(There are quite a few images in this post. If you find that some seem to be missing, hit the refresh on your browser. Some have to do it a couple of times to get the images to load properly. Sorry about that!)
I have been thinking about urban nature for a number of years now, trying to understand why it so frequently surprises me. You see species where you least expect it. You see beauty where no one intended it (of course, that’s just like actual nature). Changes in the light, weather, time of year, etc. can all create a drastically different experience. But the later, like much of nature, is actually quite predictable. Nature works by a fairly clear set of principals, albeit complex ones. You can predict with some degree of success a lot of what you’ll see (except the weather of course) based on those principals. They are well understood. When nature surprises us, it is often, though not always, because we just don’t understand it. When humans surprise us on the other hand, well that’s just another day at the office. So, my wife and I are heading home from the morning walk when, in our driveway, we see this fellow.
Seriously. Are you kidding me? Check out the beautiful colors and check out the talions. Oh, and this bird, wants to come right at you.
I am, at this stage, very surprised and uncertain how to proceed as we all were. (Our neighbors actually were the first on scene.) Were we in some kind of danger? Look at those feet! I made the assumption, turns out correctly, that this bird had somehow flown the coop and is domesticated. A quick e-mail to Molly and Lou, the professional biologists in the family, and we had an ID. This is a Silver Pheasant. Was it some rare bird? A few more googles revealed, you guessed it, you can buy a pair online at Efoul.com (you can’t make this up) for the sum of $99.00. Were we in danger if the bird actually came right up to us? We were probably only in danger of being kissed. That bird had bonded with people somewhere who lost this wonderful creature, or tried to make sure the creature was lost. This was an unpleasant surprise. We were all very concerned about the bird, who unfortunately ran off not to be seen again. We didn’t know who to call. The Dog officer? In a big city, I’m guessing no. Turns out that there are people around who do know what to do, so we’re ready to swing into gear should we have another sighting. Why in the name of whoever would someone have an animal like this in the city? Pretty random as they say.
We humans inflect a level of randomness on the world, with which nature most contend. One of my favorite locations for observing human randomness and natural reality is the Blackstone Valley Trail that runs under Route 146 in Worcester, Massachusetts. There you see humanity (the underbelly of it) and nature coming face to face. The results can be startling interesting, much like our Silver Pheasant.
For those who do not know, the Blackstone River was once a major navigable connection between Worcester and Providence, Rhode Island. In fact, a Canal based on the River was built in the early 1800’s to promote commerce. The railroad, however, quickly made the Canal irrelevant. Route 146 was ultimately built between the two cities and upgraded considerably over the past decade. In the process of rehabbing the road, the Commonwealth, wisely, created a wonderful path for hiking and biking. Nature has reclaimed quite a bit of territory and the River still flows. However, it flows underneath a busy superhighway, next to a major rail line, in the middle of a big city. There is all manner of human activity around this small oasis. What we see is the interaction of all that, and while beautiful, is anything but pristine for the most part.
As anyone who follows nature knows, it’s a tough world. Animals and plants fight for their survival everyday. Of course, billions of people do as well. Perhaps we’ll never know what happened to our Pheasant friend. We’d like to think that his owner actually tracked him down and that he’s safe at home. Perhaps.