I have come to California, leaving behind the town of Keene in the great Adirondack Park, with its boreal owl that may or may not still be dive bombing rodents on the Lacy Road before heading farther north to breed, as well as the black bears that may or may not be emerging from hibernation.
I think of the North Country as a special place where humans and animals live together in harmony, sharing the forests, the rushing snow-melt-fed brooks and the garbage dumpsters. Who would ever imagine that here in the suburbs of Los Angeles there is so much wildlife?
And who would have thought that California would be so green? In recent years, drought conditions baked the hillsides brown, and the lawns looked like adobe. This time, flying in to LAX, I was surprised to see the mountains all velvety green. Usually, when people say a thing is like velvet they don't really mean it; it's more an adjective that you would encounter in advertisements than in plain and simple description. It is literally true, though. It looked as if a velvet shawl had been tossed over the slopes, its folds and wrinkles luxuriously rich and verdant.
Along the roadsides, wildflowers are blooming, more than I have ever seen before. Some look familiar, others exotic, but they all look healthy and thriving, not like the flowers we have to coax along up North.
Not many bugs, though, to my way of thinking.
You don't see a lot of insects here in Ventura County where my daughter Molly lives. She says that there isn't enough rainfall to foster a really big mosquito population.
I wonder if the pesticides used in agriculture here have something to do with the paucity of the insect population. There is a lot of agriculture. I have heard, for example, that most of the strawberries sold in grocery stores around the United states are grown in Driscoll, California.
It is a mystery to me how the food chain here is supported with so few bugs at its base. This is good for people who enjoy sitting around outside, but what about bats? What about the spiders? Spiders abound. What do they eat?
Maybe they eat other spiders, says Fran, Molly's mother-in-law. Molly finds brown widow and black widow spiders under the lawn chairs but so far they don't seem to bite anybody.
Brown widows are more recent migrants to the Western states than black widows, and are actually displacing black widows in California. People have to check under their lawn furniture and children's toys for the raggedy, messy webs. While brown widows are not as venomous as black widows, they are still considered poisonous.
Molly, her husband, Jim, and their two children, Emma, 4, and Jack, 3, live in Ventura with their cat, Ritz, a curmudgeonly fellow who doesn't actually hunt, although he does go outside. The other night, Jim opened the back door to let Ritz in and saw an opossum leap up onto the big avocado tree and disappear over the wall. All the houses around here have walled back yards. Jim said that Ritz seemed to be communing with the possoms. There is a whole family of possums who like to gnaw on the avocados that fall off the tree. The fruit that hasn't been gnawed by possums is very good.
Molly tells me that right up the hill there are birds, including owls, skunks, bobcats, bears, mountain lions, raccoons, coyotes, feral pigs, bats and rattlesnakes. Some places have scorpions. That's not even counting the crabs and seagulls on the beach, a whole separate ecosystem.
"I don't know why you would think there aren't any animals around here," Molly says. "Why are you so surprised? It's not exactly a feral-free zone." She says some people call it Ventucky.
I guess I just thought we were the only ones overrun with wildlife. Wrong again.
Have a good week.