Suburban Safari

(Yvetta Fedorova for The Washington Post)
By Tamara Jones
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 14, 2007

Planned communities thrive on pleasant predictability, and over the course of nearly 50 years now, Reston has embodied this philosophy in discreet, neutral tones. By tacit agreement or explicit covenant, anything upsetting Reston's natural balance is typically recycled curbside, donated to a worthy charity or enrolled in soccer camp for the summer.

But then something let out a howl.

An ungodly howl in the night, to be exact, punctuated by what sounded, alternately, like a woman screaming or a baby crying. Police were called, neighbors consulted, disturbing questions raised.

Such as: What the bleep was that ?

A father of three on Longwood Grove Drive solved the mystery for all of us who live here one recent morning when he looked out across his deck and spotted what he absolutely swore was a bobcat. Thirty pounds, maybe 40. Spots, tufted ears, short tail, big paws. Big teeth.

When the neighbors asked what he had been drinking, and if they could have some, The Witness followed his primal suburbanite instinct and did what a man must do when wild animals prowl hungrily outside the cabin door: He set up a 24-7 video camera. It is not clear where The Witness was going with this idea -- mere proof or YouTube fame -- partly because he ran out of tape and partly because he and his wife decamped to Bermuda and left the kids behind with an aunt who may or may not have been told what was lurking out back.

Not that wildlife is unwelcome in this Fairfax County enclave. This is, after all, headquarters of the National Wildlife Federation, which has officially recognized Reston for its success in creating ecologically sensitive backyard habitats, which attract "beautiful songbirds and cheerful butterflies." Happy little chipmunks, too. And photogenic deer that graze on the grassy slopes of Reston's four man-made lakes, where special Nature Tot hikes are offered to show delighted toddlers where the turtles live and the busy beavers work.

But in Longwood Grove, the wild kingdom has been getting noticeably wilder of late. Even before the bobcat showed up in the neighborhood, a cul-de-sac coyote had been brazenly trotting the streets, possibly in search of the opossum that must have defected as official mascot of China's shot-put team. In all fairness, though, Steroid Possum may have been bulking up to discourage the Gargantuan Black Snake, which was either four blocks or four feet long, depending on the extent of your phobia. Technically, it is now Two Semi-Gargantuan Dead Half-Snakes, thanks to Shovel Mom, who dispatched it on Jill Gallagher's porch.

"Eeew," said Gallagher, whose sentiments were immediately echoed by a majority of her five daughters.

The bobcat, however, has the subdivision . . . well, divided.

Almost more troubling than the fanged interloper was the discovery that there was no official plan to deal with it. Not us, said Animal Control. Has a crime been committed? police wanted to know. If you are calling about baby raccoons, please press 4, instructed the nonprofit Wildlife Rescue League.

The Reston Association phone rings and rings, but its Web page helpfully directs nature inquiries to Earl the Squirrel.

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