Commentary: Squirrels and raccoons and bears, oh my

There's always something peaceful and spiritual to me about going into the woods. Being surrounded by nature reminds me of what the world is really about and how I'm connected to it.

One thing that's not peaceful or spiritual about the woods, however, is that you know someone else, or something else, might be lurking behind the scenes.

This brings me to the real focus of my column: wild animals.

No matter where you live or how secure you think you are, you can't avoid coming into contact with some kind of critter.

The most recent animal to make the local news is a bear that was making its way through Harford County.

That bear appeared to be really calm, casually hanging around people's backyards. If I were a bear, I'd be pretty relaxed, too. I would know that if any average-sized human tried to mess with me, I could easily take it.

Bear sightings seem to be more common in recent years, but animals from all walks of life regularly make the news, from a wild turkey that was found along the road to the occasional bald eagle.

Some people enjoy wild animals and even attract them, Snow White-style, like a horse whisperer.

I definitely don't have any such gift, and I think for most of us, animals are something to be occasionally enjoyed and usually avoided.

I've never had a close encounter with a bear or a major predator that could be really dangerous. The closest I've probably come is seeing a little alligator when I was at a DisneyWorld resort.

It was just a little baby alligator (or crocodile; as a non-Floridian, I honestly have no idea) floating quietly on the lake, but there were little kids pointing at it who could have easily become gator food.

The animals I see on a more regular basis are things along the line of deer, rabbits, raccoons and occasionally foxes.

Deer and rabbits are totally fine and adorable, of course, unless they're in the path of the screeching wheels of your vehicle. Raccoons and foxes are, to me, a little creepier, but I also don't see them that often.

One time not so long ago I was parking near my parents' house at night when I suddenly watched six raccoons walk, in a line, from a woodsy area directly into a storm drain.

I don't know if six raccoons is some kind of sign of the end of the world, but it was extremely creepy.

An acquaintance of mine was also once chased by a raccoon through a UMBC parking garage. I think he kind of taunted the raccoon first, so it was probably his fault, but still.

Even supposedly harmless animals can be very annoying. Case in point: the squirrel.

When I was in college, squirrels were everywhere, and they were a giant nuisance.

They were also completely used to people and thought nothing of following you across campus, ready to perch next to you on a bench as if to say, "Hey, you gonna finish that sandwich?"

Birds are also not always all innocent and sweet, despite being nice to listen to and pretty to watch (far away) in the sky.

In the neighborhood where I previously lived, I was almost attacked by a mockingbird or catbird while just peacefully walking down the street.

I wasn't bothering anybody when I suddenly felt something hit my head, and saw the bird buzzing around me for no apparent reason.

It kept swooping down at my head until I finally crossed the street and lost it, but it was a little terrifying.

Another time, I was walking to my car when I felt the same smack against my head.

I turned around, and the same mockingbird (OK, it could have been a different one; I have no way of knowing) was perched on a street sign, doing its little call like it was laughing at me.

I was ready to throttle that bird, if I could have figured out a way to catch it. It gave me a new appreciation for that book "To Kill a Mockingbird," because I guess it really is hard (and desirable) to kill a mockingbird.

The truth, of course, is that we, as human beings, are the biggest predator there is. Every animal in the world is actually scared of us, because we have guns and nets while many of them don't even have opposable thumbs.

So there, mockingbird. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

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