This winter, I’ve been quietly under the spell of “Settled in the Wild,” Susan Hand Shetterly’s beautiful book about living in coastal Maine. The subtitle of Shetterly’s book is “Notes from the Edge of Town,” which describes the in-between place she calls home. It’s not wilderness, yet not quite domesticated enough to be free of wild things — birds and squirrels and fish, along with the occasional mysterious bump in the night. Her book reminds me that much of Louisiana is such an in-between place, too. Even in city areas, like the one where I live, the landscape crawls with critters large and small.
At one point in “Settled in the Wild,” Shetterly does a sort of armchair census of the life around her, including the insects. She decides there are really too many to fathom. “This is my neighborhood of millions of lives, depending on how and whom you count,” she tells readers. “From springtails to moose, from June bugs to people, from boreal shrimp to harbor porpoises, it is a small, green place by water. It is a tiny irreplaceable place where we go about the everyday magic of our lives.”
That’s a lovely sentiment, maybe something you’d expect from an enthusiastic observer of the outdoors. But Shetterly can be a realist, as well as a romantic, when she gazes out the window.
She has a good laugh at the expense of the innocent naturalist she used to be when she recalls how, in her younger days, she decided to brighten a pond near her house by stocking it with 30 cheap goldfish. “I couldn’t get over how beautiful they were,” she recalls. But eventually, a kingfisher arrived for dinner — several dinners, actually. “When I heard her rattling call,” Shetterly writes, “I dropped what I was doing and sprinted to save my fish, shouting to scare the bird off.” The bird, though, had more time on its hands to get what it wanted. “One by one,” says Shetterly, “she swallowed all my fish.”
I’ve kept this sobering tale close to heart these past few weeks as I fight a similar battle. We had four goldfish in a patio sugar kettle with a circulating pump. On several mornings, I’ve awakened to find the pump and fountain head tipped on its side, something that couldn’t happen by itself. Two of the fish have gone missing.
At the top of my suspect list is the enormously fat raccoon our teenage son spotted in the backyard one recent night. As they locked eyes, the raccoon, in typical fashion, adopted a gaze that suggested our son was the real intruder. Maybe the coon has a point, since his kind roamed our subdivision long before people came and built houses there.
I could do all sorts of things to keep the coon away, but life has assigned me other priorities. Soon, I suspect, we’ll be buying more goldfish.