Wild in the City

Even in the heart of the city there’s wildlife. I’m blessed to live near a bird sanctuary so for me this is even truer than it is for most, but look around you. I’ll bet you find your wild place. I’ve lived in cities most of my life and I’ve always found somewhere to go.

Start with the cracks in the pavement or the parking strips. Even if we humans haven’t planted something there, the planet has done so. Are there squirrels running along the power lines in your neighborhood? They do so in mine. Surely there are pigeons, crows, blackbirds, wrens? We generally don’t notice them because we aren’t looking for them. Do you have a neighborhood park? We don’t seem to realize that we share this planet with other creatures. The hardiest of them make their home in the city, just as we do. Raccoons are adaptable and smart and live everywhere.

In my neck of the woods, things are changing, as they always do. Every tree along the estuary beside E. 10th St. has now been cut. The aspens were only the beginning. It will be interesting to see what the end result is. The walking and bicycle paths will be extended, and all the culverts from Lake Merritt to the highway will be gone. Change isn’t easy, this Saturday there wasn’t a bird to be seen around the estuary or on the campus. Last week I watched triads of egrets walk in the shallows. White pelicans fished farther out and the campus was covered with geese. The quiet this week felt a bit ominous, but when the construction is over the birds will be back.

As usual, all the temporary traffic detouring was focused on the automobile, with the sidewalks unblocked as an afterthought. One day of using the traffic lane was more than enough for me, and I found that my Saturday detour to see the remaining aspens was actually the beginning of a workable temporary route. I can ride directly through the campus, along the estuary to the footbridge, and up the hill on the other side. Of course both paths are blocked at the sidewalk, but I can push my bike up a steeper dirt path between the redwoods and come out in the circle drive in front of the childcare center. From there I only have to deal with the school construction, with the “temporary” diagonal parking and the two blocks of narrowed lanes. That’s not particularly pleasant, but I’ve been dealing with it for over a year now, and the temporary vehicle lane across the estuary has made it so unpleasant for cars that the traffic is considerably lessened.

I have hope, though. Half of what appears to be a bike path has been built from Lake Merritt to E. 10th. I suspect the blocked paths will be the continuation for bike paths on both sides. If so, when they’re done it will be possible to ride along the far side of the estuary to the edge of the lake. Right now that area is wild and enticing, and I can’t get to it… The corridor from the end of the built path to the side streets I currently take home is not exactly pleasant or safe, but I’ll bet I can piece together another route that is, and the project could always surprise me with other improvements. There are already many more riders in that corridor than there were when I moved to this area. Saturday was lovely, though. It’s always the most pleasant ride of the week.

I went and saw the aspens again last Saturday afternoon. I walked through the grove till I came to the right tree. I stood with it awhile and looked closely at the clones walking down from it to the water. They were indeed clones, one was growing straight out of an exposed root. Even shaved away to the heartwood it was growing a shoot. I can see why these trees are so difficult to eradicate. Why did we plant them if we didn’t want them there? I circled around it. Odd, I was mimicking what I’d just read in My Side of the Mountain. I didn’t know it was home, I just knew I had to see the other side.

I found just what Sam Gribley did, in a way. A perfect arch of aspen shoots, growing between the double trunk of this doubled tree. It was of course full of spider webs. They shine silver around the dead branches of shoots from years past like jewelry on the feet of the trees. Brother to the birch, indeed, green leafed, silver trunked beauty who smells sweet in the height of summer and is first to venture into disturbed or fallow ground.

After a moment’s hesitation I sat down between the trees. Yes, I might get bugs, but it was worth it. I spent a few moments weaving branches, dead and alive, around each other. The space between the trees arched around me. I could see another grove of much younger aspens across from me, next to the school garden, framed in dancing green leaves. All I would need would be something to line the space I sat on and this would be perfect.

This Saturday was just as good. My spot awaited me, the campus was even emptier than usual, and I sat in that sweet smelling green cave and let it separate me from the work week. There truly are wild places in the heart of any city. All we have to do is notice when we’re in them.

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