Visit the Audubon, a sanctuary for all

I am the raccoon, hungry after sleeping as long as I could, searching frantically for protein to restore my starving body. I am young, probably born last summer, and a little unsure as to what to do now. It is always a gamble going dormant. Instinctively I know I have to eat enough to insulate and feed me while I doze, but I can’t store enough to get me through the whole winter. If I was a worrier I might think “What if I wake up and it is -14 degrees? I will be challenged to stay warm and find water much less restore the energy I’ve lost. I could die!” But I am not a worrier. If I could speak to humans I might say this though: “I am not sick. I am not rabid. I am not dangerous. I am just a young raccoon. I am really, really, hungry. Thank you to folks at Audubon who saw me, felt compassion, and gave me sunflower seeds and apples.”

I am the Snowy Owl, a famed guest in this area, perched on a fencepost in a field. I am a young bird, and to be honest, I’m not really sure how I ended up here. But this particular field looks a bit like home. There are strange two-legged animals that stop and watch me, and get into large, dark boxes that move quickly. I don’t think they mean to harm me, but they make me a bit nervous. Polar bears? I know what those are. These people things? I’m not so sure about them. All I want to do is find food. I need to eat often, especially as it has been so cold. If I could speak to humans I might say this: “I am a long way from home. I don’t know if I’m ever going to make it back there. Winter is a hard time for all creatures, much less one as lost as I. When you get too close to me I get nervous and look at you instead of for food. Please give me enough space and opportunity to hunt and survive.”

I am the mink, creeping about stealthily looking for animal prey. I usually stick close to the water, but the cold has frozen over the creek and now I must go elsewhere. I don’t always find food so when I do, I take it all. I know a lot of people think this is mean, because I cannot always eat all of what I kill. But I’ve heard that people store food as well they have freezers full of their own dead animals, boxes filled with other food. Why don’t they understand? I took a chicken this year, I was so hungry. It was pretty and white and such a lot of food. If I could speak, I would tell the chicken’s owner this: “Thank you for a meal of rats and mice and a shelter from the snowy weather. Thank you for understanding my nature and that I took your pet chicken because it is how I live. Please let others know that I hunt to fill my pantry, not because I am mean or cruel.

I am the human, who cuts down the trees to keep myself warm. I live in a house that claimed the homes of many creatures when it was built. I use resources that displace many other creatures as it is mined, drilled for, dammed, or transported. As I watch the hungry birds flock to my feeder, which I willingly and lovingly fill with seed, I think that I want to be a part of this wild family, not separate from it. I have befriended the rabbit who comes down off the hill every morning, who waits under the junipers until I spread a small pile of birdseed on the ground for it. “Come and eat rabbit,” I say as I walk away. He is out and eating before I’ve rounded the corner. A truce has been called for the winter we are friends.

I am the human who cursed the mink, set traps, and then took the traps away. I understand, though don’t particularly like it. My first instinct was protection for the rest of the flock. My second was empathy for a small animal in a cold winter. I am the human that puts out yummy compost and eggs for the opossum, who is a young one by the size of its tracks. It must eat too.

This world is better for healthy relationships and empathy. My world is better for the squirrels, rabbits, mice, voles, and opossums that share with the birds in the daily feast I provide. My world is better knowing that these animals find sanctuary at my home. And if I could speak to them I would say, “I mean you no harm, you were here first. I have so much to learn from you. We all have a role, and we all have tough times, and we all have the will to survive. Thank you, for all you give me, every day.”

Note to readers: I know that I anthropomorphized wild animals in this story, that was the point. They do not necessarily share our thoughts. But we would do better to, at times, remember that and perhaps share theirs.

Audubon is a sanctuary, for all. Come and see who is visiting this late winter, take a walk, and see what you can learn. The trails are open daily from dawn to dusk, the Center is open Saturdays and Mondays from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 4:30 p.m. We resume regular hours March 1. We are located at 1600 Riverside Road, just off Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. Visit us, our website, or call (716) 569-2345 for more information.

Sarah Hatfield is a senior naturalist at Audubon.