Pest or mythical being?
One person's squirrel is another person's monkey
There is nothing like flora and fauna to give you a sense of place. I grew up in a tropical region where the animals that surrounded me regularly were lizards, macaws, monkeys, snakes, in addition to your domestic cats, dogs, chickens. That meant that North American critters were exotic to me and experienced through cartoons. If it were available, I would have paid an admission fee to see squirrels, racoons, skunks, and possums-a thought that would be ludicrous to your average American gardener and/or hater of pests. Today I pay hundreds of dollars to have racoons, skunks and possums removed from my backyard.
I was around ten years old when I first encountered a squirrel in real life. I was appreciating the flora and fauna of Queens, New York. There was the dandelion you made wishes on in Japanese cartoons and ivy I had seen only in movies of haunted houses; apparently, these were weeds and my aunt would ask me to pull them out if I ever saw them growing in her yard. I was heartbroken, “why would you pull out dandelions? How would you make wishes?!” my inner cartoon and horror movie watchers were outraged. I was still in a state of wonderment when I saw the squirrel. I was both excited and confused. I was seeing a creature I had only experienced through cartoons; its eyes were not as large as they were in cartoon drawings and its fur was more of a grey than a reddish brown, but its silhouette was clearly that of a squirrel. I ran to ask my cousin to come out and confirm that I was seeing a squirrel and she was amused at how happy I was. She could not believe I had never seen a squirrel in real life before and confirmed I was indeed seeing a live squirrel. She gave me the courtesy of a few days of enjoying them and chasing after them, but then had to tell me the truth when I offered to feed them: NO! Why couldn’t I feed them? They were pests and they can dig up the seeds in your garden, eat the fruits and vegetables off plants and might even eat through electrical wires and roofs. Squirrels were not exotic furry creatures, but destructive pests, and the sooner I realized that the safer I would be.
Over the years I would come to realize that what were pests to some were admission-fee-worthy animals to others; the groundhog to the southerner, the Black bear to the continental American, the racoon to the South American, the list goes on. These creatures can be pests to the wrong mind and spark the imagination of the right one. One year, I went on a safari in Kenya eager to see lions and hippopotamus and hyenas; the tour guide suddenly stopped the bus and ran out excitedly to see a rare creature-the turtle. We all laughed at him for finding such a pedestrian creature exciting, but to him this was an admission-fee-worthy animal. He would go on to talk about the lions with the same excitement I now talk about squirrels, racoons, skunks, and possums, “yep, there is a-n-o-t-h-e-r lion”.
So when I went back home after almost a decade, I initially approached the fauna with my old mindset. I distinctly remember going on a walk being annoyed by the monkeys who were making a mess of the garbage and stealing people’s snacks. These monkeys were my squirrels and I watched them the way I now watch squirrels. To my American friend though, these monkeys were exciting and exotic, eyes were not as large as they are in cartoons and their fur was more of a grey than a reddish brown, but their silhouette was clearly that of a monkey. He turned to me to confirm that he was in fact seeing monkeys and was confused by my disposition towards them. I could not believe he had never seen a monkey in real life and I began to explain how they were misbehaving. I stopped halfway through my lecture about how destructive they were when I could see them the way he was seeing them, which was the same way I saw a squirrel for the first time.
These creatures were not pests nor mythical creatures. They are beings we share space with and build home. I cannot imagine my childhood home without lizards, macaws, monkeys or snakes; I can’t imagine my adult home without squirrels, racoons, skunks, and possums. They are an integral part of my life-adventures and they are all admission-fee-worthy.