Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Wick Fisher
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

Enjoying wildlife in the city

Wick's World


My wife and I were capping off a pleasurable weekend of working in our large perennial garden, each with our favorite beverage in hand. We were sitting on the deck overlooking the small lake that serves as the garden’s background when our son called. In the middle of a short conversation about the new house he and his wife had purchased in Phoenix, Arizona, my wife yelled, “Wick! Look, a deer!”

While living in Minnesota, that’s really not cause for excitement. Living at the end of a suburban cul-de-sac changes the dynamics. Wandering through our back yard was the prettiest mature buck that I think I have ever seen. The sun was just lowering beneath the horizon when the orange-tinged animal turned its head and stared us in the eyes.

Our two foo-foos, Mae and Sweet Pea, remained on our laps, transfixed on this strange monster that came out of nowhere. Not a bark or even a whimper came from either one. It appeared as though the animal’s rack stood two feet above its pointy ears. I later reflected on the fact that surprises like this seem to grow in proportion to the number of times the story is told. That’s why there are only two types of bear in Minnesota; big and bigger. Substitute the word buck, walleye, snake, or Bigfoot — you get the point.

Let’s go back to our neighborhood buck. He didn’t just come out of nowhere. It is quite likely he came from Lebanon Hills Regional Park, the 2,000-acres of nature that serves as the western border to our suburban paradise. We commented on how ironic it was that we had just finished a conversation about how much we loved living where we did when this sign from nature showed us the reason why. Although many deer live in and around the metro area, neither of us had actually seen one. The number of urban coyotes far exceeds our deer population and I once walked upon one while cutting through a small wooded lot that borders a Target store.

Nevertheless, such startling encounters with nature while living in the Cities can be as rare as a buffalo in Texas. Having lived for several years in South Texas, I realized I may need to look for a different metaphor. One day while driving through Texas ranch country, a strange looking pronged animal came bouncing across the highway. My friend, a native Texan, told me to slow down as the area was dotted with exotic animals imported anywhere from Africa to India.

Texas ranches aren’t the only thing huge in those parts. So are the ranch owner’s wallets and their taste for so-called "wild" game. The animal I encountered was a majestic axis deer native to the foothills of India. They roam the Texas range alongside zebras, red sheep, blackbuck antelope, illegal alien hunters and bison. For $6,500, one can hunt and kill a bison, and for a surcharge of an immeasurable amount, you can have one mounted. Are you in the market for a Cape buffalo? It’s yours for the taking for a mere $50,000 and you don’t even have to leave America, home of the free and land of the brave; and then there’s Texas.

Let’s return to the search for describing metaphorically the rarity of actually seeing real wildlife in the Twin Cities. How does “rare as a pileated woodpecker" work? It doesn’t, because this large bird also comes out of Lebanon Hills and feeds on our suet. In addition, they are not really that rare. They are just shy and secretive. I know of a homeowner in Moose Lake (who shall forever remain anonymous) who regularly has three-six such birds at their backyard bird feeder; but that’s another story that most likely will never be told.


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