THE ALLIES WE NEED
A couple nights ago I drove down my tree-lined driveway and saw four white-tailed deer in the yard. Two were lying calmly, the other two grazing leisurely. I slowed and watched a while, until they got nervous and ambled away, hardly even lifting their bright tails!
The week before, while sitting on my back deck reading the paper and casually watching birds, I saw a summer tanager race toward the deck, zip through the posts and bang into the window. Followed immediately by a sharp-shinned hawk, trying to grab the tanager with his talons. Both hit the window, tumbling tail feather over teakettle! Each sat a moment and then flew off, in different directions! I stared after them with a big “wow” on my face!
Every day, we see or experience animals. Wild animals, domestic animals, zoo animals, even pests. Some we ignore, some we watch enthralled, some we interact with.
A delightful new book, by Sharon Cindy Cameron and Lenn Cameron, describes in fascinating detail a series of interactions and observations between people and animals. “Ancient Allies,” Balboa Press, is written with touching empathy and is illustrated with numerous eye-catching - and sometimes mesmerizing - photos of animals, in all sorts of circumstances.
Movingly dedicated to a sensitive Siberian husky named Loki (sorry, one may need to bypass the spiritual premise), the book moves through experiences with celebrated animals at the San Francisco Zoo, darling domestics at Blue Cross Pet Hospital, and incredible animals in the wilds of the Bay Area.
The authors’ stories are related with a sympathetic, even captivating sentiment. Tales of a dog’s rescue, a cat’s attachment to a nonagenarian, the astonishing birth of a giraffe, a lion‘s legacy, the longest-lived zoo polar bear, a hitch-hiking bee - all capture what can be an ethereal bond between ourselves and the animal world. It is a bond many of us feel and experience, but is sadly missing from too many of our fellow humans.
Personally, I most liked the fascinating and amazingly photographed stories of hawks, ravens, and gulls (apologies again, we should not call them seagulls). They were delightful in their antics, and the stories adorable in their appeal. It is a certainty that the more often we are out watching wildlife, the more likely we are to see startling and wondrous behavior. Clearly, the authors spent significant periods of time doing just that.
Ravens make entertaining appearances throughout the book, both in the stories, and with intermittent photos, well, excepting the near death experience! It seems fitting. Ravens have, after all, become somewhat ubiquitous in San Francisco over the last decade. However, I do not attach any metaphysical connection, as the authors at times seem tempted to do. They are, after all, merely ravens, very intelligent birds who have myriad curious behaviors.
I also admit a prejudice against ravens’ ability to contact extraterrestrials. (A shame, wouldn’t that be fun?) And, while I’m at it, I disapprove of feeding pigeons or ducks (though having several bird feeders, I’m on thin ground there!).
But I wholeheartedly applaud the connection the authors make between people and animals, the very deep respect for our “allies.” We have done too much to displace, endanger, and otherwise jeopardize the plant and animal life on this earth. We’ve driven many animals to extinction, and far too many to the very brink. If more people were as sympathetic and sensitive as this book demonstrates, what a difference there would be. The solace animals bring to us - whether a cat on our belly, a raven frolicking above, or an octopus maneuvering in the Bay - can calm us, amuse us, inspire us, strike us with awe. Surely we owe it to these many species to appreciate and preserve them. “Ancient Allies” gives a wonderful window into the many ways that appreciation and connection can be manifested. I recommend it for all of us who either have, or need, that connection.
May 24, 2018
David Anderson is a conservation biologist who worked at the Duke Lemur Center and the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans. He also served as Executive Director of the San Francisco Zoo, Director the Florida state program for the National Audubon Society, and as a consultant with the Bay Institute in San Francisco. He is retired and lives in Durham, North Carolina, where he serves on the board of the regional Audubon Society, travels extensively to see birds, and plays drums in a rock ‘n’ roll band!