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City folks
by Jan Sand
2006-09-27 10:26:49
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I think it was in one of Kurt Vonnegut’s pieces that an alien landed on Earth and noted that the dominant life form had six legs. I doubt it landed in Finland.

Compared to New York City where I grew up the arthropod density locally is quite a bit thinner. I have nevertheless, heard that the bulk of living matter still, after all these many millions of years, still resides in separate single cells. We multiple cell colonies pride ourselves in our accomplishments and, though they are noteworthy, they may not have provided us with the endurance and fertility comparable to our little bacterial brothers.

I grew up in Bay Ridge on Narrows Avenue in Brooklyn one block from Shore Road which faces the lower bay. Every time the first Queen Mary ocean liner came through and blew its horn we all rushed to the bay to watch it pass by and I still can see in my mind the time the Von Hindenburg dirigible flew low over our house on its way to Lakehurst. It was a fascinating time and place to be. And one of its most engrossing qualities was the communal non-human inhabitants.

ovi_animals01_400Some of these guys had six legs, some had a great many more, and quite a few had four and two. Dogs there were aplenty. We had one. A feisty little mongrel named Skippy. And of course there were handfuls of cats that wandered in and out of our household, all named Lizzy. From New Jersey the woods produced brilliant orange newts with golden spots on their back and an occasional toad. The New Jersey countryside also produced the occasional blacksnake, rattler, copperhead, garter snake, and cottonmouth moccasin, none of which we ventured to take home for amusement.

For a while we had a couple of fantail goldfish until the bowl broke. A couple of salamanders inhabited another bowl, but among the most beloved friends we had was a pair of white rats named (of course) Mickey and Minnie. They lived a phenomenal

four years and still remain fond in my memory. The house produced an occasional wild mouse and once in awhile, a cockroach or two that spurred a rigorous cleanup.

Some of the wildlife was spectacular. At regular intervals a Cecropia moth with a fifteen centimeter wingspan appeared on a garden hedge. More rarely a beautiful Luna moth of comparable size and pale yellow-green wings with long tails could be seen at night. There were the Regal and Viceroy butterflies, black and yellow Swallowtails and many Fritillerys and scads of smaller fellows. The little white cabbage butterfly is common to both New York and Helsinki, but in Helsinki it seems to be one of the largest butterflies whereas in New York it goes almost completely unnoticed. I miss the flash of fireflies on summer nights, the summer insect choruses and the beautiful

large dragonflies that were innocent but somehow menacing.

Two insects relatively huge were the related walking stick and the Praying Mantis. They could be twenty centimeters long. One Praying Mantis I kept for a while of that size would turn its triangular head to watch me closely and out of that experience I ceased regarding insects as organic wind-up toys and began to appreciate them as fellow citizens.

Of larger wild animals there were quite a few. Seagulls and other large marine birds hovered over the harbor there as they do in Helsinki with equal fascinating expertise in aerobatics. My mother regularly took my brother and me to Central Park in Manhattan to feed several varieties of duck and Canada geese and swans. Once a couple of resting pelicans hissed a warning and clacked their beaks as I approached to attempt friendship. And a plethora of pigeons in their usual rainbow garments. As a kid I often saw horse drawn wagons in Brooklyn and the cops even today use a few horses, especially in the parks.

Recently I have spotted raccoons in Manhattan and a coyote or two has been spotted in Central Park. There have been stories of mountain lions and wolves in upstate New York and New Jersey across the Hudson River has more bears and deer than it can handle.

Here in Helsinki quite a few years ago I have had personal encounters with mooses although not lately. They seem scarce in this area lately.

When their mother was killed for trying to chase people away from her babies I rescued three gray seagull chicks and kept them in a large cardboard carton initially, feeding them herring. As they grew up I built a large wooden enclosure covered with plastic grating and there they started to learn to fly. At end I opened the gate and they flew off to join a flock. I still consider them as my adopted children and wish them well.

For a couple of years I had a piisami, a muskrat that some kids had thrown rocks at and rendered bloody and unconscious. I nursed it back to health and tried to return it to nature but it had become too domestic and was a wonderful affectionate little guy until it finally got sick and died.

When I lived in a separate house I left the door open at night for the cat to come in and out and hedgehogs made the habit of coming in to eat the catfood. At one time there were eighteen of them and they were very competitive and unsocial and, of course, not very easy to pet and make friends with.

Aside from the infrequent wayward pigeon or squirrel, I haven’t made too many cross species friends lately. I don’t welcome mosquitoes.

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winsum2006-09-26 09:08:35
how about humphrey

Alan2006-10-04 22:58:24
Really good article

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