Once upon a time East Texas was relatively empty of people with the exception of small groups of Native Americans. Pine forests, interspersed with lowlands and streamside woodlands, covered the region. Wild animals were everywhere. Then, we came along – modern Homo sapiens, 2-legged skulking varmints. We walked, rode horseback, and rolled in on wagons, hacking down the forests for firewood, building materials, and pastures. We also needed a clear field of fire around our dwellings to prevent others of our species from creeping up on us. You can’t shoot what you can’t see.
We weren’t too good at living entirely off the land, so we ripped it up with plows, planted civilized crops, and began to prosper. Family plots became farms and corporations, settlements grew into villages, towns, cities, metropoli, and megalopoli, and lo and behold, pretty soon you couldn’t even recognize the old place at all.
The problem is that all this growth was taking place right smack dab in the middle of wildlife habitat, so the wild critters had to move. Or at least that was the plan. And that was all right with us, because most people living in towns and cities were just a little spooked by the idea of wild animals. They’d become certified, citified flatlanders.
So now here we are in the 21st century, camped out in our temperature and light controlled split level shacks with attached garages and at least two cars, smack dab surrounded by wild critters. That ever give you an uneasy feeling? Well here’s a thought for you. What if all the wild varmints got organized and decided they wanted everything back? All they need is a few leaders with progressive ideas, because you see, the wild creatures didn’t really move out. They’re right here among us. Oh, there’s been no frontal assault, just sly, mostly nonviolent, insurgent action.
Raccoons and possums roam through city neighborhoods raiding garbage cans and eating pet food and garbage. Skunks saunter boldly through urban landscapes, scavenging meals. Cougars have been seen leisurely sunning themselves in at least one local backyard, striding down a friend’s driveway in the Timpson area and, according to one report, enjoying a venison meal at Lake Nacogdoches.
Nervous yet? In California, cougars and coyotes have attacked joggers, bicyclists, and small children. Remember Alfred Hitchcock’s movie entitled The Birds? Are sullen birds gathering in increasing numbers in trees and along your power lines? How about all those vultures circling overhead? What are they up to? I’ll tell you what. They’re waiting, just waiting.
What about cockroaches, millipedes, centipedes, spiders, scorpions, flies, mosquitoes, and a myriad of other insects and arachnids? Mice, rats, and snakes? We have plenty of them right in town. They’ve learned to live with us, and on us, quite well. Could they be the first wave of an undercover counter-attack?
Our home is barely outside the city limits, a mere stone’s throw from schools, shopping centers, and urban sprawl. Yet foxes and bobcats wander through our woods, and roadrunners dart across the road ahead of our car. Armadillos waddle along and deer graze our grass. A few years ago, eight wild pigs went snuffling through our backyard. Little did I realize they were just the recon squad checking targets, and that this year they’d return in force and plow up almost an acre of our lawns! Coyotes are everywhere and frequently serenade close to our house. Deer are constant visitors, nibbling peach leaves even while we stand in plain view watching them. Crows and squirrels keep up a constant patrol as the peaches and pecans ripen.
Now let your imagination run wild for a minute. What would happen if we stopped weeding, mowing, blacktopping, sealing, pruning, caulking, painting and repainting, and just let humidity, mold and mildew take their natural course. What if wild plants and critters suddenly decided they wanted it all back?
Yep, I can see it all. A grizzled old timer stands gazing at a tangled forest, reminiscing. “Yep,” he says. “Ah kin remember whin thar wuz a good sized city raht heah where these trees is! Used to call it Naca-something. Oh, I remember. It was called Nacogdoches, but now it’s all gone. Sorta jist become Naca-nowhere.”
Nah! Never happen. Probably.
Dr. Risk is a professor emeritus in the College of Forestry and Agriculture at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. Content © Paul H. Risk, Ph.D. All rights reserved, except where otherwise noted. Click firstname.lastname@example.org to send questions, comments, or request permission for use.