in order of the most concrete to the most abstract.

It's dangerous! They'll bite you and kill you to death!

Don't be an idiot. This is true if you're Timothy Treadwell, but most of us city slickers or suburbanites are not dealing with bears or wolves or hippos or velociraptors. The brawniest of the city-dwelling wild critters I mentioned above, coyotes, don't weigh more than a whopping twenty kilos, on average. Twenty kilos? Jesus Christ, most Americans order that much at McDonald's. And if you really, really piss off a raccon, man, watch out. They've got, you know... claws. And a muzzle that's almost three whole inches long. Presuming they can unhinge their jaw, you're at a real risk of losing your... nothing.

There are some people now who are clucking their tongues and saying I am giving this issue short shrift. "After all," they point out, "coyotes are capable of taking down deer, and deer are pretty hefty". Sure, although deer are at a disadvantage by being 1) criminally stupid and 2) unable to use their hands to bash a coyote with an improvised club or a brick or just a swift punch (after an attacking move, a coyote's eyes flash, signifying their vulnerability. This is your chance to strike their weak point, which was hinted to you by a minor NPC several screens before).

I'll throw out a bone here: if you're regularly feeding whole packs of predators, then there's likely something wrong. But in the main I am going to have to say that unless your local fauna includes tigers or the Sarlacc, you're probably physically safe. Except--

It's dangerous! You'll catch (rabies/bird flu/bubonic plague/multiple sclerosis)!

There is some common sense, here. First of all, yes, in certain areas rabies is virtually endemic, particularly among the procyonids. So if you get bit, then you need to go in to get tested. Everyone reading this blog is smart enough to know this, so I shan't drive the point home. I'm just saying that you ought to keep it in mind.

Secondly, I mean, let's be reasonable. Don't, like, make out with the bloody things. Most wild animals don't even want to let you touch them, so it's not like there's a whole lot of physical contact. Stay clean, and you stay healthy. This is what the nurse told us in grade school, and it still holds true today.

Thirdly, not to minimise the dangers associated with wildlife, but if you do insist on palling around with the prairie dogs, modern medicine is a pretty astonishing thing. Presuming you're willing to pay the costs. If you're not, well, you're probably best staying away from this venture, I have to admit.

They'll become a nuisance!

I will not really argue this, in the sense that I find deer, for instance, to be a tremendous bother and wouldn't mind them all being deceased. Squirrels, also, who eat my birdseed, can die and I will not shed tear one. But then, I am not trying to feed them. Now, I would have to imagine that, yes, a fox who started becoming a regular visitor to your domicile might prove to be somewhat bothersome, but then so are our domestic pets, and nobody tries to dissuade potential pet owners by saying "hey, he'll be a right bother". They say "be sure you're prepared for the responsibility".

Feeding animals makes them less wild!

The best arguments are ones that are philosophical and esoteric, because it's much harder to argue against them. But this is rubbish. A coyote out in Yellowstone, chomping down on whatever it is coyotes eat, antelope or whatever, ok, yes, that is 'wild'. But let's not kid ourselves here, there's nothing wild in slinking about the suburbs getting your fill from trash cans and stray pets. Yes, there are some animals who are scavengers in the wild, foxes and coyotes and raccoons among them. But city animals have already lost that. There's no reasonable metric by which they can be compared to their rural brethren.

What this really reflects is an archaic and outmoded hierarchy of living things that, in the west at least, is largely Biblical in origin (now that the anthropology starts coming into it, it may become obvious that this point is the one that actually got me started thinking); it has been said that it derives from Genesis, with the clear division between animals that are domesticated or otherwise friends of mankind, and the other creatures of the earth (God kindly gave man dominion over them as well, natch; He is a swell Guy).

Therefore the distinction between "wild" and "not wild" is not one of behaviour so much as one of type: feral dogs are still dogs, feral horses still horses, and so on--conversely regardless of whether or not one keeps them as a pet, foxes are still wild, as are raccoons, skunks, tarantulas, and the like. There are people (generally people who are writing web pages to a mass market and so choose to avoid nuance in favour of clarity--myself, I pick the opposite path) who say that wild animals can never be tamed. This is utter rubbish--I've known people with at least decently tame "wild" animals--but in the event the people saying this are generally attempting to dissuade morons from attempting to raise baby wolves or whatever, and I can respect that one should do whatever it takes to prevent this.

Now, it is certainly true that domestication (I love domestication of plants and animals and spent countless hours reading on it in college, for some reason) brings about physical changes, the difference between "tame" and "wild" is clearly not physical, as can be evidenced in our feline partners in crime. We regard cats as tame, most of us, although as recent domesticates cats are not actually much changed from their wild ancestors.

The West has a lot invested in divorcing itself as much from nature as possible; we have our clear-cut distinctions between what is "civilised" and what is not, and people who are seen as close to nature without ethnic legitimacy (that is, Indians--who in many discourses are explicitly "otherised" actors in contrast to the civilised world--are allowed to be close to nature; hillbillies are not) are roundly derided for their lack of indoor plumbing and iPods and whatever. The nature of this divorce means that, to say nothing of crossing over, people who attempt to exist in the liminal boundaries (even were he still around Tim Treadwell would be the subject of much derision by people who have absolutely no idea what they're talking about (and granted, many who do)) are socially deviant, and ought to be discouraged.

This is one reason why, in certain camps, the demise of people like Treadwell or Steve Irwin strikes a somewhat schadenfreude-ish chord. It is social reinforcement, e.g., they "get what they deserved". Of course, many if not most of the people who say this are speaking (whether they are correct or not) from ignorance: I challenge that most people do not know as much about bears as Treadwell, or about dangerous creatures as Mr. Irwin. The rejoinder, "I know enough to stay away from them," is a shrill thought-terminating cliche that goes to show the power of the idea that there is a brightline between "man" and "nature," which is in any case not evident on its face. Similar invective also exists with regards to scientific enterprises like the study of tornadoes or vulcanology, with the hinted notion from armchair commentators that people who would pursue such things are clearly fools.

We invite nature close into us, the thinking goes, only at our peril. The fact that the earliest dogs were simply wolves that hung around the campfire is lost in this, because dogs and horses and cows and goats and sheep and chickens and all the rest date from before Biblical times and the subsequent injunction. So in order to keep nature at bay, we make up patently ridiculous philosophical notions as "wildness", casting it implicitly as some sort of a virtue, when I would have to imagine by definition rummaging around for scraps of Domino's pizza is not a particularly virtuous existence for a fox, which is why city foxes all look like shit.

You'll get too comfortable and forget they're wild!

This statement, or something like it, rests either on the esoteric (you will lose your ability to differentiate mankind from nature, again presuming this is an inherently wise or reasonable boundary in the first place) or on the physical (you'll get too close and they'll kill you). Something like it comes up in discussions of Irwin and Treadwell, frequently in bizarre statements like "he got too close and forgot that it was a wild animal". The fuck? It's a fucking stingray. What, do many people have bears as pets? Call me crazy, but it's hard to forget that bears are not household animals, since they don't sell bear supplies at PetCo.

For some reason, people appear to consider this statement reasonable. I suspect that this is because the alternative--a normally predictable situation becoming chaotic--doesn't allow a slightly-moralistic, society-structuring judgment to be passed ("chaotic things sometimes fuck you up" is not a useful teaching tool). By which I mean that one of the chief goals of this dialogue is to reassure us that the appropriate course of action is staying within the pale and not exposing ourselves to too much danger.

Of course, normally predictable situations do become chaotic, which is what screwed Irwin and Treadwell up. This is the way of things, but since this is evidently unsatisfactory I intend to start using this sort of discourse in other situations. Take American Airlines 191, for instance. "Engine came off; plane crashed" is such a mundane explanation. Far better to say the pilot "got too close to his DC10 and forgot it was a four hundred thousand pound airliner". "Having spent so much time around conflagrations, the fireman forgot that he was dealing with a burning building". "Officer Jones died because he forgot he was dealing with gang members".

You may be thinking to yourself "well, that doesn't sound too unreasonable". And no, it doesn't--the basic take-home lesson is "don't be stupid: remember what you're dealing with". My point is simply that chaotic events can produce unpredictable outcomes by definition, so let's not get too smug here. You don't "forget it's a wild animal", particularly when your foxy friend decides to dismember your cat and leave the bits on your porch. Which leads me to the real reason for not hanging out with the wildlife,

It will end sadly.

Even if your pets don't get eaten, even if you don't get rabies or whatever, things will end sadly for you when one day your raccoon stops coming around and you are forced to the realisation that it probably got hit by a car or whatever. You can't really make pets of the animals that wander by, be they red-winged blackbirds or red foxes. So you don't get close, but you do get that sense of the familiar. And then they're gone. And it's sad.


But hey, if you can deal with that, I say go for it! I'm gonna set out some raccoon food and see if I can't make me some new friends!

You can use this form to add a comment to this page!




You will be identified by the name you provide. Once posted, comments may not be edited. For markup, use 'bulletin board' code: [i][/i] for italic, [b][/b] for bold, [ind][/ind] to indent, [url=][/url] for URLs, and [quote=Author|Date][/quote] for quotes (you can leave the date blank but you need the pipe). HTML is not allowed. Neither is including your website :)