In Hawaii, where I grew up, there weren't many wild animals out in the forests. Big ones, that is. There were, and are wild boar, which are both big and dangerous, but not very common, at least not where I used to forage, in the hills behind Honolulu. When I was young there were supposedly a few wallabies galumphing around, and I think I might have seen one once out beyond Koko Head. Some stray chital deer here and there, folks claimed. All of these are introduced species, as are the pigs, though they were partly introduced by the ancient Hawaiians. In fact, it's rare to come across a native species that isn't a fish. A salt-water fish.
Because of this, a young boy like myself could do two things with impunity. First, I could wander anywhere I wanted in the island's thick wet jungles because the worst thing I was likely to get was a centipede bite. Second, I could catch and keep almost anything I found because none of it was protected, except the exceedingly rare native species, which I was never going to find. This bounty drew me to wander, at a young age, into environments that most people would look at and say, "Here there be tigers."
My brother was at the doctors office almost every single week, sometimes more than once. Compounding his visits with any of our large family's regular visits made the doctors office like a second home. I knew him as Dr. Felix. His office backed up against the Nuuanu stream, which ran out of the perpetually overcast, wet, and rainy mountains beyond. Huge vaulting monkeypod and banyan trees shaded the stream in a canopy of green high above. It was a simple matter to walk out the back of the white bungalow that was the office, down the ferny slope to the water, and then to follow the clear burbling path upwards into darkness. I would return with plastic bags filled with scintillating fan-tailed guppies. For the time that I was gone, there was no office, no medical smell, no muffled voices from the parents trying to wring some hopefulness from the analysis they would hear, no humiliation because we could not pay for the services we did receive, no fear that it would all get worse, suddenly, fiercely, and without preamble, as it had gotten worse the day my brother was dropped onto his head as a baby, by a distracted housekeeper. That world was gone. In its place was a jungle ornamented with dappled sunlight, laced with serpentines of roots and branches, and lush with clear water bejeweled with exotic fish. For the price of a few mosquito bites, I could be free and safe in a world filled with unexpected treasure. For years, I responded by sacking these sanctuaries and bringing home my living booty of frogs, fish and bugs. Here, I present a huge cane toad whom I kept in a trash can.
Later, long later, we left those deep shadowed valleys behind for the tawny hills of Southern California. There, I would follow other streams up other valleys, plundering lizards and frogs from the rocks, thrillingly aware that bears and lions did prowl the aromatic chaparral and oak around me.
Ultimately I woke up to the selfishness of taking these creatures away from their homes to die at mine, and gave up the collecting part of my rambles. I still love to walk along the streams, my eyes searching for the flicker of an eyelid, the darting reflection beneath the sparkle of the water, the sudden movement among the fallen leaves, but I no longer need to strike, like some overgrown heron spearing prey in the rushes. There is a universe of peace in the contemplation of a freckled sand lizard, whose only thoughts are the warmth of the sun on his miniature mosaic of a back and the anticipation of the next tasty ant who will throw a shadow across his rock.