RATS, COYOTES, VOODOO IN NEW YORK
|A raccoon. But don't pet them; they don't like it.|
Above all, keep those claws away from your eyes.
One bit of New York wildlife that persists, and that commuters often see on the subway tracks while waiting for a train, is rats. So prevalent is Rattus norvegicus that I once devoted an entire post, #219 (February 14, 2016), to the creature, who can be up to 16 inches in length, with a tail just as long. No denizen of the wilderness, he lives where people live, especially in cities, where he feeds on food scraps that we blithely toss away, or deposit in garbage cans that lack a lid. Our parks often have signs warning that they have been treated with rat poison, but the pest still persists. Mayors denounce them, and the city appropriates vast sums to eradicate them, and the clever creature still thrives. Almost legendary was a video of “Pizza Rat,” showing a rat tumbling down some subway steps while dragging along a whole slice of pizza – proof that he’s one tough customer, not easily deterred. A real New Yorker.
|Not Pizza Rat, but a cousin. Notice the handlike claws.|
So what does the Times article tell us? Tell us and show us, I should say, since it involves photos as well as text. The article sums up its message succinctly: “Scavengers scavenge, predators predate, decomposers decompose.” In one photo a raccoon on a park bench seems to be trying to drink from a Coca-Cola can. But the biggest news item for me was that a coyote was spotted recently in Central Park. I knew that the Eastern coyote, which people often mistake for a dog, was making a comeback, and at last report it had reached the outer boroughs, especially the Bronx, where it was seen sniffing and poking about garbage cans in alleyways. But now Wiley Coyote has reached Central Park, in the very heart of Manhattan.
|A coyote in the wild.|
Other creatures to be seen in, or off the shore of, various sites in the five boroughs: white-tailed deer, diamondback terrapins (a turtle), a painted bunting (rare), beetles, bats, dolphins, even whales. To which I would add many species of migrating birds, and any number of wildflowers, including some so small, sprouting from cracks in sidewalks, that you can see only if you squat down on the pavement and look closely, which few of us are inclined to do. Yes, the supposed urban wasteland is teeming with wildlife.
|A Haitian voodoo altar during a festival for the spirits, 2010.|
Calvin Hennick, for WBUR Boston
Today many Haitians – not to mention most outsiders – don’t understand Fet Gede, and voodoo in general. They think it’s all about black magic, pin dolls, and demonic prayers, whereas its believers insist that voodoo is part of who they are, the food they eat, the language they speak. At the festival believers dance to rhythmic drumming, spray themselves with perfume, smoke cigars, scream, and make offerings to the spirits, foremost among whom is Baron Samedi, the god of death, who is also the husband of Madame Brigitte. Far from dour and austere, the Baron and his consort welcome drinking, the erotic, even the obscene. Some participants in the fete paint their faces white, with darkened eyes, nose, and mouth, and succeed in looking downright spooky. To this outsider, the whole affair looks like a festival of joy and life, facing down and eclipsing – or almost eclipsing – the reality of suffering and death.
Source note: This post was inspired by two articles in the Metropolitan Section of the New York Times of Sunday, November 24, 2019: "Listen: It's the City's Call of the Wild," by Dave Taft; and "At the Festival of the Dead, 'Voodoo Is Part of Us,' '' by Gina Cherelus.
© Clifford Browder 2019