Home & Garden Columns
Are you ready to make personal contact with your wild neighbors? Ready to go eye-to-eye with the swiveling head of a great horned owl, outstare a magnificent Bald Eagle, chuckle at an opossum burrowed head-deep into a cereal box, count the leaves being pulled out of a Trader Joe’s Indian Fare carton by a California ground squirrel?
In a perfect world, we’d prefer meeting most wild animals roaming free and independent on their home-ground. Unfortunately, injuries and habituation prevent some animals from enjoying that option. Fortunately, there’s an organization that rehabilitates injured wildlife and provides homes for those which have become too tame to be returned to nature.
Located in the heart of Walnut Creek, surrounded by quiet residential neighborhoods and an expansive community park, the Lindsay Wildlife Museum connects us to animals living in nearby open spaces and our own backyards. Since 1955 this non-profit organization has reached out to children and adults through changing natural history and art exhibits, hands-on activities, classes, outreach education and community programs, Wildlife Ambassadors and its rehabilitation hospital.
After an absence of several years, I returned to the Lindsay Museum one cold winter weekday. The low slung building of natural-toned stone, white tubular accents and large expanses of tinted glass are almost camouflaged amid its surrounding gardens. In one section bony oak woodland branches harbor massive bird nests and bulbous galls above a thick blanket of tanned leather leaf litter. Additional natural communities foster a “living with nature” theme highlighting meadows, chaparral, redwoods, wildlife gardens, drought-tolerant and deer-resistant specimens.
I followed the resident Great Horned Owl inside to the Thomas J. Long Exhibit Hall, ready to get acquainted with Wildlife Ambassadors and explore. Tethered high atop exhibit cases I gazed up at raptors – hawks, kestrels, owls, falcons and eagles, each occupying its own space. Below them mammals are housed in roomy enclosures hung with greenery and various wood structures, each designed to keep the animal comfortable and safe.
Information placards provide biological details and explain the reason for each animal’s presence. An adult coyote never learned how to be wild, being raised by humans. A turkey vulture suffers from arthritis, while a common king snake is missing an eye. Materials engage young viewers. Children circle drawings on “What can you find?” sheets. Volunteers join you at exhibits, answering questions and teaching about wildlife.
An impressive two-story replica of Mt. Diablo’s balancing rock gives voice to the distant past while illustrating present inhabitants. Fossils share sandstone pushed upward from an ancient seabed with native plants, deer, gray fox, whipsnake and quail. The Discovery Room offers hours of engagement with hands-on activities for anyone small enough to occupy pint-sized tables and chairs. Animal puzzles, a puppet stage, pelts and rocks to touch and shelves of animals promise a good start toward fostering compassion for nature.
The Lindsay Museum excels in its daily stage presentations, combining entertainment with education and awe. Joining a group of first and second graders I was introduced to a Bald Eagle whose collision with an electrical wire in Bozeman, Montana resulted in an amputated wing. Using morsels of food as lures, the trainer encouraged exercise as the eagle hopped from perch to perch, ending at the pool where he was showered with refreshing water. The kids were questioned about nest size, eyesight, social calls and what they could do to help wildlife. We came away better informed, inspired by the museum’s commitment and the eagle’s will to survive.
Nature seen through the eyes of an artist adds another dimension to the Lindsay Museum. “A Natural Inclination”, the art of Andrew Denman, combines the observation skills of the naturalist with the creativity of the artist. Denman paints wildlife, still life and landscapes as realistic depictions, often overlaid with abstract and stylized elements, including the artist’s perceptions and interpretations.
A landscape of eucalyptus forms the backdrop to long strips of bark, leaves and squares of solid color. Likewise, a small ocean landscape of Bodega Head is only one element among the still life of crabs and shells. Graphite drawings, of wolves and red-tail hawk, focus on Denman’s skill as an illustrator.
The thirty works on display provide clear evidence of Denman’s respect for the natural world and his thoughtful juxtapositioning of the original with the experimental.
Occupying a small but well-stocked area within the exhibit hall is the museum gift shop, both browse and purchase-worthy. For budding birders, Audubon stuffed birds with bird calls serve as both tactile and auditory companions. If Monopoly has become passé, try Bug-opoly, Ocean-opoly and Dino-opoly. Wildlife themed hats, t-shirts, socks, jewelry, toys, puzzles and books happily share shelfspace.
Along with education, the beating heart of the Lindsay Museum is its onsite rehabilitation hospital, the oldest and one of the largest in the United States. Open everyday for injured and orphaned wildlife, all services are free. Whether it’s a ruddy duck with a fractured bill, an arboreal salamander suffering from chlorine toxicity or a badger with head abscesses and body punctures, staff and volunteers treat and care for each one. During the busy season, they might see up to 150 animals per day.
The year 2006 was a busy one for the museum. Over 500 classrooms and 50,000 visitors toured the museum. Docents brought exhibits to an additional 8,000 students and 15,000 community members. Almost 6,000 injured animals were brought to the wildlife hospital. Six hundred volunteers donated over 70,000 hours.
Set a date for visiting the Lindsay Wildlife Museum, adding your stats to the year 2007. Watch the gray fox curled up in a ball, marvel at the dexterity of the opossum’s tail, listen for the raptor’s cry. Spread the word about how to help injured wildlife and avoid future problems. Contribute to keeping our wild neighbors safe and reducing the hospital’s workload.
Getting There: Take Hwy 24 east to Hwy 680 north. Take the Treat Blvd/Geary Road exit and turn left over the freeway. Turn left on Buena Vista and right on First Ave. The museum is halfway up the block on the left. Park in the parking lots, not on the street.
Lindsay Wildlife Museum, 1931 First Ave., Walnut Creek (925) 935-1978, www. wildlife-museum.org. Open Wed.-Fri. noon-5 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Adults $7, seniors $6, ages 2-17 $5.
“A Natural Inclination” is on exhibit through March 18.