On a recent trip to Australia, I spent much of my time in the great outback, an expanse of wild land where human population density equals roughly 9/100 of a person for every square mile. To grasp that statistic, I pictured myself divided into 100 pieces, then imagined nine of those pieces roaming one square mile of land.

When I returned home to San Francisco, I felt irritable and discontent. Life here, where over 17,000 of us pack into one square mile, could never replicate the amazing experience of the Australian outback. When would I ever again see a crocodile sunning himself on a riverbank, a kangaroo hopping through a eucalyptus forest, or a dingo lurking in the shadow of a big yellow moon?

Seeking an escape one afternoon, I Googled the words “unpopulated wild places,” but just as Borneo popped up on the screen, I was interrupted by a phone call from my husband. “What!” I said, annoyed at the intrusion into my travel fantasies.

“Listen,” he said.  “Just listen.”

A long mournful howl erupted on the other end of the line. A coyote was perched on a log just twenty feet from where my husband stood as he called from a neighborhood park. Closing my eyes, I recalled another day not long ago watching a pod of dolphins cavorting off a San Francisco beach while a flock of elegant terns flew in from the ocean to feed their newly fledged chicks in the sand. I remembered the grey whales I had seen in the same place only a few weeks before while a pair of red-tailed hawks circled quietly above. I thought of the animal tracks I had discovered a few months before that while hiking a nearby trail, tracks, I was told, of a California mountain lion.

As another long howl pierced my reverie, I closed my computer and gazed out the window at the fog swirling over Twin Peaks. “Thank you,” I said, both to my husband, and to the coyote. Thank you for reminding me that the outback I long for can also be found in my own beautiful back yard.

With a Perspective, this is Carol Arnold.

Carol Arnold is an environmental planner and writer who lives in San Francisco.

  • Skippy ear

    Thanks for the this thoughtful reminder that wonder is all around us, even in this very crowded city, where a coyote also enjoys our local park.

  • flyawayhome

    I love to know that there are still wild critters in or near our urban areas. They have been here for thousands of years, and hopefully will continue to be around for many thousands more. Thank you for reminding us of their presence.

  • Tomaso53

    Thank you Ms. Arnold for reminding me that what I am longing for may be closer than I think and I need to”open up” to it.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor