This week I’ve gotten up at dawn each morning, before going to work. Although my actual launch time varies from day-to-day, starting a half hour before official dawn seems to work the best. Any earlier and it is still rather dark out. This makes it difficult to see road debris and slows me down. Besides if I launch this early, when I reach Forest Park, I run into no-see-ums near the park’s many water features. These tiny insects are like their name implies invisible and can only be felt and not seen. While these bugs don’t bite, it is still a sensation that I would prefer to avoid. Later and the bike ride impacts my work start time.
This morning I launched on-time. Turning left at the top of the block, I had my first animal encounter of the ride. A raccoon was sitting on the curb watching me watch it. As I continued arcing around it, it decided that enough was enough and quickly ducked down into a storm sewer opening that it had been sitting above. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a raccoon on one my dawn patrols. My best raccoon encounter occurred years ago on a cold winter night. I was speeding down Wydown, when I noticed that a row of small figures sitting on the curb. Turning my head as I sped past them, the helmet mounted light swung too. The light illuminated a family of six raccoons and bedazzled their eyes with retro-reflection. We had a neighbor who works for the zoo. She once discussed her master’s thesis that was about the raccoons of Forest Park. According to her, raccoons are the largest animal specie in the park that has been able to survive the coyote onslaught, the park’s alpha predator. Wild turkeys, foxes and deer occasionally wander into the park, but inevitably succumb to the coyotes. I’ve managed to see all three species over the years. My most exciting encounter was with a turkey, again on a winter’s night. It had roosted adjoining the bike trail and exploded as I rode slowly uphill past it. I can’t express how startled, surprised and scared I was at that moment.
The critter pictured was spied next to the bicycle path, near Round Lake in the park. I gave it wide birth, but not as wide as I once gave a much larger snapper that was in the middle of the cycle path. The one I saw today was rather timid. The larger one that I saw before was pissed. It even hissed at me. I once saw a pair of Wood ducks play a snapping turtle. One duck feigned distress, luring the turtle away from their ducklings, while the other Wood duck shepherd the ducklings to safety. The lure would allow the turtle to approach almost into striking distance and then spurt ahead, but only about ten feet, not too far to discourage the poor turtle. Duck and turtle must have circled the pond several times, before this little tableau was played out.