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Learning from Coincidence

April 30, 2020. This morning, looking out my study window to appreciate how green the grass across the street has become and to watch the swaying of the trees that tower beyond the condos opposite ours in insistent gusts of wind, I caught a movement in front of a neighbor's garage. I noticed robins bouncing around the driveways, suspected goldfinches and purple finches and mourning doves and chickadees might be visiting our feeders, out of sight from my window, but knew at once the movement I'd seen was not a bird. I leaned closer to the window and saw a rabbit scurry past white garage doors and condo entrances and small bushes and then beyond more garages and bushes and parked cars until it disappeared into a well-manicured hedgerow at the end of the buildings. I look out at six two-story condos in a row and the rabbit scampered past them all.

 

A few minutes later the rabbit made a second run past the condos, as if it had circled others behind them to complete the circuit. This time I watched it closely, trying to see if it was nibbling anything in the flowers below the shrubs and trees, but it moved on quickly and slipped in between the bushes in front of the final condo again. Almost before I could remember what I was doing on the computer the rabbit returned to run in the opposite direction and veer off toward the back near where it had first appeared. And then it was back a fourth time, partly retracing its last run but suddenly turning onto the blacktop driveway, crossing lawn and sidewalk and curb and bouncing across the street toward our complex, only a few doors down from me. I hurried into our bedroom for a closer view but by the time I opened the blinds it had vanished. I wondered if it had run through my neighbor's flowers and herbs or past our patio and garage. For the rest of the morning I kept flicking my gaze up from my laptop screen to scan the scene before me but saw no sign of the rabbit again.

 

Ours is a pretty suburban neighborhood, our condo complex sprawling across two sides of our street, pretentiously labeling itself as Townhomes of River Place. The Fox River runs through wetlands beyond the condos behind ours and a bike path lets us walk near it and through a forest. From time to time deer emerge from the woods to venture into the neighborhood, Sandhill cranes stalk parkland close by, a blue heron wades in a pond near the bike path, and foxes have been seen near the Fox River, so the rabbit wasn't entirely a surprise visitor. But it especially activated my attention this morning because of the images my cousin had posted on Facebook that were taken from her bedroom window in Arizona.

 

She lives in a retirement community and often displays the lively activities of her friends and neighbors, though of late the need for social distancing has limited the interaction she's been reporting. This morning, however, the photos and videos she posted were all of javelinas (collared peccaries) strolling through her patio at sunrise. She counted twelve, including at least three babies, and sure enough her videos show them wandering through cacti and ferns and wicker chairs and small endtables, munching on acorns that have fallen across stones and patio flooring. In one photo a javelina close to her bedroom window looks in at her.

 

My cousin's southwestern wildlife is more exotic that my midwestern ones but the coincidence of us both noticing unfamiliar animal activity the same morning put me in mind of images I've been seeing lately on internet posts from far-flung acquaintances. All of them seem to suggest that, during these days of lockdown and human isolation, wildlife have felt freer to roam suburban and urban areas. It's not entirely unusual to hear of cougars wandering in Boulder but this year their wandering has been a little more wide-ranging—at least one image showed a cougar passing a department store. Coyotes have been more visible in San Francisco; a kangaroo was filmed hopping down an empty thoroughfare in Adelaide, Australia; herds of deer, sheep, and goats have been grazing more readily on suburban lawns in Britain, Japan, and North America. Given how empty the streets of my neighborhood have tended to be over the past several weeks, I shouldn't be surprised if local wildlife didn't range more freely around here, especially with the grass so green and lush. My wife and I have noticed birds in the street uncertain about how to behave in regard to oncoming cars.

 

But then, now that the traffic is so light, my attention has more often been drawn to the birds and the squirrels and that rabbit, delighted to see the heron, hoping the cranes will show up soon. I look at those swaying trees a few blocks east and am aware of how seldom I attend to them. On cloudless days I remember images people have posted of smogless skies above LA, clear skylines in the distance in Chicago and Detroit, free-ranging animals having Rocky Mountain National Park or Yellowstone all to themselves. All those creatures going about their lives as if they barely know we're here.

 

Or maybe it is that we barely notice they are here and have been and will be. Given our own losses and our isolation in this pandemic, our awareness of sharing something simultaneously intimate and universal, our altered sense of our existence, gives us the chance to remind ourselves that this world is not ours alone. In the weeks or months to come, the other creatures we share it with will likely keep reminding us. We ought to pay attention.

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