Downtown Journal: Where the Wild Things Are

Downtown Journal
An occasional column about city life by Monica Collins

As the sun rises over the Boston Harbor, you will find me and my dog walking on the waterfront lawn I call “Amos’ Green Space.” I dub it thusly because Amos Hostetter, the proprietor of the Pilot House whose Barr Foundation funds many Boston non-profits and waterfront causes, owns the property, maintains it and allows public use. Amos’ Green Space (I know Hostetter only by his formidable reputation) is one of the few green areas in the neighborhood where dogs can be dogs – as Dexter disturbed the peace of a grazing bunny one morning by barreling after it.

Bunny in the grass along the HarborWalk.

I observed this chase in silence and was happy to see Dex flex his predator muscle. Of course, he didn’t catch the bunny and I knew he wouldn’t, which is why I watched without a word, rooting for the rabbit whose presence was a welcome sight. During this long winter and cold spring I saw very few rabbits around the Pilot House and Harbor Walk. This was in marked contrast to last year when they were ubiquitous. In fact, so many rabbits ran, I feared their ecosystem might be out of whack, which is why I was relieved to see fewer this past winter. Nevertheless, I still wondered why they had become scarcer – one of those sketchy urban wildlife mysteries.

Except for the weather, the natural world doesn’t elicit much contemplation in city life. Animals are kept at bay by acres of concrete, brick and asphalt. When creatures do encroach on our habitat, their presence can be glaring, sometimes upsetting. Last spring, a mocking bird dive-bombed and squawked at dogs and people walking near its nest on the Harbor Walk. The protective bird achieved its aim and scared many away. After the fledglings had left the nest, the mocking bird went back to being invisible.

Turkeys cross the bike path on Commercial Street.

Bigger birds created another uproar recently when turkeys strolled on Commercial Street. One morning, I heard a child’s voice yelling outside: “You’ll never guess what I saw? A turkey in that parking space!” I ran to the window and couldn’t spy the creature. I later saw a picture in this publication of two turkeys trotting near Lincoln Wharf. What happened to them? Another wildlife mystery.

When we lived in a suburb, I once glimpsed a rangy coyote loping along a playing field. The sight gave me the chills. I was a squirrel whisperer when I had a dog totally obsessed by the animals. I would take Shorty to the Boston Common on weekend mornings and let him chase off the leash. Dexter doesn’t seem moved by the rodents. That’s why his bunny race gave me a thrill.

My dog may not hanker for squirrels but he keenly connects me to the natural world. He is an animal after all and more attuned to sights and sounds of untamed critters, such as the rat scratching to escape the garbage receptacle. Dexter couldn’t leave that morning drama easily. I couldn’t get away fast enough.

After we walk through Amos’ Green Space, we tread the brick walkway behind the Pilot House where I hear a sunrise chorus — the screech of seagulls, the coos of mourning doves, and assorted squawks and twerps. In the Harbor below, I see ducks in abundance, mergansers and mallards, and lots of geese. Earlier this spring, I was convinced two loons were living in the water off Lewis Wharf. The large birds didn’t look like ducks or cormorants. And there were new families of goslings, ducklings – flocks of babies paddling in the Harbor, sheltering on the rocks below.

We keep the wild things at bay when we live in the city. But if you look closely, you will see the animals among us. They don’t command much attention as they scratch out a living on a wing and a prayer.

Over 15 years, Monica Collins wrote a column about the city — called “Downtown Journal” — for the Boston Herald. She’s also written for The Boston Globe and Boston magazine. In 2002, she created “Ask Dog Lady,” a lifestyle column about people and pets that continues to run in the South End News and Salem News. She lives in Boston with her husband Ben and dog Dexter.

3 Replies to “Downtown Journal: Where the Wild Things Are

  1. Monica: Enjoyed reading your Downtown Journal ! The vivid descriptions of creatures’ habits were a treat. As you say, when one ‘tunes’ into this world, there are wonders to behold. Thanks.

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