Where the wild things are: Galilee

Fri, 02/24/2017 - 11:45am

I saw her as I stood by the port loading door — while working aboard the M/V Quonset — and scanned the rock jetty. There in the hot and blinding July sun was the blonde woman in the skimpy two-piece bathing suit slathering sun tan oil on her lithe and toned body — her hair was perfect. She was a goddess, and attention was being paid by several passengers and crew who were passing by this beauty as they were heading south to Block Island. As she slathered, primped, and posed on the rocks she got herself prepared for a nice relaxing afternoon. Moreover, she had all the sunbathing accoutrements: sunglasses, a towel, a book, and her beach bag — with maybe a sandwich inside — she was in for a long and languorous day in the sun. Then, approximately four feet away from the woman, I noticed something that did not quite fit in to this idyllic summer setting. Sitting next to the sparsely clad beauty was a corpulent, and indifferent, rat! The unknowing woman reclined — my skin crawled — and the Quonset continued on toward Old Harbor.

According to Webster, a scavenger is “an animal that feeds on carrion, dead plant material, or refuse.” Over the past several decades Galilee has evolved as a thriving fishing port and burgeoning tourist attraction. Subsequently, along with this growth has come proliferation of certain species of scavengers — seagulls are the most prevalent. We see them everywhere in Point Judith looking to survive by scouring the harbor and bulkheads for sustenance. In addition to the seagulls — who’ve had a substantial track record in this port — there have been others who have come and gone, e.g., rats. These very bold and adaptable critters had a good run; however, feral and domestic cats put a crimp in their style — adios Rattus norvegicus. 

For several years cats roamed the bulkheads of Galilee. Many were abandoned by people who could no longer care for them, and probably figured the animals could survive because there was a food source — they were right — and this probably put balm on the abandoner’s guilt. Seeing that there were no real predators, these wandering, and very clever, felines flourished. Just north of the ferry docks once stood a restaurant called the Sunflower. Owner Nancy Champlin had a soft spot for stray cats, and she would feed them — they flourished. When she would close for the season these scrappy cats (bad pun intended) would be living below her place in the wintertime. Galilee was crawling with cats during those times. The Sunflower is gone, and so are the cats — this scribbler seldom sees a stray these days. Furthermore, it is very politically incorrect to abandon a pet, and that has also contributed to the feline decline.

Red foxes are found all over the northern hemisphere. These carnivores are nocturnal hunters, and feed on birds and carrion flesh in the thicket. They follow human populations and are very quick to adapt. I’ve been seeing more of these clever hunters over the past few years. (Last summer I saw a family of them playing with their young in broad daylight near a friend’s place in Galilee.) They don’t really bother anybody; they mind their own business and survive on whatever they can scavenge, and they don’t seem to have a care in the world. I also see them on the sides of the roads at night when I’m out with the dogs roaming around Point Judith. They lope along the edge of the brush while casting a wary eye at  car traffic. They have street smarts and this keeps their numbers steady. These clever foxes are the latest critters having their shot at survival in the Port of Galilee. If no natural predators make the scene, they’ll be around for some time. Just sayin’.

Fisher cats are part of the weasel family. These wily omnivores are currently being seen around Galilee. I’ve seen them while heading to work on Mondays and Thursdays at 0500. They are bold hunters who have very few predators. Humans have hunted them in the forests of Canada. There are plenty of rabbits in Point Judith, and there is plant material, berries and nuts for them to feed upon around the Point. A fisher cat is of a formidable size. They are the size of a household cat and can weigh up to thirteen pounds. These critters look like they could make short work of a small dog. Quite frankly, they give me the creeps. These cats along with the red foxes must give each other a wide berth while foraging around the beach scrub for some grub. I’ve yet to see any of these critters in Galilee scouring the bulkheads scouting for some food. Moreover, these cats are aggressive hunters.

Over the past decade there has been another scavenger on the scene in Galilee; however, this is a waterborne hunter called a harbor seal. I’ve noted the populations increasing for several years. They hang out just west of the ferry docks waiting for fishing draggers to toss unwanted fish off their cull boards. These seals can stay under water for 30 minutes, but they can be seen sounding while they hunt in the harbor. Harbor seals can be seen throughout Narragansett Bay all winter long. Furthermore, these very capable hunters have found a substantial food source right off the ferry docks, and if draggers keep throwing life-sustaining edibles overboard, then we won’t be seeing harbor seals leaving Galilee anytime soon.

I never knew what happened to the suntanning beauty on the rocks that day, but I do know that she wasn’t in her spot when the Quonset returned from the island — maybe she got spooked by the brown, furry, and bold interloper. I can conjure images of her laying down and drifting off into a soothing summertime reverie, and then gently rolling her head toward the direction of the brown rat, and coming completely unstrapped — jumping up and down and screaming hellacious yawps — while gathering her gear as the indifferent and rotund scavenger waits patiently for a discarded sandwich scrap or perhaps a flying clam cake.

What a wild scene that would be!