Close Encounters of the Wild Kind

Along the Path: A Young Person’s Guide to Exploring Nature

By Susan Rothrock Deo

Do you have a special memory of a close encounter with a wild animal? They are all around us—flying in the air, wiggling in the ground, running across a yard, even resting for a moment on a leaf. Being in touch with their world as much as ours can have a profound effect on our health and well-being. 

In his new book, “Our Wild Calling: How Connecting with Animals can Transform Our Lives,” Richard Louv writes about how we can not only coexist with our animal friends, but we can also deepen our bonds with nature to create a better world. Read on to inspire your own encounters, waiting for you right outside your window. 

  • Peregrin falcon feeds its young.
  • Raccoon peeks out from roof vent.
  • Osprey in tree

Do you have a special memory of a close encounter with an animal? One of mine is of a hummingbird. The first time I heard two of them chit-chitting at each other, I learned they were defending their territories. Now, I love watching them buzz through our yard, how they sip nectar from our flowers. I’m awed when they sit on our fence, a strange position for a bird who is normally in constant motion. They have to rest too! Then there’s the weasel I can still see in my mind, climbing the stairs to our back porch and peering in our Halloween jack-o-lantern. Was he looking for a tasty mouse hiding there or was he just curious? Recently my husband has had several close encounters with a pair of neighborhood coyotes. He knows it is the same pair because one of them has a limp. . From short videos he has made, he sees one coyote’s left front foot is swollen and misshapen somehow. While he worries about the coyote, at the same time he is cautious to keep his distance–especially when walking our little dog. Then there’s the curious whale diving under our panga boat that I almost touched in a Baja lagoon. And the spine-tingling cry of the pygmy elephant summoning his family in the pitch-dark Borneo jungle.

“We are more than walking genetic code, we are biological poems, and so are the creatures around us.” (Louv)

Animals have encounters with other species as well. I witnessed one such encounter and am still awed by it. I was walking our dog, Pepper, down a country road. A neighbor’s pet cow stood munching grass in the field to the left. Pepper stopped, sat down, and watched. She studied the cow, who studied her back. She scooted closer and closer as the two continued to stare at each other. It was a magical moment for me.  It seemed to be for them too. 

“The whisper is all around us, the constant song of life communing with itself. It exists in our mitochondria…and inner self.” Helen Macdonald (from Louv, Our Wild Calling)

I hope you to take the time to stop and commune with another creature. We may not have years to spend living with chimpanzees as Jane Goodall did, or the courage for daily free dives to visit an octopus as Craig Foster did. But even a few minutes of slowing down, observing, truly paying attention, to another creature, from an insect to a fish to a coyote, can be a glimpse of nature, a glimpse of yourself, you will hold close forever. As Louv says, “The truth is, we humans need all the other-than-human friends we can get.” Wishing you your own close encounters (while honoring their wildness, of course).

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