One morning this spring, my husband and I were awakened by a “thud” that rattled the windows above our bed. Truck traffic in front of our house can be quite loud, especially first thing in the morning when workers are on their way to the construction sites up the street, but we were sure that this noise could not have been a truck. Since only a month before, a small earthquake had been reported in the area, we mused that perhaps we had just witnessed another one. But comparing notes throughout the day with friends and coworkers, we found that we were the only ones to hear such a sound.

Some days later, I was filling the watering can at the back of the house, at the hose just under our bedroom window. Absent-mindedly scanning the ground as I waited for the water to fill, I found a handful of soft gray feathers. It must have been a bird that made the noise – crashing beak-first into the windowpane. As there was no sign of a carcass among the feathers, I’m hoping that the bird was only stunned, and that it made its way to safety to recuperate.

A few days later we were eating lunch when a friend arrived at the door urging us to quickly and quietly make our way to the back yard. At the edge of the woods, more than a hundred feet away, were two deer — a doe and a fawn. My husband, all of our neighbors, and even some of our friends have seen deer in our back yard at one time or another, but after more than three expectant years, this was my first encounter. The deer stepped closer to the woods as we came into their line of vision, but they moved slowly. I stood as still as I could, a little bit afraid but mostly in awe, as they went on their way, continuing slowly and gracefully into the distance.

Wildlife is all around us – increasingly more visible as we construct more buildings and roads, leveling forests and tearing up meadows the process. A friend mentioned that he too sees deer in his back yard, not far from the house, and foxes too. At certain times of year, it’s not at all unusual to see a skulking coyote or a strutting wild turkey.

Just this morning I was walking in the neighborhood where I grew up, along a street that follows the perimeter of a large pond. Out of the corner of my eye I saw something in motion, several feet back from the roadside and heading toward the pond. It turned out to be a basketball-sized turtle, most likely a mother returning to the water after laying her eggs. Her back was to me, so I was able to watch her for about half a minute before she became aware of me. I’d seen turtles before, but never one so large, or one who moved so expressively. Even in slow motion there was a purpose to her gait. Seeing me, she stopped completely and just stared. I stared back, and after some time she began to retreat into her shell. With apologies for disturbing her, I went on my way.

Sharing this story with my sister, who also walked in the neighborhood this morning, I discovered that she too had had a turtle encounter. Out in front of our parents’ house, she found sad remnants of turtle eggs smashed in the road, mostly likely plundered by a hungry raccoon. But in the neighbors yard, maybe twenty feet away, there was another turtle, digging down into the dirt. My sister watched as the turtle began to heave, and then – right before her eyes – lay a succession of round yellowish eggs.

I suppose wildlife sightings are quite common these days, but to me, each encounter seems significant. I can’t find the source now, but I remember reading that in some Native American cultures, an unusual animal sighting was considered portentous. A single event was meaningful, a string of sightings even more so. An encounter with the unexpected was a sign that the person should be on alert, as something important was going to happen. I couldn’t discern whether this had a positive or negative spin – I suppose it could go either way. Needless to say, I’m keeping my eyes open.

by Kezia Bacon Bernstein, Correspondent
May 2002

Kezia Bacon Bernstein’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168.