Ipswich’s official population stands somewhere around 13,000 – give or take – but there are thousands of residents never accounted for on the census. These citizens live on the fringes of our society, often disappearing into the urban underbrush or slipping into the shadows between houses before you can get too close a look.
I’m talking, of course, about our wild neighbors – the birds and animals who share Ipswich’s backyards and byways with us. You may not always see them, but they are always there, often closer than you think.
Depending on where you live and what types of shrubbery adorn your property, you may have established a dialog with the deer community. Granted, much of your conversation may consist of four-letter words, but it’s communication nonetheless. In our beautiful open spaces, like Bradley Palmer and Willowdale, you can spot creatures of a more exotic ilk like fisher cats, barred owls, pileated woodpeckers, and coyotes. You may even be lucky enough to encounter a coywolf – a coyote/wolf hybrid that appears to be making inroads into a number of Cape Ann communities. (They heard Ipswich has quality schools.)
But, you don’t even have to leave town proper to mingle with the feathered and furred denizens of Ipswich.
My modest backyard sees regular visits from many bird species as well as a bevy of energetic and acrobatic squirrels (cute in twos and threes, slightly disquieting by the dozen), one charmingly timid rabbit (at least, I assume there’s only one), and our resident chipmunk. Slightly less welcome are visits from a few larger and less polite guests: a raucous gang of gulls with a seemingly extrasensory ability to detect any morsel of food I might put out for my smaller avian friends, the odious skunk who seems to prowl (and perfume) the neighborhood on a regular schedule, and the exceedingly rotund raccoon who recently discovered my composting bin. (My apologies to the fine fellow for moving his buffet to more secure quarters.)
Although we haven’t made their direct acquaintance, my daughter and I have tentatively explored the dens of an unidentified animal with a rather macabre penchant for taking up residence amidst the graves and mausoleums of the dearly departed in the High Street cemetery. (I can’t blame the critters for their choice of real estate. The views are lovely.)
My walks around town have brought me face-to-face with other natives. One misty morning, I saw a beautiful vixen fox making her way through a neighbor’s backyard with the style and grace of a minor deity. On another early dawn, I had the particular pleasure of watching a romp of river otters cavorting by the Ipswich Mills Dam.
Most recently, a friend who came to meet us for dinner at the Choate Bridge Pub excused herself midmeal to check on the plight of a beaver she’d seen trapped in the fish ladder at that same dam. Turns out he wasn’t trapped at all; he was probably just looking for a convenient dinner. (I’m sorry, Mr. Antczak, for interrupting your dinner with the false alarm.)
I admire and respect these creatures. They have shown great tenacity, learning not only to survive but to thrive, despite sometimes sweeping and always unexplained changes to their environment. Generations ago, the ancestors of these birds and animals surely lived markedly different lives amidst a very different landscape, but they’ve had to adapt to changes in both scenery and lifestyle.
It’s a shame that the nonhuman residents of our little town cannot make a citizen’s query before the Board of Selectman, put a petition before the Planning Board, or cast their vote at Town Meeting. I wonder what issues they might raise and what perspectives they might bring.
I guess we’ll never know. Without the power of speech, they will remain a silent majority who must simply accept the changes that befall them. Though I’d like to hear their opinions, I’m glad that at least we can share their company. They make life in a small town that much more interesting.
This post is a republishing of the bi-weekly column I write for my local paper – The Ipswich Chronicle.