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Living on the Edge

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Published on: May. 2, 1999

Last revision: Nov. 2, 2010

we have measured off for ourselves.

When I taught children about the world around them, I had to ease into the subject of microbiology. These were country kids already beset with chiggers, ticks and occasional bouts of head lice in an unfair world.

I wasn't about to tell them of the tiny mites that inhabited their eyelashes, or the millions of other life forms that they would be hosts to for a lifetime. Childhood is too early in life to find out that the human body is simply real estate to microbes, which parcel you out among themselves and probably argue over the territory, like humans.

Soon enough we find out that human boundaries are simply ignored by creatures who have come to find that living within those boundaries is more practical than remaining outside. Nature simply doesn't provide the food, cover and nesting facilities year-round that are available within the haunts of man. With so much hospitable acreage, even fox and gray squirrels share the neighborhood, something unlikely in the wild.

Having spent most of my life in and near the woods, I am amazed at the variety of animals that have chosen to live among humans. The woods and farm land bordering the city limits are home to the same red-tailed hawks, horned owls, foxes and coyotes, weasels and skunks and other predators that lived back home in the Ozarks.

Columbia abounds with other wildlife that stand out in strange contrast to their surroundings, their natural camouflage startlingly out of place. My friend's white house a block from the business district harbors a family of raccoons.

To see one climbing a drainpipe instead of a tree, against the white siding of a building, is ample reminder that adaptation was a skill of animals long before humans.

Although most city dwellers have seen an opossum from time to time in their late-night headlights, it is still weird to find one on your own porch or rifling the cat's food bowl. Last week we were sitting at a table in the yard visiting with friends when one of these sidled up to the edge of the garage roof and settled in, as if to listen. Opossums get comfortable with civilization easily.

Our former landlord, a retired horticulturist for the university, moved out to the western limits of Columbia in one of the newer subdivisions. He tries to continue his lifelong interest in flowers, but he has a problem,

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