Thursday, June 17, 2010

There is no Spoon - when 'Spoon' is 'Urban' - and sometimes that is very sad

© 2010 Joshua Stark

Yesterday, on my way home for lunch, a body on the side of the road made my blood run cold.  I hit the brakes and pulled off to the side, jumped out of the car, and walked over to it - my worst suspicions came to pass.

It was a dead badger.

Now, this might not sound like a big deal to many of you, especially those living in the Great Basin region.  But here, in California's Central Valley, badgers are very uncommon.  Also, American badgers are not the kind of animal that thrives on the edge-lands.  Badgers are Big Country animals.  So it came as a complete shock to me to find a dead one on a main thoroughfare in a city of over 40,000 (and part of a metropolitan area of over 1 million), across a bridge with heavy traffic.

To really understand my surprise, consider this:  I have never, in my entire life, seen a badger here.  By "here" I mean my homeland, I mean in my thirty-five years of stomping around the Delta.  Never.  Not once.

I still don't know what to make of finding this critter.  On the ground, I am heartbroken.  Here is a symbol of the wild wild, a real beast that would and should be snorting and hissing, clawing through the ground, being tough and scary, standing up to creatures many times its size with a legendary strength of will and muscle.  As a child, my cousin, friends and I used to play "animal", and inevitably one of us would call out that they were now a badger, and crawl around low, fighting everybody else.  But here lay this one, its huge claws uselessly tucked under its chin, it's beautiful fur matted by blood, its fierce green fire long gone from its eyes.

Of course, in the grander scheme of things, I see this beautiful creature's presence as yet another truth against the way we've tried to organize, separate, and catalog our lives.  As I've written at my Ethics & the Environment blog, there are no real distinctions between urban, rural, and wild, and a badger in the city is one more example, though it comes at great cost.

Where I am confused is in what this means for the area.  Are badgers back, and their numbers so large that now one shows up in town?  I'd like to think this is true.  Are they getting so much pressure that they are actually moving into marginal lands?  Maybe I just don't know badgers very well, and they are successful enough to survive on the margins while never being seen?  Perhaps, even, this one was somebody's pet - though I seriously doubt that one.

So I'm left befuddled, but with a real reason to poke around even deeper into my local marginal lands, looking for badger sign.  Hopefully, I'll find some, but with enough distance to not get torn to ribbons.  I'll keep you posted.


The Suburban Bushwacker said...

'still don't know what to make of .....this critter'

A shaving brush is traditional


Bpaul said...

One of my favorite animals. I see a few burrows at the permission where I hunt jackrabbit and waterfowl. It is big sky country, with a marsh and river to boot -- not at all marginal lands. I think I would have a similar reaction to seeing one closer in to the city. Enjoyed the post.


Josh said...

SBW, ha ha. I've not reached the point where I gather roadkill, although I'll admit this was absolutely the closest I've come to considering it.

Bpaul, thanks for the compliment.

Tovar said...

Interesting and unexpected encounter! Roadkill, especially of such a locally rare creature, can feel so sad.

Having only traveled briefly in the central and western states, I don't believe I've ever seen a badger in person.

Thanks for sharing the story and the questions it raises for you.

Bud Stark said...

Josh, I saw one--unfortunately in the same condition as they one you saw--on the way to your house. It was beside the road that takes you from 160 to Jefferson. Couldn't believe it! The last one I saw was about 10 years ago in Oklahoma, alive. Hope this is an indication of a resurgence of them here, but I wish it were in a different message.

Josh said...

Dad, that's very unusual. Where was it, exactly? I'll look for it when we head out today, and if it's still there, I'll take a picture of it and get in touch with some Fish & Game biologists.

For those of you who don't know, the place he's describing is in the middle of farmland (vinyards, alfalfa, safflower, mostly) and about 18 miles from where I saw this badger...

Phillip said...

Badgers are making a pretty big comeback around here, at least based on the number I've seen and heard about in the last couple of years.

I've run into them now down at Tejon Ranch (appropriately enough, since Tejon = Badger), and all the way up to Fort Hunter Liggett. Seen them over near Tracy too, and we've got burrows and tracks up at Coon Camp Springs in the eastern Sierra.

They are pretty cool critters, but I prefer to see them live than squished on the highway.

Josh said...

Phillip, that's really great to hear. I sure hope that's why we've seen them.