the Wildlife Come to You
in with our fellow species, without breaking a sweat
was about 7 years old during my most dramatic, up-close-and-personal
encounter with wildlife. I was camping in a fairly empty
campground with my family in the White Mountains of New
Hampshire, and my mother and I had gone a little ways into
the woods around dusk to sit and see what we could see.
I remember working very hard to sit still. I remember everything
being in lots of dim shades of gray and brown. I remember
my mother very close beside me. And then I remember a towering
buck deer with a huge rack (this is my memory, I can’t judge
how much is embellishment), mere feet from we sat. He towered
over me. I could hear him breathe. And then a doe behind
him. It was no longer hard to sit still.
Then the wind changed and they took off. It’s not like it
was the best view of a deer I’ve ever gotten. Full daylight
and binoculars prove much better for that. But for a few
minutes I wasn’t watching so much as inhabiting the same
space as those deer. I was part of their world, albeit a
sort of transient part who was trying not to be discovered
in my trespass. It was awesome.
Summer is supposed to be the season for being outside, connecting
with the natural world. Of course many people seem to take
this on in ways that involve an awful lot of exertion for
a season that also features dehydration, sunburn, and heat
exhaustion: jogging, boating, getting up at dawn and hiking
a long way to see birds.
While I have engaged willingly in many of those activities
(except the jogging), I find the unmoving dusk sit more
appealing to my heat-sensitive nature. There’s a reason
more animals are out and about at this time of day: They
have more sense than we do. Taking the time to be still
also entails a bit more of the “connecting” part of connecting
If you want to commune with the animals, the first step
is to pick your spot. You don’t have to be in the White
Mountains, or even the Helderbergs, unless you’re on the
trail of mountain lions. (Let us know if you succeed in
that, by the way. And bring a camera.) There’s quite a bit
of wildlife on the peripheries, and even inside, our cities
and towns. The Pine Bush Preserve, Albany’s Normanskill
Farm, Schenectady’s Woodlawn Preserve or the waterfalls
on the Poestenkill in Troy could all be wonderful places
to settle in one evening and see what you will see.
Within your chosen locale, choose the exact spot you want
to settle with a few things in mind. First, the best spots
are generally on the edge of two kinds of habitat—especially
any waterfront, or the line between meadows and woods. Edges
tend to be more biologically diverse, and water is often
a first stop for nocturnal folks just dragging themselves
to consciousness. Of course you’ll have to weigh the water
thing against the bugs thing.
Pick somewhere comfortable, with an eye to having something
supporting your back and underbrush that isn’t going to
make a huge amount of noise every time you twitch. If you
can tell, and have a choice, place yourself downwind from
the spot you think you’re most likely to see creatures—it’s
dusk, and you’re dealing with folks who are not relying
primarily on sight to warn them of danger.
Come prepared for bugs in whatever manner you prefer, remembering
that loud slapping and cursing will detract from the experience.
Keep in mind that it will cool off (hopefully) as the sun
goes away, and that you may want a flashlight for getting
Leave the guidebooks at home. It’s nice to read through
them ahead of time to get a sense of what you might see,
but this is an exercise in observation and communion, not
keeping score. And you won’t be able to see the book very
On that note, try to keep your expectations vague. I remember
one other camping trip in Maine where we were dead set on
seeing moose, and spent several increasingly disappointed
sessions staking out common moose stomping grounds to no
avail. To this day, my two moose sightings have been completely
Around the Capital Region you might well see a fisher or
a muskrat, a coyote or a fox. But a chance to quietly observe
a more common possum, raccoon, or deer up close—or a group
of wild turkey, a sky full of bats, a luna moth—can be just
as magical. Or you might end up mostly listening—to owls,
coyotes or mysterious, tantalizing rustles.
I won’t promise you’ll encounter anything at all. But even
if you don’t, you will have gotten to sit still among trees,
enjoy some quiet, and breathe some non-air-conditioned air.
These days, that by itself can count as getting in touch
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