Last Friday, three of us were watching “Where the Wild Things Are”: J, myself, and the little one. About halfway through, the little one wondered if we were going to turn it off soon. When I asked why, he answered that it was scaring him. He couldn’t handle the wild rumpus. He asked me if those things were real, and I explained to him that it was just a story that someone invented to help children deal with their fears. “But what if they ARE real, Mom?” he asked me, very concerned.
There’s nothing to be scared of, child. The wild things aren’t real.
Except that they are, sometimes. Just not in the way he thinks.
A few days later, I was walking my dogs out along a nearby bayou. We were walking along the footpath, and I was scouting for birds. Peeps and chips indicated the birds were all around me, but the sun was going down, and I was having a hard time spotting them in the little field binocs I had. The dogs were all excited because they had been flushing small game out of the brush along the way. When I heard the fluttering of brush to my right, at first I thought it was just another rabbit, but then I realized that it was something much larger. Then I heard this peculiar sound, a wuf-wuf, the snuffling of an animal trying to fix a smell in his nostrils to make an identification. Trepidation filled me, and despite my very strong inclination to continue down the trail, I realized that would be a bad idea. It was a wild thing party, and I had brought the predators. I am not sure if the dogs on the other end of my leash were akin to bringing a gun to a knife fight or the other way around, but I didn’t want to find out.
Except that I was on the verge of getting some bird sightings in for the day, and I really wanted to get back on the trail. After walking in the dirt next to the bayou for a while, I noticed some walkers going down the same path, but from the other direction. I was hoping that whatever it was would be scared off by them, or would have moved on by now. I followed them back in, thinking if nothing else, I could judge by their reactions if there was anything to be concerned about. They didn’t react to anything, so I kept going, but when I got to that same spot, there it was again, the snuffling sound. I booked it out of there, with the feeling that a feral hog or coyote was going to come charging out of the woods towards the dogs any minute. Or, just perhaps, one of the Wild Things…
A couple of months ago, the kids and I were driving to a football game, and we spotted the incongruous sight of a coyote booking it across busy 99. A few days after, I saw a dead coyote near the same spot. On the same road but much further south, on my daily commute down past the farms and the prison on the way towards Stafford, dead coyotes leer up at me from the side of the road, frozen in the grim smile of death. I feel for the coyote, whose home range we have slowly been destroying in order to feed the need of expansion.
In Bellaire, the only good coyote is a dead coyote, or at least a relocated one. Residents have been complaining about a pack of them that are living in what little is left of their world – a small tract of land between power lines. Coyotes have to adapt to the urban environment, or die off. Nobody wants a wild thing eating their house cats and small fluffy dogs.
In the darkness of a suburban night, the little one and I are out at a school track doing some exercise when a large bird begins a slow descent above us. We could almost feel the wind from his wings. I got excited for a second, thinking I was witnessing a rare predator bird, but then I realized from the light blue under wings and the way he glided into the creek nearby that it was just the Great Blue Heron that lives over there. “Was that a monster, mommy?” “No, my son, it was just a bird.” “But what if it was a bird who was really a monster? Is there such a thing?” No. “But what if there was?”
It’s nothing to be scared of, my child. Monsters aren’t real.
But big birds are. Last night, when the husband came home, he was preoccupied. He was looking for his binoculars, and for the super flashlight. There was an owl outside, and he wanted to get a look. We were all ready to celebrate his birthday, but instead he said, come look. I peeked through the scope to see a large dark body on the power line, eyes glowing in the night. Then he cast the light of 250 lumens on it, and it lit up like broad daylight – and I was looking at the dark brown and golden feathers of the Great Horned Owl, who turned to look at us but didn’t fly away. I asked J how he knew he was there, and he said he heard him. This morning, as I got in my car, I heard him again, and it made me smile, and it made me think about that movie again, that movie in which monsters are teaching a kid about what it means to be a human, and he teaches them about what it means to be a wild thing, and I thought about my little son.
Yes, my child, the wild things are real. They are all around us, and all you have to do is look, and listen, but don’t be scared. This world, after all, belongs to them.