"Shared City: Encountering Boston through Wildlife" by Kirsten Tarves

Kirsten 1 goose

When I’m in a new place, the first thing I like to do is get a sense of the geographical area: what it looks like and what lives on (or in) it. I carry around a ludicrously heavy camera – which I do not really know how to use – in case a particularly photogenic animal stumbles across my path, or, as is more often the case, I stumble across its.

One of the first wildlife encounters I experienced in Boston was the Canada geese. After five years in Winnipeg, Canada, I consider myself well versed in goose etiquette. Custom at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg dictates that you give the geese as much room as possible, and they rush after you hissing anyways. I’ve seen them pick locks to chase down fleeing students. Even the US military fears our geese.

Consequently, a gang of these self-same variety of geese settled on my path to campus on the first day of classes brought me to a very abrupt halt. A short reconnaissance made it clear Bostonians were unfazed by their fellow winged pedestrians. I edged by the flock. All I got was a narrow-eyed glare from one goose. Four weeks later, I walk by them almost as lackadaisically as the Bostonians do. We Canadians love to brag about our politeness (a debatable attribution) but our southern neighbours have the monopoly on well-behaved geese.

This situation (below) astonished my Winnipeg-trained self. No Winnipegger considering their life of value would dare stand that close to a goose, never mind sit down to read. Yet it seemed that both goose and girl were entirely content with their shared riverview space.

Kirsten 2 goose

Encouraged by the discovery that the geese here are not as thuggish as their Canadian counterparts, I went out in search of other animals. An evening stroll along the river rewarded me with a series of rabbits, not all of whom liked me as much as I liked them.

Kirsten 3 rabbit

Until I made it suspicious by stopping, these rabbits were content to be only a few feet from the pedestrians and cyclists. The vole was a bit more reserved.

Kirsten 4 vole

A few weeks later, at the suggestion of HUSI’s communications manager Kristina, I decided to take a weekend afternoon off from studying and go in search of whales. I booked a trip through the Harvard Summer School’s Outings and Innings program with Boston Harbor Cruises, which runs joint research and tour trips to the Stellwagon Bank Marine Sanctuary, about 1.5 hours from Boston Harbor. Minke, humpback, and fin whales are regular sightings in the sanctuary. Fin whales are the second-largest species on earth, second only to blue whales, reaching weights of 100,000 lbs.

Kirsten 5 whales

Over the tour boat’s loudspeakers, the researchers occasionally reminded the adult passengers to be aware of the children around them and to make room for them at the front. All sightseers on our trip, crowded to whatever side of the boat the whales were nearest, obligingly did look around for those shorter passengers, despite the fact that the squeals of excitement at seeing the whales feeding were not only from the children onboard.

Kirsten 6 whales

To the immense excitement of the researchers, a calf with its mother surfaced enough for us to see the underside of the calf’s tail. This is, we were told, a rare behaviour in a young whale. The whales are distinguishable by the markings on the underside of their tails, much in the way humans are by fingerprint, and are given nicknames by researchers based on the individual markings.

Kirsten 7 whales

Throughout my time in Boston, I’ve seen wildlife and humans living together remarkably peaceably, from the smallest...

Kirsten 8 bee

...to the largest...

Kirsten 9 whales

...and anywhere in between. In these four weeks I’ve seen it serve as a reason for humans to exit their bubbles and interact with each other in shared moments of connection. These moments have ranged from the group of curious preteens stopping to look over my shoulder and ask what I was attempting to photograph, to strangers chatting with one another in line to board the harbour cruise, to those taller passengers being aware of the shorter ones onboard and allowing them to step to the front, to the jogger who warned me I was about to approach the one unfriendly goose in all of Boston.

Kirsten TarvesKirsten Tarves is currently an M.A. student of Slavic Studies at the University of Manitoba. She holds a B.A. in Russian with a minor in Ukrainian from the same university. Her current research focuses on the development of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s philosophical trickster-figure in his prose between 1925 and 1928. Although Russian literature and culture are her dominant research focuses, she maintains a strong interest in Ukraine as well, and has taken courses (in English) at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in Kyiv.

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