We are not alone when walking home from a nightclub or a 24-hour restaurant. Night animals are all around us: in the sky, in the bushes, and, sometimes, right on the sidewalk.
Indeed, one night when leaving a party on First Hill at around 11 p.m., I was stunned to see a pack of eight or so huge raccoons amble out of the courtyard of an apartment building like it ain't no thing and walk down the sidewalk like they paid taxes, too. First Hill is a very dense neighborhood. It has no big parks or orphaned spaces. Where in the world did these big mammals come from? At one point, they turned into an alley that looked to them much like a street lined with restaurants looks to us—it was lined with small and large trash cans.
Raccoons "get into all kinds of mischief" at night, according to Sean Met, the owner of A Wildlife Pro, a professional wildlife removal company. ("Wildlife problems can occur any time—animals don't take the weekend off," its website says.) "They commonly tip over garbage cans and will pry or tear open anything they find that might lead to food. They commonly steal pet food. They like water, and will often defecate in a swimming pool or remove all of the fish from an ornamental pond. They have no fear of breaking into homes through pet doors or other means."
The raccoon's universally bad reputation has made it the most famous night creature of the city, but there are others to consider. For example, there's the opossum (Didelphis virginiana), which has the distinction of being the only marsupial on this continent (it originated in South America). This animal is also famous for playing dead. The performance is greatly assisted by the animal's ugliness and the fact that it is not really playing but is totally unconscious. When in danger, the opossum passes out like a drunk, and it has no idea if the ruse worked until it wakes up, checks if the coast is clear, and continues looking for human trash and pet food in the dark.
Then there are the moths. These nocturnal insects are, according to Lia Leendertz, author of The Twilight Garden, "a poor relative of the butterfly" and have a beauty that's underappreciated by humans because "they choose to come out after dark." But bats, an animal that, with owls, appear at that strange moment of the day described by the French as "l'heure entre chien et loup"—meaning, the hour when the shepherd cannot tell the difference between the dog (his friend) and the wolf (his enemy)—have a different view. These flying mammals with funky noses certainly appreciate moths: They make a fine dinner (or, from the bat's point of view, breakfast). The main type of bat in Seattle is the big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus).
A new member of the city's life after dark is the coyote (Canis latrans). They began in the suburbs, feasting on housecats, and are now moving closer and closer to the heart of Seattle. Though it's not unusual to spot them during the day, the nighttime is their favorite time. The coyote may have left nature, but nature has not left it: Their habit of howling is now one of the many sounds of the town, and soon it won't be so wonderful to hear dance music blasting out of nightclubs as this wild canine howls.
I cannot end this short piece without mentioning the small mammals that, during the age of the dinosaurs, were confined to the night because being out in daylight was too dangerous. Darkness was safer. One of those night mammals turned out to be the ancestor of an ape that now dominates the day and has pushed lots of animals into the safety of the night. That ape is, of course, us.