On Saturday afternoon, just about the time the Football Team was closing out our victory over Orcutt Academy, a peacock wandered onto campus. We hear them a lot in Lillingston Canyon, where there is a thriving flock of peacocks, the descendants no doubt of birds that escaped from a rancher’s enclosure many decades ago and made a home in the avocado rich drainage beside our Mesa.
But this fellow wasn’t interested in avocados. He just wanted to see the campus. When I encountered him he was on his way back from the football game trailed by several curious students who seemed slightly amazed at the peacock’s apparent lack of concern for the presence of people all around.
A pod of sophomores had a similar experience recently on Outings Week at Joshua Tree. Most were just waking up on the last morning when a rattlesnake slithered nonchalantly between the tarps of watching students and curled up beneath a bush in the center of camp. The students, to their great credit, did not overreact. Instead, they packed up and made breakfast, being careful not to disturb the resting snake. When they left, the rattlesnake was still curled up in the shade beneath the bush. Fitting, since we were guests in the snake’s home.
Our freshmen kayaking out at the reef off Carpinteria can tell similar stories of unexpected encounters – all positive and awe-inspiring – with the creatures who make their home beneath the sea: sharks, dolphins, seals, and the like. Again, we were the guests, welcome but mindful of our responsibility to our hosts and the ecosystem they inhabit.
Over the years our junior trip has been rife with memorable encounters. No sharks, of course, but plenty of snakes, bears, coyotes, even the oc
casional mountain lion. It is part of what makes these trips so meaningful – that we get far enough from human settlements to experience a wilderness that is truly wild.
But it is just as remarkable when nature comes to us, this time in the form of a peacock who seemingly wanted to leave his home for a while to visit ours. It may seem like a small thing to note, but for all of us who encountered this admittedly impressive creature, it was meaningful, fascinating, and strangely affirming. It felt like we had somehow made him welcome, and so he lingered, perhaps as intrigued by us and this place as we were by him.
I don’t know where the peacock is now or where he went when he left this Mesa. I’m not sure what happened to the snake who made a home amidst our sophomores in Joshua Tree. It is possible – likely, actually – we won’t see either of them again. But I will record our meetings as a success. We respected them and their space well enough that they did not feel threatened by our presence. We all felt very much at home.
That is the goal ultimately. This place whose history goes back eons before this school existed and has been home to all manner of communities – human and otherwise – is at its best when it can be home for whoever or whatever takes up residence, for however long they choose to stay.
The peacock reminded us all of that this past weekend. And we are grateful.