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Post details: Serendipity ZOO

Serendipity ZOO

My neighborhood is not exactly a wildlife refuge. I live in the middle of a well developed urban area whose animal personnel is permanently understaffed. If you wander onto the community playground, you won't see any ostriches sticking their heads in the sandbox, our pool isn't teeming with crayfish, there are no porcupines hiding in the sewage system and when I have to go to the leasing office, I do not have to push my way through a herd of Siberian tigers.

Whatever little exposure to the less evolved members of the zoological family I get is usually provided by a narrow strip of woods between my apartment complex and the public park where I play tennis. That strip is formed by a caravan of towering old trees glued together by an exuberant green mass that molds the whole formation into a vibrant monolithic mesa. It's almost as if its dense foliage dreamed up a wavy surface of a boisterous ocean of life pulsating high above its dappled interior shade. Whenever I walk by, I let my eyes feast on the nearly aristocratic air with which it holds together the dashing bravado of the overgrown underbrush and restless woodbine. Sometimes I spot a histrionic flourish of Mother Nature, sometimes a solidified swirl of a puffed up organic skirt. As an added bonus, the inner side of this wooded segment produces spectacular firefly shows on hot summer nights which turn its darkened leafy wall into a shimmering blanket of Christmas decorations.

To enter the public park, you have to walk a short path that squeezes through an opening in the overgrown coppice. It is one my favorite places around the 'hood. I call it the "green tunnel" because it connects two very different worlds. The gray concrete jungle of a corporate parking lot on one side, and on the other the green leisurely calm of several sport fields floating in the sea of grass. You make but a few steps and enter a completely different state of mind. One with a higher ceiling and a longer time scale. And the green tunnel is exactly where I made two close encounters with representatives of the animal kingdom recently.

First came when I was unsuspectingly jogging around the park, and nearly bumped into a squirrel that I hadn't notice. Apparently, it did not notice me either. All I remember is that suddenly a medium size furball catapulted vertically into the air, pulled a somersault, more or less successfully landed and scampered away in a strangely confused manner. Judging by the guilty gusto of its leaping effort, that little bugger must have been reading dirty magazines in there. I had no idea a squirrel could take off like a chopper.

Then a few weeks ago, I encountered another animal there - and this time it was a turtle, or a terrapin as a friend of mine told me. While I see squirrels pretty much on a daily basis I don't encounter turtles in wilderness very often. The sight of it was so unusual that at first I thought it was my turn to spring 3 feet into the air. But I stayed my legs. This shelled reptile was munching on what looked like a dried up locust omelette. The sluggishness with which it processed its late lunch betrayed expectations of a very comfortable life span. Consequently - as turtles are wont - the critter showed no inclinations to leave, much less jump up and scamper. I thought I'd take a photo of its deliberate insecticide, but the moment I reached into my pocket and started fumbling for the camera, the turtle stopped, looked at me as if reconsidering its previous strategic decisions and eventually loitered away. I guess it did not want to have its table manners plastered all over the newest issue of the Turtle Magazine.

Since that time whenever I pass through the green tunnel I wonder what other evolutionary laggards could possibly cross my path. But none crawled out yet and something is telling me that from here on none ever will. Such is life on this planet, the moment you start expecting things, the invisible spigot of serendipity shuts off.

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