The other day, walking to the subway and well-bundled up against the piercing cold, I stopped to watch a small dog and his person, both of whom were also well-bundled up. He was on a long, retractable leash and his person was letting him explore every crevice of a stone wall. At the time I was musing over what to write in a Notions post, and it occurred to me that in a way the dog was traveling, traveling into worlds I could not see, via the highways of scent laid down in the wall.
So I got thinking about animal travel stories I knew—not those dramatic ones of Fido finding his way home across the country after five years, but more modest ones.
The Cat: “Thus I Return to The Wild!!”
At the summer beach cottage, the indoor house cat escapes out the front door. He darts instantly under the house, raised as it is about a foot off the ground. Chipmunks live under there. We rush out to capture him, one of us at the back of the house so he does not race out that way, and the other at the front, with an open can of cat food. Here kitty, here kitty! we chirp. He bares his teeth and draws back his lips in a fearful hiss and snarl. In an instant’s travel he has reclaimed his wild self.
The Goldfinch: “Where the Heck Did That Food Go?”
I remove the thistle-seed feeder for cleaning. Shortly thereafter the goldfinch flies in, falters, lands abruptly on the empty arm of the feeder hanger. Cocks his head one way, then the other. Repeats. His familiar landscape has changed, and his favorite food source has vanished. He thinks he is lost, or something is lost. He perches there, waiting. Finally, disconsolate and puzzled, he flies off.
The Skink: “I’ll Just Make the Best of It”
While snorkeling on the beach in Guam, I put my mesh snorkel bag on the sand. Had a great snorkel, and returned to my tenth floor hotel room with the bag. In the evening while watching tv, I had a vague sense of movement under the bed, visible from the corner of my eye. Went to bed. In the morning, as I sat up in bed, I found I had company: a little skink smack in the middle of my marble floor. He was lapping daintily at the moist place on the floor, where the humidity in the air always seemed to condense (an air conditioner on the floor below made a cold spot). When I got up he streaked into my closet and leapt onto the hem of a dress hanging there. Only his tail was visible. His travels in my snorkel bag had led him to a very strange place, but no worries, there was water and a good place to hide, and he was making the most of his new surroundings. If I hadn’t gently caught him and carried him down ten stories to his natural place, he probably would have found some bugs to eat, in my room, too.
The Ants: “I Know It’s Here Somewhere!”
Hershey chocolate bars used to be wrapped in a kind of thin foil. I ate half of one, then left the other half on my tall dresser in my college dorm room, on the second floor. After a long evening of study, I went to sleep. In the middle of the night, I was awakened by a faint but unmistakable peculiar rustling sound. Intrigued and a little nervous, I got up and turned on the light. I discovered to my dismay and astonishment that a bunch of small ants had traveled their way up two floors to the top of my dresser—and my Hershey bar in its crinkly foil. They were rummaging happily on this great find to which they had come so unerringly. I fear though that these ants did not come to a good end. Nor did the chocolate bar, alas.
The Fish: “Well, It’s Different But It’ll Do”
Say you’re a reef-loving fish; you love those little crevices in the coral which are so good for hiding in and grazing on. There you are, swimming along, when you realize (or what passes for “realize” in a fish) that there is a new reefish sort of thing dead ahead. You swim over to it. Weird, you don’t recall this being here before. You swim around it, inspecting. Oh, nice! There are some great hiding spots in here, and you swim into one. It doesn’t seem like coral, but, you know, you’re a fish and you’re not going to second-guess this new reef-like thing. You can make it your home. You’ll establish your territory here, and get to know the new neighborhood. You don’t care that up Above, the Coastal Zone Management Department has given its permission to build your new home out of concrete and steel.
The Snake: “Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time, Kinda Like Under a Rock”
An astronaut was flying a small plane from Houston to Cape Canaveral. Up there at 10,000 feet, he was startled to discover he was sharing the cockpit with a snake, a black snake there. Perhaps this snake had come in to get out of the hot sun and rest in a nice dark place. In any case, his choice turned out not to be a good one. He had not, in fact, found a shady spot under a rock, but instead was traveling along at 10,000 feet and going two hundred miles farther from home every hour. This story (which is all true) does not have a good end, at least not for the traveling snake. The astronaut’s co-pilot grasped the snake, opened a window, and- –well, you can imagine how the snake’s journey ended.
So take some lessons from these stories. Know at least a little bit about where you are headed before you start. Make the best of wherever you end up. Be opportunistic and adaptable. Accept help in finding your way. Life is a journey!