It’s not unfair to say that as a kid who was brought up in a little town in North Wales, my early experience of wildlife was relatively limited. There was a vague suggestion that there were adders somewhere not that far from us, although the teachers who took us on school trips never seemed to bring along a bottle of antidote or a patented adder catching device thingy. There were those microscopic red spiders that we used to encourage onto our hands and then quickly squish in order to create a tiny red blotch on our skin. And there were a few dogs whose sole use seemed to be to make sure that you were terrified to jump any wall in an attempt to get your football back, for fear that you might lose a leg, an arm, or the ability to father children in the future.
Put simply, the bit of North Wales that I had the right to call home wasn’t a hotbed of activity for the natural kingdom. Although to be fair, the noise from next door’s budgies would have put off any self-respecting meerkat or jaguar from setting up home in our back garden.
The one thing we did have though was a hedgehog. As prickly as The Special One after one glass of pinot grigio too many, our hedgehog lived in the compost heap, and only wandered his way down to the back door when he was convinced that the pubs were closed and everybody was settling down for the night. Then he’d casually saunter down, and climb into any
bintrash bags he could get hold of, in order to get some much needed food.
The problem was that the hedgehog was clearly blind, and when coupled with the three hundred or so sharp spikes on his back, his handicap didn’t exactly make him an Olympic-standard scavenger. Getting into the bags was a bit of a doddle – getting out never proved quite so easy…
Since moving to the States, I’m having to get used to a whole different range of animals. Not so much in Brooklyn, although some of the characters who hang around outside local bars smoking heavily look like they’d not be out of place in a local zoo (preferably not the petting section though, if you don’t mind?). But either a couple of hundred miles upstate, or out in Tennessee, there’s a whole new set of animals to witness for the first time.
There’s plenty of strange looking creepy-crawlies for a start, the likes of which have not been seen outside secretive genetic mutation labs in the UK. And then there’s the wild versions of many standard animals – particularly turkeys, who seem to be revelling in the post-Thanksgiving period by going out partying without their parents (and almost certainly engaging in a little too much procreative birdy business).
To be honest though, most of this strange breed of weird looking animals appear essentially to be giant hairy gerbils. There’s the slightly weedy gerbil (the gopher), the smelly gerbil crossed with a black and white squirrel (the skunk), and (as spotted this weekend in The Inlaws’ garden) the big fat gerbil who looks like he’s been on the meat and potato pies for at least three years, the groundhog.
The problem is, I can’t identify a single one of these sodding animals when they pop up in a garden. I’ve finally come to the conclusion that the problem is that they’re alive. After all, the US is the roadkill capital of the world, and you can’t drive more than 100 yards on an interstate without somebody shouting “Look, a dead raccoon!” or “ewwww, did you see that possum?”. Show me a living breathing version and I haven’t got a hope in hell of picking a vole out of an identity parade. Spread its guts over a ten yard piece of road, and I could probably identify the animal, the name of its mother, and its favo
urite colo ur.
Next time there’s an animal in The Inlaws’ garden, I’m getting on their four wheel lawnmower and heading straight for it. I’ll be like a slightly gorier version of David Attenborough before you know it, mark my words.