Saturday, September 30, 2023

Playing favorites

Young Raccoons on Branch, King County, Washington

We all have favorite things. A favorite color. Perhaps a favorite flower. Or maybe a favorite bird.

The flip side of that is that we also have things we hate. Or at least strongly dislike. One of the things I have been working through is whether the things that have made it on my dislike list really deserve to be there.

Nature photography has certainly forced me to broaden my horizons. I was once deathly afraid of spiders, but after spending time photographing their intricate webs — often with spiders still on them — I’ve largely made peace with them, provided they’re not in my camera bag, bedroom or shower. I’m also a little more comfortable around snakes than I used to be, although the key word here is “little.”

With spiders and snakes, our hatred of them is somewhat rational. They can bite, after all. But more often, our fears are also overblown.

Last year, I met a woman who runs a snake rescue center in southern Arizona. The snakes in her care often were found under somebody’s porch. The homeowner wanted to kill them, but first gave her the opportunity to relocate them. The thing is, not all snakes are venomous. Even those that are very rarely attack people.

There’s only one type of snake where I live and it’s not venomous. But I was thinking about her work recently when I got a chance to watch young raccoons play in a greenbelt.

Young Raccoon on Branch, King County, Washington

The young raccoons were adorable. They were curious. And also clumsy. Several lost their footing as they tried to navigate the narrow branches of a cedar tree. They would grab onto the branch with their front paws and climb back up.

I didn’t always find raccoons adorable. Several years ago, I noticed one that was thinking about nesting under my deck. I scared her off and sealed up the openings. Raccoons are notoriously destructive and can spread disease.

But like any part of an ecosystem, they also have a purpose. They clean up carrion. They help clear my yard of yellowjackets.

While I am not going to let raccoons take up residence in my crawlspace or under my deck, I’m not going to scare them away entirely. Most things in nature have some role to play in keeping our world in balance. Instead of rushing to take sides — especially when our perceptions aren’t exactly without flaws — I appreciate the occasional reminder that everything has its place.

(Prints of Kevin Ebi's images are available through Learn about new work by joining his mailing list.)

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