October 27th, 2010:

Animal Life in Southern California

When my children were younger and I was still married, we had a condo on the beach in Ventura County. It had a view of the ocean and was a very relaxing place to be. One day I was walking alone along a fairly uninhabited beach, which led to a large power plant, a few miles south. I noticed a baby seal slowing swimming in with the tide and decided to see if I could help him change direction. I waded in and softly spoke to him and gestured toward the ocean. He seemed comfortable with me a few feet away and looked as if he understood. Just then a Volkswagen “Bug” drove to the water’s edge to watch. The seal growled at the car and when the car drove off, I went back to my traffic cop routine. This delightful sea creature didn’t act aggressive toward me, and eventually got the message. Was I missing my calling as an animal trainer? Hardly likely, but it was a memorable experience getting so close to a wild animal. When I researched the seal, I discovered it was a baby elephant seal. I liked to imagine I “rescued” him.

Raccoons are plentiful in the California hills. For a few years, I lived in an area that bordered the Santa Monica Mountains. A pair of raccoons (apparently, it’s normal behavior to pair off) decided to explore the dumpster across from my apartment building one night. The next morning one was stuck inside it while the other one ran around the top perimeter of the dumpster, as if it could figure out a way to help its friend or mate. When I told the manager, he brought a chair from the pool area and placed it in the empty dumpster. It didn’t take long for the enterprising raccoon to climb out and join his friend.

The charming and resourceful Raccoon

My most poignant critter encounter was a couple of blocks from where I’m now living. My building borders the concrete flood control channel (a fenced-in tributary of the mostly dry Los Angeles River) and, except for some bushes and a few trees, there’s mostly empty land on both sides. My landlady likes to joke that we have a river view, which the flood channel becomes once it rains. I was taking a break from a walk and sitting on a small wall surrounding a home garden. I heard a whimpering sound and turned around to see a lone raccoon with an injured paw approaching me as if I could help him. My first thought was of the fictional children’s book character who took care of animals, Dr. Doolittle, but what could I do for this wild animal? He got within a few inches of me before he turned around and hobbled off into a fenced-in garage area and disappeared. I felt privileged that this creature felt comfortable enough to approach me and I silently wished him well.

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