The experience reminded me of being a 12-year-old at a slumber party. Back then we’d all gather around, happy to be together and excited to stay up late at night. Someone would tell a ghost story and we’d all shiver with a giddy thrill. Then someone else would tell a ghost story, and then there would be a third, and before you knew it we were all terrified, afraid of every bump in the night, and miserable over the state of anxiety we’d worked ourselves into.
But this time it began not with pizza and a movie but with a drive down our long dirt driveway at 7:30 in the morning to bring my older child to school. I spotted an animal darting across the road in front of me. It was the size of a raccoon, the shape of an otter, but with a big bushy tail like a squirrel. And it was black. I saw it again an hour later in the same spot when I was driving my younger child to school.
Does anyone know what this is? I typed into our town’s online message board, certain that the many naturalists who live in Carlisle could answer it.
Sure enough, several did. “Sounds like a fisher cat,” wrote one. “And they are vicious creatures,” wrote another. “Suggest to your neighbors that they put the chickens in their coop,” added someone else familiar with the layout of our neighborhood. “Did it look like this?” contributed another, sending along a link that showed the very same animal I’d spotted only with its teeth bared in a terrifying grimace.
“On a different note,” wrote one of my fellow townspeople. “Last week I saw a brown snake with diamonds on its back, basking in the sunshine." Could it be a rattler? some wondered. Fortunately, no; it was subsequently identified as a juvenile Black Racer.
“Speaking of the sunshine,” wrote a neighbor, “It’s warming up now, and the ticks are out in full force, so be on the lookout whenever you get back from spending time outdoors.”
And just like that, I was like a 12-year-old at a slumber party. Suddenly all of us who normally tout the wildlife inherent to our thickly wooded town as one of its most beloved features were sitting at our computers afraid to leave the house.
Every now and then, it happens. The very aspects of our lives that we like best turn on us and become a source of fear. I love the thick woods and open fields surrounding our house and extending throughout our town…except when I start thinking about fisher cats, rattlesnakes, ticks, bears, and other frightening creatures. Not only that, but my daily running streak was at 988 days as we were typing out this online conversation. Another twelve days and I’d reach the thousand-day mark. I’d already run through thunderstorms, blizzards, heat waves, ice storms, stomach viruses and migraines….but fear of wildlife now threatened to keep me from my goal.
Perhaps my first thought upon hearing there might be vicious fisher cats and sunning rattlesnakes in my yard should have been for the well-being of my family members rather than for the integrity of my running streak, but streak runners intent on completing their daily mile-or-more without ever missing a day are not known for their well-balanced perspective and reasonable judgment. Nonetheless, I knew I couldn’t really miss Run Number 989 just because of the potential – and very remote – risk of wildlife. So I headed out anyway. Though my eyes were glued to the driveway in apprehension, I cleared the section of the driveway where I’d twice seen the fisher cat with no further sightings, and then I started to notice other things about the run. It was a cool and lovely spring day. The air smelled like lilac blossoms. Bright green leaves stood out on all the trees. And by the end of the day, a new calf had been born on our farm.
It all served to remind me that there’s always something to be afraid of, but it’s more important to look at the positive. Just as back in the slumber party days it was silly to sacrifice a happy evening with friends out of fear of ghosts and supernatural events, it doesn’t make sense now to ignore the many virtues of spring just because of snakes and ticks. There will always be something to fear. And there will always be something to look on with delight. And so I completed my run that day, and reminded myself to be braver next time, and perhaps not to be quite so quick to enter into discussion on the online town message board. As it so often does, a little knowledge proved itself to be a dangerous thing. But I was safe and sound and another day into my running streak. I’ll worry about wildlife another time; today is another beautiful spring day.