Illustration by Jon ReinfurtIn the cool of the evenings, when the sun has faded to a dull shade of orange and the gentle scent of newly mowed grass mixes with the fragrance of crape myrtle and lantana, I walk a familiar route through my neighborhood. A long-standing routine, its purpose is more to clear the mind from the workday and breathe the fresh air than any prescription for good health. I’m not training for anything.
People with dogs on leashes stop to say hello. Familiar barking voices call out from windows and backyards as I pass, as if to warn that I’m invading their territory and all trespassers would be wise to keep moving. They halfheartedly bark the same warning day after day, month after month. It’s their job.
It is the animal sights and sounds I most look forward to on my daily trek. My wife chides me about being on a first-name basis with more dogs than neighbors. There’s Rusty and Cherokee, Peanut and Rainey, Oreo, Jazzie, Brownie and Shadow — to name a few. They come in a variety of breeds, sizes and ages and are always tail-waggingly happy to meet a fellow traveler. We’re pals.
Then, as I venture beyond the sidewalks and paved streets into the nearby cedar woods, the faces and sounds change. It becomes a musical nature walk, with the occasional evening hoot of an owl, the summoning coo of a dove to its mate, the rat-tat-tat of a woodpecker still hard at work or the caws of gathering crows arguing over something. Occasionally, a lonesome coyote, emerging from a creek bed to begin his evening forage, will stop to stare from a careful distance. High above, a pair of red-tailed hawks, wings spread majestically, will glide through the last flickerings of daylight. And frisky squirrels play a final game of chase along the limb of a favored pecan tree before calling it a day.
And for some reason, viewing this offers reassurance that, regardless of the day’s misadventures and doom-saying headlines, my small part of the world somehow remains in balance.
I am comforted by these creatures, both tame and wild, pleased to coexist with them. Even the decision by a family of raccoons to temporarily take up lodging in the attic last summer was but a mild irritant. Sitting nightly to watch as the mother and her young peeked from their hiding place and then paraded in lockstep across the rooftop to roam the neighborhood became an anticipated fascination. In time, however, their rustling sounds made sleep impossible and, feeling no small amount of guilt, I lured them into a cage and drove them to a nearby lakeside park, hopeful the new location would be more welcoming. In short order, I turned my attention to an opossum who, daily, performed his balancing act along the backyard fence. And when a night-creeping armadillo visited and decided to burrow a new home beneath the front porch, it was as much amusing as it was a concern. I finally named him Alfred and decided we could get along.
There is beauty in these animals’ simple routines and needs and grace in their ability to adapt to the fact that so much of their habitat has been cut down, graded over and built up. I’m fully aware that mankind has invaded their turf with endless housing developments, shopping centers, soccer fields and parking lots, but I’m no spitting-angry environmentalist. I’ve never hugged a tree, and you’ll not find a “Save the Earth” bumper sticker on my automobile. I have no agenda; just a genuine appreciation for the quiet pleasures I daily encounter along my way. Truth is, I’m pretty comfortable with the way things are.
I will continue to dutifully fill the squirrel and bird feeders located at strategic spots in the yard and put out food and water for a couple of neighborhood cats who visit but show no interest in becoming friends. I like them much better than they seem to like me.
That’s fine too.
And so, as long as now-aging legs are willing, I shall continue my evening journey, along the same familiar and welcoming path where friends, old and new, await. In doing so, I find great peace.