The dog, Reba, and I have been for several walks recently through downtown Ottawa.
There have been many changes since I moved to town a few years ago.
One of the minor, but uplifting, changes was the pruning of the trees in Washington Square over the summer. It opened the park’s ground to sunshine and the park has a much lighter and open feel now while still offering the protective comfort of trees.
Washington Square tends to be a familiar destination for us. It gives Reba a chance to smell squirrels, occasionally a chance to stalk them, and, once in a while, the opportunity to try and climb the trees from which they tease her.
The other change I noticed modified one of our walks. There is now a fence surrounding what was once the Central School property. This open ground was where Reba took advantage of the space to run when no others were around. She could sniff the trees, the other dogs' moist messages and the brush along the river for news.
With the fence now in place, our trip changed somewhat and her chance to be off-leash was extinguished. For how long we will be without the park to walk, play, rest and gaze out and up will remain to be seen.
I have been to the four corner states of the lower USA. I have been in national and state parks across the country. On those journeys I have seen animals from bison to chipmunk and all sizes in between.
Many of these are the same as animals I have seen in the Illinois Valley.
I smile when I see the rabbits. Reba gets almost as excited as when she sees a squirrel.
Raccoons and opossums have been viewed while on our walks through town or the state parks of Starved Rock Country.
Deer is common at this time of year. They stand along the roadsides just waiting to leap forth into the road or grazing in the fields at sunset.
While I have seen foxes and coyotes on rare occasions, the fox that came prancing out from the neighbor’s yard several weeks ago took me by surprise. Reba’s focus was elsewhere. The fox saw her first and quickly went back the way it came. After the fox had gone Reba’s nose let her know something had been close, and her desire to follow the scent was active.
Most unexpected, although it should not have been, was the rat I saw on our way back from Washington Square one evening. I saw it heading towards us when it sensed us. It scurried quickly back along the foundation wall on the sidewalk, turned the corner and was gone by the time we traveled the half dozen steps needed to see where it might have hidden.
I have worked in places where rats were common in the alleys. I have been in buildings rats called home. Thankfully, I have never encountered one in a restaurant.
While not unfamiliar with their appearance, they rank low on my list of desirable critters to have hopping about the streets.
It shouldn’t have been unexpected though. After all, food, water and the ubiquitous field mouse are in abundance in rural America.
Plus it still counts as wildlife witnessed in the area.
RICHARD PUGH, of Ottawa, is enjoying living in the Illinois River Valley. He can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.