I currently live on an island of wilderness in an urban sea. It hugs against a mountainous park. In fact, the backyard and hillside here directly accesses the park by a couple of hundred yards. Houses are only on one side of the streets here, lots of trees and hillsides, not much traffic, and it's quiet. So, not surprisingly, there is a lot of interaction with wildlife without even going into the park. During the day, people invade the park where the animals live; and during the night, animals invade the neighborhood where the people live (racoons, skunks, possums). The border between the park and the neighborhoods surrounding it form something of an illusion of separation. It's not quite the same dynamic that one would expect to see in "the country," where small towns are dwarfed by the "countryside." Here, the urban landscape dwarfs any wild areas.
Wildlife in the park includes coyotes, foxes, racoons, wildcats (wild "house cats"), ravens, falcons, hawks, vultures, seagulls, bats, short-eared brush rabbits, possums, jackrabbits, squirrels, skunks, garter snakes, rattlesnakes, black snakes with thin red strips down it's back, and one times many years ago I saw a dead wild pig. There apparently was a mountain lion sighting a few years ago, but there are no deer. Just last Sunday, I saw two coyotes about twenty yards from me. I thought I had seen some before, but I wasn't sure. It was an amazing thing to see as they looked more like wolves than coyotes. In fact, they could have possibly been wolves; but more-than-likely they were coyotes... with perhaps some remote wolf-genes. As I looked at them, one quickly looked at me with it's wild eyes. Mostly likely, they were hunting the small brush rabbits along those foothills.
We can look at photographs or watch videos online, but there's no substitute for actually seeing, hearing, and experiencing something like this first hand. I remember last year seeing some bats flying around while it was actually still pretty light outside, and no video or television can recreate that sight... of actually seeing them flying, and literally being able to see their fury faces firsthand! For whatever reason, on that particular early evening, they came out while it was still rather light out. I was just in the right place, at the right time; which is how these experiences with wildlife often are.
The raven neighborhood
There are lots of trees here, and for whatever reason starting after the year 2000, ravens started settling here in large numbers. They drove other birds away. Just three days ago, I saw a raven trying to drive away a hawk. The hawk didn't appear very frightened, but it showed me how fiercely territorial that ravens are. Years ago I saw white feathers all about out the window, and when I looked out, two ravens were killing a sea gull. When I saw a falcon land on a chimney some weeks ago, a raven landed there too and stared at it, then another one landed, and they drove it off. I have never witnessed any aggression by them towards people. I guess they figure they're in charge of the skies here.
A rare embrace
Last summer while hiking in the park, I reached a spot where the trail travels along over a steep mountainside. There's somewhat of a feeling of being in the sky there. You are in the sky in a sense, or in relation to everything in view below. It's windy there in the late afternoons during the summer, and I saw ravens there as I approached. I thought that it was somewhat of a strange location for them to be, since it was windy and it was far from where they usually live and hunt back in the more wooded areas. Then suddenly they started flying in a circle around me... about seven or eight of them. Now this is a particular spot on the trail where you are are sort've surrounded by sky, as it on a bend or corner of this mountain which was about eight hundred feet that this spot.
They flew in a circle around me, about twelve feel from me, and for about forty-five seconds. Perhaps they recognized me from many hikes before, and being highly intelligent as they are, embraced me for this small window of time. They're not very personal in how they interact with people, and somehow I felt strangely "honored" to have been chosen by them to interact with in this dramatic way; and especially since the raven is such a large part of folklore and mythology.
A forgotten act of heroism
As stated before, so much of seeing or interacting with wildlife is timing. In 2005 while hiking, I can upon a grassy picnic area and saw fox stalking a cat. It was an orange cat which lived in the park, and whom I could tell was once a domestic cat by it's docile nature. The cat's paws were extended out along the ground, and it's head low facing the approaching fox. I had seen dead cats along the trails prior to that, and a ranger told me that the foxes were killing the cats without eating them. I decided to intervene, although you rarely--if ever--should interfere. My quickly conceived plan was to walk towards the cat and grab him by the scruff of the neck--which disables them--and carry it off the field. If this was a true wild-cat, then I would not have intervened. This cat looked somewhat docile, and I was sure that it was someone's pet at some point; and was the victim of some odd situation like "some guy dropping off his girlfriend's cat off there because she dumped him for another guy." Anyway, I just figured that he or she could used a break.
As I approached the cat, it took off running, and the fox ran after it too, and I started running and trying to stay between them hoping that the fox would quit. Luckily, the cat found a tree-like shrub to jump up into and the fox stopped close-by. I looked at the fox and we made eye-contact. His eyes were very wild, and I couldn't determine if he was angry or not. He was only about seven feet from me. He looked at the cat in the tree-shrub, then he looked at me, and after a minute he started to leave. I felt a number of varied thoughts about what I had done.. including thoughts of a symbolic or spiritual meaning to it. Had it been a person, I wouldn't have had those feelings, and it just would have felt like what it was. It's like one of those things that nobody will ever know... but you know it.
After walking the same trails a lot, and only after a long time, wildcats--who like to hang out along the open trails--start to trust me just a little bit. They stop running away. I move over to the opposite side of the trail from them, and they watch me with their wild eyes. One one occasion years ago, a mother watched me as I walked by her kittens. As I glanced at her, she looked at me with particularly wild eyes... while was partly due to her concern. In that particular instance, it wasn't "trust," but I'm still glad she didn't necessarily see me as a threat to them. I still remember how she looked as we made eye contact. She was beautiful sitting along a thick piece of sideways-angled heavy brush stem. Her short thick tabby fur and luminous wild greenish eyes looking at me.
This park has a few of what I would call mini-forests. Somehow a forest, even a mini-forest, seems incomplete without bears. To me, racoons are like little bears. They way they move, how they stand on two feet, their hand-like claws. They range from somewhat scrawny to surprisingly large. I have seen some who look about forty pounds. The larger ones strike me as more bear-like with their big heads and thick round ears, and big teeth. I also like that they're not a threat to someone unless a person presents themselves as a threat to them... so they can be viewed at close range. In addition, they're generally not a big threat to pets.
The meeting of the minds
In one particular stretch the trail is paved, which is a leftover from when there were some roads and homes in the area. The old foundations have been torn out, but there are still a couple of wells and artificial-looking spots. In one particular stretch of old paved road, in the early evenings, wildcats, skunks, and racoons come onto the road together. They seem to be amused by each others presence. Animals have some very keen senses, and they must notice a lot of differences beyond mere looks. For example, the smell of other animals. Dogs and cats have such a good sense of smell that they can tell people apart by the individual scent of those people. Anyway, the just sort've look at each other, and spend some time there before they get onto the business of nocturnal hunting. I think cats are only partly nocturnal though.
Bears and mountain lions
I think most people have had the experience of camping and having bears come around. I sill find it a curious concept that theoretically, bears could attack someones campsite of they wanted to. They just don't. They only come around for food, which they can smell from great distances. It just interesting that they generally don't present a really big threat to people in the woods. When they invade the campsite looking for food, they almost appear as big, clumsy, benevolent creatures... and not 300+ pound beasts, which they really are.
Here along the Santa Cruz Mountain Range, it's common to hear about mountain lion sightings. There was one experience that I thought was interesting. A woman was hiking in a remote area, and she saw mountain lion kittens. Soon, not surprisingly, the mother came running after her. However, she only chased her a short distance. That really reflected the nature of the mountain lion. Mountain lions are not much of a threat to people, with perhaps only a dozen killings of humans in California in the past century. You would be much safer walking a trail ten feet from a hidden mountain lion than you would be walking down the streets in some urban districts. 999 times out've 1,000 they would ignore you.
Mother bears are very different. They go berserk when anyone is around their cubs. They present likely the greatest threat in the northern wilds to the average person. Coyotes are also a big danger to young children. It's interesting that wolves have been forcefully driven out've North America, while coyotes thrive in even urban areas. In any case, always keeping a healthy respect for wildlife is a good rule of thumb. A racoon, for example, can do tremendous damage to a person if they feel threatened.
1-29-13 ADDITION: I just wanted to add here one small item. Awhile back, I dropped a large piece of cooked meat on the floor. It was close to the size of a golf ball. Instead of throwing it away, I placed it out along the hillside near an established "animal path." The next morning it was gone. It was like a little mystery, and a fun interaction.
That animal path was another item worth noting. These paths are often in places where a wilderness meets a neighborhood. One such path exists just right along where I sit in a chair along the back hillside of where I live. Late Spring last year while sitting there on a warm evening, a raccoon came upon me. It looked at me, then after a few seconds let out a low growl/snarl to show it's disapproval of me blocking the trail. I found it amusing, but he/she was right. I was blocking the road. A raccoon has to make an honest living too.