If you are above a certain undisclosed age, chances are good that the name Marlin Perkins means something to you. Perkins was the longtime host of one of my favorite television shows, “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.” The avuncular Perkins would regale his audiences with films of various adventures with wild animals, generally with his brawny sidekick, Jim Fowler, in tow. Fowler always seemed to be wearing some version of safari gear and was a real-life version of Race Bannon, or maybe Steve Irwin with an Iowa accent and attitude. Sometimes the film was genuinely thrilling – Jim Outraces a Cheetah! Or, Jim fights an Alligator in His Swampy Lair! In between, Perkins would provide expert narration, along the lines of “while Jim goes out to subdue the Bengal Tiger, I sit in my duck blind and contemplate the Ganges.” Then we would see Marlin in the studio, smoothly suggesting “the tiger is a fierce predator and adversary. Let Mutual of Omaha’s expertise in insurance and annuities help you fight your way through the financial jungles,” followed by a short announcement discussing MofA’s “Pith Helmet Annuity” or some such. Overall, the show was a hoot and you can find lots of “Wild Kingdom” footage on the Internet if you look for it, including on the Mutual of Omaha website.
But ever since, I’ve thought of random experiences with nature as a “Mutual of Omaha Moment.” As a family, we haven’t spent a lot of time outdoors. My father had no use for camping and my mother usually thought “roughing it” meant staying at a Ramada Inn. Jill and I pretty much feel the same way; nature is great, but we’re city kids. The thing is, nature has a way of coming whether you seek it or not. Although we live in an inner-ring suburb, there’s a lot of animal action going on around our house. In the past year we’ve seen ducks, geese and owls in our yard. We’ve seen a red fox, various raccoons and muskrats. My daughter spotted a bald eagle soaring over our yard on Thanksgiving Day. We have seen deer in the neighborhood, including one unfortunate young buck that was serving as a pinball on County Road D. Growing up in Appleton, Wisconsin, I rarely saw anything more exotic than a squirrel in our yard.
Along with the other critters listed, you see lotsa squirrels now. As I was looking out my kitchen window this morning, I noticed a commotion going on about 10 feet past our deck. There I saw about 6-12 crows waiting their turn to eat a dead squirrel that had somehow ended up out there in the snow. Although the scene was somewhat disgusting, it’s probably not that much worse than what you’ll see at the average Old Country Buffet. This murder of crows (yes, that’s the name for a flock of crows) were actually providing a service, of course – by dining on the unfortunate fellow, it means I won’t have to clean it up during the spring. Nature is that way, even in the landscaped environs of the northern suburbs. We can plat the subdivision, put in roads, build houses and even say we own the land. But we kid ourselves if we believe we have much control over our quarter-acre dominions.