Lions and Raccoons and Bears, Oh My

I'm not a fan of big cities. I don't mean cities with one or two million people in them. I mean the New York/Los Angeles/Chicago sprawling metropolis with more people than Indiana.

I prefer smaller cities, or even a small town out in the country, where it's quieter with less traffic and fewer people shouting at that traffic.

A few years ago, I was in New York City for a conference, and I guess my nerves were showing, because a friend called me a country mouse. Specifically, I was nervous about riding a strange shuttle bus to go to an after-hours event at another hotel across Manhattan. You would've thought some sketchy guy in a raincoat was offering me candy to ride in his van.

"How do I know it's the right bus?" I asked my friend, Paige. "Is it even going to the right place?"

"Oh, my little country mouse," she said, and she accompanied me to the event so I could get there without being accosted by street toughs, ruffians, and ne'er-do-wells.

Paige had lived in New York City for a year, which as far as I'm concerned, makes her an expert, so I was glad for the help. At that moment, I would have followed anyone shouting "I'm walkin' here!" at passing cars.

I'll admit to being a small town boy, even if I never grew up in one. I grew up in Muncie, Indiana, which had around 75,000 people at the time. Then I spent 12 years in Syracuse, Indiana, which had 5,000 people, before finally spending the last 12 years in Indianapolis (1 million people) and Orlando (2 million).

But I'm still a country mouse at heart.

At least until I got to Florida. Now I'm strictly a city mouse, and I avoid the country and nature at all costs, because tiny dinosaurs live in my bushes.

The dinosaurs in question are little brown or green lizards between three and six inches long. They're called anoles, and depending on who you ask, it's either pronounced "uh-NOLE" or "uh-NOLE-ee." I prefer the latter pronunciation, because whenever my younger daughter catches them, I always name them My Juan.

As in My Juan Anole.

(If you're new here, it's not going to get much better.)

In fact, when it comes to nature, I have one simple rule here in Central Florida, or as I call it, The Reptile House.

Do not stray from the pavement. Do not stray from the pavement. Do not stray from the pavement!

Other than taking the dog out to the front yard, I will not stray from a paved over path, because it's dangerous.

Not like the "Floor Is Hot Lava" game we all played when we were kids. Rather, I play the "Nature Contains Icky Things" game. That includes my back yard and the bushes outside my house.

I'm not as bad as I used to be. After nearly two-and-a-half years, I no longer jump when I see little skittering movements out of the corner of my eye, or encounter an anole on the sidewalk.

But I've spotted garter snakes in my yard, which is why I no longer mow my lawn, my son does. He's not afraid of them.

Also, that whole "they're more afraid of you than you are of them" is complete BS. You don't know me!

I'm convinced that the little anoles are all going to realize they're descended from dinosaurs. One day, they're going to decide, "Hey, we're sick of this s---" and get organized.

Remember what happened to Peter Stormare in Jurassic Park 2? Like that.

But just because I don't like nature doesn't mean I don't know what it looks like. Not like those city mouse New Yorkers who can't tell a hedgehog from a pig.

According to a story on NBC New York, the New York Police Department received a report of a tiger wandering the streets of Manhattan this past Thursday. The station immediately dispatched a news crew and started searching for the big cat so they could warn people to stay away from the area. After all, it's not every day you see a tiger at all, let alone one wandering the city.

Except it wasn't a tiger, the police later confirmed. It was a raccoon.

That's right, someone spotted an animal with black markings and vague feline features, and instead of thinking, "Oh look, a kitty," they said, "OH MY GOD, IT'S A LARGE JUNGLE CAT!"

Seriously? I may only be a country mouse, but at least I can tell the difference between a tiger and a trash panda. For one thing, the tiger is orange. And weighs 650 pounds. And will eat your face off.

So I'm happy to be a little country mouse in my small cities and small-town worries. And you big city mice can keep your honking traffic, loud people, and sewer-based wildlife. You've got nothing on Florida.

Because when it comes to actual wildlife, we've got things that will eat you, including alligators, panthers, and actual bears.

Not New York bears, which eat cheese and go "squeak squeak squeak."

Photo credit: Unknown (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)

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