© 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.
Wood and water and moving earth.
10 months ago