East of Elmgrove

East with the Night

When locals hit the hay, wildlife comes out to play


Providence is... a strange enough place in the daytime. In the silent, slow-motion hours, well after the setting of the sun, it’s downright uncanny.

I am not a morning person, nor have I ever been. However, it is occasionally rewarding to get up very early, between 4 and 5am, to drive around the East Side.

In the past, I have volunteered at 5Ks, which required my arriving at the Brown University football stadium just after 4am to arrange traffic cones and offload cases of bottled water from delivery trucks.

Driving down Blackstone Boulevard – early, early, early in the morning – I saw coyotes. They were lean, tapered, colorless wraiths, seeming to waft over the blacktop. They drifted around the ill glow of my headlights before disappearing into the thick, shadowy shrubs.

Slightly distracted by the spectral coyotes, I swerved to avoid what appeared to be a giant, glowing, prickly tennis ball dashing across the road on rapid feet. In retrospect, this was probably a raccoon or opossum. I was hoping it had been an oversized darting hedgehog, but as I later learned, hedgehogs are not indigenous to North America.

Clearly these creatures were accustomed to invasive automobiles, but I liked to think they saw me as yet another nocturnal beast. Like a werewolf, but one with headlights and pine tree air freshener.

Compare and contrast: I lived in Southern California for several years. Once, while walking around scenic and sedate Pasadena, I became aware of a soft hissing sound, like a whispered conversation. It took a few days for me to ask what the haunting sound was. People explained that these were rattlesnakes coiled in the scrub brush behind convenience stores and copy shops, between sandwich places and apartment buildings. This may have been a locals-only instance of razz the rube. Yet, Southern California was built in a desert. The desert simply refuses to leave.

Blackstone Boulevard is not desert. It seems powerfully alive when all around is dormant.

According to the Blackstone Park Conservancy, wildlife sightings in the area have included, but are not limited to, various turtles and small fish, muskrats, snakes, chipmunks, coyotes, foxes, bats, opossums, rabbits, raccoons, salamanders, skunks, squirrels, and deer.

Despite the interment of horror writer H. P. Lovecraft at nearby Swan Point cemetery, no malevolent elder gods, sentient cuttlefish, or hideous inbred mutant fish-men have ever been reliably spotted on Blackstone Boulevard. There have been several sightings of dedicated joggers bounding through the night, clad in iridescent orange tunics. Inebriated Ivy Leaguers wandering off-campus remain an entity unto themselves.

It’s an inspiring thought, that there are wild animals lying in wait until everyone hits the sack.

As I coast down the dark streets, I am reminded of those board games, back in the 1970s, that incorporated special inks. Players could only see the ink by holding sections of colored cellophane to their eyes. Without the special eyepieces, secret messages and illustrations were invisible. Once worn, the makeshift lenses revealed secret instructions.

By 10pm, most East Siders turn off PBS’ Frontline and start to retire for the evening. Yet, for the coyotes, raccoons, and other darkness-loving quadrupeds, the night is still very young.