Has it gotten to the point that I am such an urban creature that to know what I'm looking at in nature — I need to Google it to figure it out? Sad. Very sad. I'm not so different after all from the agrarian reform foreign aid workers in North Africa way back then who couldn't recognize the plants they were advocating — without looking them up in a field guide. Problem was, the field guide only showed the plant in one season. The fellahin complained that development workers would be looking for the crops they had advocated ... while standing right on them. Well, ouch.
But this wasn't North Africa. This was Fort Funston today. The fog. The cliffs. The sand on the cliffs. It was a perfect day. Instead of my car reading 112 degrees F as it did leaving our BBQ in Sonoma yesterday, it was a perfect 58 degrees and cooling. Breezy enough to make everyone smile, but not blowy enough to send missiles of sand up our eyeballs. The fog was thick and moving fast. Perfect, just perfect.
We started out at the furthest point by the hang gliders' hut, slogged through the deep sandy trail that the Forest Service now have labeled a 'horse trail' (which thank god, the horse morons haven't discovered yet), crossed over to the path by the doggie fountain, taking the left fork to the upper road and through the second WWII battery tunnel out to the cliffs. When —
But first — who is 'we'? Which is important here. The we is Rosh and me. Just us. No other witnesses. And Rosh doesn't talk, although she speaks.
We'd just turned to follow the cliff through the fog. The trail is surrounded by still green trees and thick brush. And loping across the desolate trail was a —
Well, my first thought was a fox.
A grey fox. But it's body seemed too long.
For a moment, I thought dog. But it didn't act dog. Still, I looked for a wayward human walker seeking the wanderer. There was nobody at all. Rosh started sniffing around... The — whatever it was — crossed in front of us from the brush on our left to the brush on our right, just before the cliff drop.
Then I thought wolf.
It was larger than a fox, not a dog, and smaller than a wolf. It's tail was long and bushy, almost raccoon like. That tail was stunning, actually. And it's body was uncannily long — just too long for anything that made sense to me.
Then I thought (okay, don't laugh) — power animal.
Rosh seemed unconcerned. Clearly there was no threat. Just a beautiful sight. A wild creature minding its own business. Someone on the trail I just couldn't put my finger on. I'd seen a gray fox out there once before.
Maybe. Maybe this was the same thing.
So. Power animal. Possible, right? Well, was it giving me any power? Did I earn it? Is there any such thing? What do I DO with this gift, anyway, if that's what it is?
I rejected 'power animal' first. Then dog. Then wolf. Then fox. But we saw / sniffed something wild and free that was right at home on the cliffs. We kept walking through a tunnel of tangled trees, and out onto the foggy coastal chaparral again. Hang gliders above. Three trails before us. Roshi waited for me to decide. I chose the middle path, of course. Rosh concurred, and took the lead.
We turned left at the tarmac path and there was a white Ranger truck, with a Ranger guy picking up trash from the can and collecting the large black plastic bags in the back of his pickup. I walked right up to him. Rosh showed how law-abiding she is, and sat down on the iceplant to my left, very much off the service road.
I asked about the wild things that lived at Funston.
"I'm not a Ranger," the Ranger said. "I'm not an authority —" he said, "I just pick up the trash."
"Of course you're an authority," I insisted. "Here you are day after day — you know these trails, you see what you see. ... You've got the uniform!"
He sat there for a moment. Shuffled in the driver's seat and sat up straighter.
"Nobody's ever called me 'an authority' before. Wow —"
He went speechless for a few heartbeats.
"The coyotes come out in the fog," he said. "They really like the fog..." and he began talking about which critters like which kind of weather. He was much more knowledgeable than he thought he was.
"You're not just a trash man," I said. And he made it clear that I'd just made his day.
So. Today I saw a ... a ... coyote (also known as the American jackal) cross in front of me and Rosh. They're cousins of the gray wolf. They love the fog. They're very shy. They pounce on their prey in a cat-like manner. They hunt in pairs or in packs. But the one we saw was alone. And not very big. Rosh was almost triple the coyote's size.
It wasn't a coyote.
It was a gray fox. It had that long flexible body. It was smaller than a coyote. It was gracile. It can make its way through tree tops just like a cat and ambush its prey. Small things. Voles and moles and rats. There aren't any coyotes at Fort Funston. They all live more inland in the parks of the City. The gray fox is a solitary hunter, usually nocturnal. And they thrive in the coastal chaparral — which is the biome we were walking through.
It wasn't a gray fox.
The truth is, I have no idea what we saw. All I can say, is that it gave me another lesson in ignorance. This comfortable creature of the coast made me glad I'd not fallen to having a tuna melt or Reuben for lunch today — having carefully opted for a veggie burger at Mel's instead. That this graceful solitary hunter reminded me that it's worth paying attention. All of the time.
And that Rosh, my rather large, long haired German shepherd, has the right idea in just walking on by.
So. Today I saw a ... a ...
I have no idea.