I grew up somewhere between a small city and a farm—migrating between realities. From theatre reheasals to shoveling out stables to disappearing into the bush to have time to myself, I was not truly a part of urban life or the countryside, but found a home in both.
Growing up I wasn’t surprised to find a bear in a blueberry patch, a porcupine in the garage or deer darting across a clearing. I still maintain I once saw the tracks of a lynx near where my father was making maple syrup. One year a heron found a home in the creek outback.
Since moving a long time ago to Toronto my experience of animals has been most often limited to dogs, cats, squirrels and pigeons. But as the years passed, it seems like more animals have crept into my awareness.
Sometimes this is dramatic. Shortly after I started working at 43rd Housing Co-op I watched an eagle swoop down on a pigeon at the Long Branch Go Station, then dismember it on a light stanchion. More recently I saw a falcon swoop down on a pigeon, which managed to eventually escape.
It does seem that a major place to see animal life in the city is my front porch. On a sunny day four or five neighbourhood cats can be found stretched out, enjoying heat and a quiet space and the potential for our company. Or they come because we put food outside for our cat and they feel they can come by for a nibble.
If night comes and we’ve left food outside the porch attracts different animals. Raccoons of course—this is Toronto after all. Hengist and Horsa, were a stable pair of visitors for a couple of years—they would avoid our garbage if we put food out. Otherwise they would pillage. More recently two racoons found a way into our home. Eventually their access point was found and blocked up—-but until then finding them eating out of our cat food dish was quite distressing for ourfelines. One of the racoons seemed to have had a lot of experience with humans—it kept wanting to rub its head against my leg like a cat. Avoiding it was hard, but it would like me lead it outside (the other had to be led out with food.
Skunks have been a common sensory experience (something outside our bedroom seems to frighten them). But on a couple of occasions I’ve seem them on our front porch—once two of them and two of our cats shared the front porch. There seemed to be an effort to accept this invasion of their space with wounded dignity on the part of our cats. The skunks were a bit tense, but calmed down upon finding a food dish.
What has surprised me in the last year was the appearance of opossums. I was sure I was hearing them in the backyard, but this wasn’t easily accepted by others. Strange animal sounds aren’t unknown. Late one night scrabbling on the porch brought me to the door. It was an opossum, finding sustenance in the cat food dish by the door.