When you have grown up with it, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal — but to someone who has always lived in a place where the most dangerous animal you’ll meet is likely to be an irritated bull while you’re out on a country walk, the myriad large and often threatening wildlife that North America has to offer must seem, at the very least, a bit daunting. No Brit ever gives a moment’s thought to the dangers of poisonous spiders, or vipers lurking in the underbrush, or shakes his boots out in case of scorpions. There are no big cats, no bears, no wolves. You can sit out most of the summer and never even get a mosquito bite. And if a little mouse should be overcome with bravado and decide to take a nip out of your big toe, even that needn’t worry you — the entire island has been rabies-free for generations.
So our first month here has been something of a wildlife adventure for M. Despite being fairly close into the city, we have seen numerous white-tailed deer in our back garden, hundreds of squirrels, a family of chipmunks, a raccoon, and a red-tailed hawk. My parents’ garden, farther out and next to a huge stretch of forest, regularly plays host to whole herds of deer, scores of wild turkey, opposums, raccoons, and the occasional black bear.
So I shouldn’t have been surprised when M dragged me to the front window and told me, with nervous excitement, that something really big had been outside the house last night… and then added, Something like an ostrich! His eyes were wide as he pointed to the three-pronged tracks crossing the snow in the front garden.
And why not? Anything might be possible in this land filled with exotic creatures. To a newly landed foreigner, an ostrich in a Pennsylvanian garden sounds no more absurd than a wild boar or a copperhead or a bear.
I so hated letting him down when I had to explain that the footprints in question weren’t from one big foot attached to some big animal, but were the combined prints of the front and back paws of… a rabbit, as it hopped — probably not even menacingly — across the newly-fallen snow.