Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Out Here

Back around 1990, I was on a business trip to Australia. One day a local resident took me on a trip from Sydney to the Blue Mountains, about two hours away by car. After checking out some of the sights in and around Katoomba, we bought burgers and fries and drove a short distance down a dirt road to a clearing. We unwrapped our fully-loaded burgers (complete with a fried egg on top) and proceeded to eat, using the hood of the car as a table. Julie pointed to the west and said, "The Outback begins here, you know." I admit that I was impressed by the idea that where we were standing was the beginning of miles and miles of relatively unspoiled wilderness stretching across an entire continent... yet in a matter of minutes I could be back in a busy tourist town and an easy drive from one of the world's great cities.

For the past six-plus years, I have been living in a similar situation: the small town I live in is on the edge of millions of acres of government-managed forest. Though the wilderness is clearly marked on maps, in the real world the boundaries are not delineated with the same precision. The blurring of this line can make for entertaining and instructional interactions.

For instance: last night at 12:52 AM local time, I heard a siren from a police car passing nearby. After a minute or so, the siren's ululation was augmented by the howls of a neighborhood dog. Before the dog was entirely finished, the chorus was joined by the unmistakable yodeling of several coyotes who inhabit the uncleared area north of our yard... followed by the raucous counterpoint of what sounded like a litter of coyote pups having their say.