Beasts of the Princeton Wild

November 3, 2014
Aliisa Lee

Hello, hello, hello!

My first quarter of junior year has moved swiftly and surely, so there's much to catch up on. I'm officially an English major, have staked out my own Visual Arts studio space, joined an eating club, plugged in more with my Christian groups, and found lots of free food. However, I have wanted to write this particular blog post for a while, so I'll do it now.

I grew up in Honolulu, where the land-animal population mainly consists of cats, dogs, mongoose, geckos, and a bazillion types of bugs and birds. At some point while preparing for Princeton, the fact that I would be living in a place with more exotic creatures struck me. 


I realized I was headed to a school brimming with woodland life, which naturally meant

disney princess
I would become a Disney princess!

During my time at college, I have indeed met many animals that go to school along with us tigers. In this post, I will release my inner Aurora naturalist and blog about some creatures found here on the feral plains of Princeton. May this be a useful guide to all you island kids out there. Or to anyone who doesn't live in a place with deer. Or even if you do, but just never leave your house and see nature! 

This post is for all of you.

All right, I'll go through in an approximate order of how frequently these animals show up in my life. Let us begin with


Bears are the bottom of the list because I've never actually seen a bear.

But I do have a story! There is this one nice guy who sends out occasional campus-wide alerts on behalf of Princeton's public safety. Traffic in the Princeton area, petty theft, communication tests: the emails usually contain information that is good to know, but that slip into your archive with all the fanfare of a gently rustling breeze.   

Still, I remember very distinctly the very first email I received from him. I was still in Bahrain, a high schooler very high on my acceptance to college, eagerly opening every single email from my soon-to-be home. One of these emails was from our public safety man.

Bear 2
Is this what Princeton was? I thought in awe. Woods where the community sends out tips about animal sightings?

I immediately passed the email on to my big sister in Japan, saying 

They have bear!
She knows me, and replied

Aka response

Next up for our animals, we have


Another extremely elusive creature! The only one I have seen on campus was less of a chipmunk and more a darting ribbon of black, brown, and white. I was walking back from Late Meal at Frist when I saw the cheetah-chipmunk speed along the sidewalk and dive into some nearby bushes. 

Unfortunately, I was too slow to get a picture of the chipmunk. However, since I had my camera out, I photographed a curious scene on my path two minutes later.


There were four condiment jars filled with ketchup, placed neatly atop a grate just off the sidewalk. Why four of them? Why did she or he thoughtfully abandon them here, instead of just tossing them in the trash? Is this an expression of self? What is art? So very many mysteries of life.

You may remember from an earlier post about Late Meal that I posted this picture of some extremely delicious sushi.

Cosmic perspective
Perhaps you noticed the sushi lay upon a textbook with the grandiose title, "The Cosmic Perspective," which I owned as a student of  AST 205, Planets in our Universe, taught by the wonderful Professor Gaspar Bakos. He'll be talking about methods of detecting planets in other stellar systems and casually mention, "Oh yes, this is a planet I found last year." Then he'll continue with the lecture as if discovering exoplanets was a normal weekend activity.

Throughout the year, Professor Bakos and his TAs host "star parties" for students. We gather at the observatory or a nearby field and enjoy a night of telescopes, astronomical wisdom and his signature chocolate-covered coffee beans. He also hands those beans out before midterms and exams, just to give that extra little edge. 

Anyway, some friends and I were on our way back from one such star party when I saw my first Princeton deer. Out of the darkness, all Lion King wilderbeest style, a herd of deer came storming down the other side of the street with their eyes flashing in the lamplight. I have never seen deer around campus otherwise, but that night, there were six of them going for a 10 p.m. jog. It was all extremely surreal, but that might also be because I had been popping those coffee beans like Tic Tacs.

There is always a profusion of birds flitting around campus. However, since I don't know what types most of them are, the only winged creatures that get an entry are the very recognizable Canadian geese. 

Sometimes you'll hear a chorus of nasal honking drifting from somewhere overhead. You'll look up and scan the skies, for their cry always transforms you for a moment into an eager ornithologist. Occasionally, you'll see a small flock of them on a field somewhere around campus, resting their round feathered bodies on the green grass of Princeton. When you look again, they'll be gone! 

I like to compare them to the campus golfers. When the weather is pleasant, some people bring out their golf clubs, gather in groups and carefully hit tennis balls around, aiming for certain landmarks across campus. This year and last, I've been living on the first floor of Whitman's southern half, meaning I get clear view from my bedroom window right into the southern courtyard. 

Window 2

I've never played myself, but occasionally, a flock of such golfers will descend into the courtyard outside my window. After whacking the ball around for a bit, they'll disappear like a gaggle of geese, rising to the purple skies as swiftly as they had come. 

Around the upper part of campus is an old stone building called Murray Dodge, which houses the Office of Religious Life and related activities. In the basement is the Murray Dodge Cafe. 

Murray Dodge

I always think the basement has a kind of cozy, hipster vibe, probably because it's so underground.

Murray Dodge

But really, anyone and everyone can come down to Murray Dodge and play board games, hang out, study at the tables or couches, drink tea, and most important,

eat the fresh-baked cookies that students on shift are constantly whipping up!

In the Spring of '13, I took a fantastic freshman seminar called "Light, Camera, Action" with Professor Jason Puchalla. For one of our final projects, my group hooked our time lapse camera on the pipe above the Murray Dodge cookies and diligently collected data about cookie consumption and patterns over a few nights. This course fulfilled my science with lab requirement and was one of the most fun classes I've taken at Princeton. Go freshman seminars! 

It was after the first night of tasty data collection that I saw my first raccoon. I had just walked up the stone stairs outside the Murray Dodge Cafe and was greeted by the brisk night air and two large, gray, furry nuggets, lumbering around like their business was nobody's business. In my head, I had always envisioned raccoons like kittens, but these guys were more like small beefy bears.

Unperturbed by the small crowd of people pointing at them, they wandered off into the night to be tough and rustle around in some dumpsters.

Now, a quick break from Princeton animals.

Bonus time! This entry is kind of cheat because I haven't actually seen snakes around Princeton. However, I really want to talk about this snake I saw this summer because it was really cool. 

My family lives in Singapore now, so I was there for a month before school started. On a walk with my mom (Hi Mom!), we spotted a friendly python wending his way down the canal. 


We called animal rescue, but he stuffed himself into one of the drainage holes before they came. 

Snake goodbye

Yeah, that's all I wanted to say.

Back to Princeton! 

Sometime last spring I realized the neighborhood beyond Princeton's campus is really beautiful walking ground. I don't claim to be a great pioneer of the world outside of the orange bubble. But when everything you need is on the 500 acres of Princeton's campus, adventure can be found in wandering abroad just for the sake of wandering. 

The nearby graveyard is one of my favorite spots, in a totally not creepy way. There is something really restful about the place!


I've spotted little white tails hopping around campus in recent days, but the first wild rabbit I saw was on one of my walks. I was cutting through the graveyard when I spotted a comfortably plump brown bunny, sitting in the grass. 

Graveyard rabbit

I came back on my walk the next afternoon and found the exact same guy hanging around the exact same spot! Whether he was asserting his right to be there or was a ghost rabbit that haunts that patch of grass for some tragic reason, I've decided to let him alone.

Ooooh cats. I'm more of a dog person now, but when I was in middle school, I would pounce on any cat pictures I came across. Then, I'd neatly post them on a billboard above my bed that I had specially designated for cat pictures. That was an interesting time of life.

I frequently spot them gliding around campus,  but I really can't think of any good Princeton cat stories! However, I do have a weird picture my younger sister Amalia sent me from her walk to school.  


Why does it do this? I do not know.

Now, on to the top three animals!

You may be wondering, whaaaaaat?? Do you see more moose than cats running rampant around Princeton?

Yes and no. No, the moose I see does not run around; it is dead. But yes, I have been seeing a moose very frequently this semester!

It's this fellow, who just hangs in the billiards room:

How did I come across this wild trophy? Well...

Juuuust kidding! 

This moose is located in the one and only Quadrangle Club, the Princeton eating club where I am now a member.


I knew just a handful of people when I first joined the club, but it's been really easy to get to know many more crazy and awesome 'Dranglers. None of that "Mean Girls" drama of where you'll sit and which cliques you can talk to; there's a saying that goes, "there's always room at a Quad table," and it is absolutely true. I have seen laws of physics defied to make it true.

Members have 24/7 access to the house, which is three floors of a such a great fun, casual environment. No one is pretending, and whether eating, studying, nerding out or having fun, people are just friendly and genuinely happy to be there with each other. You come into the house and you are comfortable being fun or weird — kind of like how you'd be going home.

Movie night
From sitting down at a random table for dinner, studying on dangerously comfortable couches, dying in the Super Smash tournament, laughing with friends at member's events and watching pool-noodle gladiator fights, Quad is now a really bizarre and fantastic part of Princeton life for me.  

Now, some thoughts on eating clubs. Every Princeton eating club is different, which is good since every Princeton student is different. Those upperclassmen who opt to join a club will hopefully find one that best suits them, whether that fit is based on where their friends are or what type of experience they want from an eating club. Since membership is such a subjective and variable experience, technically, no club is better than another.

And yet ... somehow, Quad and all its 'Dranglers manage to be the best. It is another mystery of life! 

Townies will often come through campus with their happy little retrievers, and occasionally a student group will organize a puppy study break. However, there is really only one dog on campus.  

At the beginning of my sophomore year, my roomie Alissa and I chased after a girl who had forgotten her backpack in the dining hall. We caught up, returned the bag, introduced ourselves to the girl (Sofia Gallo, Class of 2017), her guide dog (Karleen, Class of Awesome), and struck up one of the best friendships I've made at Princeton. We discovered our circles overlap quite a bit since we're both in Whitman, Christian ministries (she's the reason I started bridging both Princeton Faith and Action (PFA) and  Princeton Evangelical Fellowship (PEF)), and are just cool people who enjoy making jokes and being buddies. 


There is nothing more tragically wonderful than the face of a pet-deprived college student looking longingly after a dog like Karleen. It's always fun to walk with Sofia around campus and see people's heads turning like compass needles that suddenly found their North. 

And Karleen is such a perfect and adorable dog to admire! I've honestly never seen an animal both so fun and friendly (I once accidentally spilled an entire cup of water on her and she still loves me) and so diligent and well-trained (her puppy eyes are killer, but I've never seen her snap up for dining hall food). She is a model for canines everywhere.

Karleen and Sofia

Having Sofia as my friend has seriously been one of the greatest blessings at Princeton. In addition to the fact that she has a dog, she is just one of those funny and smart gem-like people you love to be around. She's comfortable with herself, really cares for others, loves laughing and is very passionate about the things she's interested in. Try to ask her anything about America!


I have enough trouble navigating life and Princeton, and my vision is pretty standard. I'm awed daily by how Sofia does it with such grace while being such a fun and down-to-earth person. Karleen is undeniably an amazing dog, but the real gold goes to the beautiful Princetonian holding the harness.

Our final entry in this highly scientific diary of animals are

Were you really expecting anything else? 

Maybe you've noticed that I have been (for the most part) using animals as a starting point for a story about my Princeton experience. Since I am more of a blogger than hardcore zoologist, I not only enjoy talking about animals, but also love showing the little odds and ends of Princeton life. However, when it comes to tying squirrels to some specific event, there is just no way. Squirrels at Princeton are as ubiquitous as piranhas in the Amazon or exclamation points in my writing! 

black squirrel

Rumor has it that a long time ago, some students in the bio lab genetically engineered a batch of orange squirrels and a batch of black squirrels, because, well, Princeton. All the orange squirrels were defective, but you can still sometimes find some of the surviving black ones. Only one person has ever told me this and I think it is all lies, but they are fun lies.

It's sweet to see squirrels digging in the ground and patting the dirt over a newly buried treasure looking so satisfied. I have to resist the temptation to dig them up. I mean, I am really glad we have squirrels running around; look at this lovely creature, with the dying sun's rays just strong enough to set the tips of her fur into an ochre flame, just gentle enough to warm the blood running through the delicate skin of her ears.


They can also be so weird! 

Ask any Princetonian for a squirrel story, and I can guarantee you will not be disappointed. There are tales of squirrels with stump tails, squirrels trying to bury their acorns in dorm screen windows, squirrels eating their acorns while hanging upside down, squirrels trying to eat rocks, squirrels getting hit by bicyclists, bicyclists getting hit by squirrels...basically, it's anarchy. 

Personally, my most startling encounter with a squirrel happened in early December last year. It was around 8:30 a.m., that time of winter morning when the sky is dull gray, when the leaves skip across the stone pavements with that hollow tattering sound. I was walking through Rocky on my way to church when I saw this squirrel sniffing around on a bench. 

I pulled out my camera and got a pretty sweet shot.  


In the next moment, he turned around.

You know how in books or movies, people gasp out loud and put their hands over their mouths? Until that morning, I always thought that was a strangely theatrical exaggeration. 

Two face squirrel

I'm sure he was actually a really nice squirrel who just had a bad run-in with a bike or raccoon or himself. Still, he is another case exemplifying that you can never truly know a Princeton squirrel, and that you may be better off that way. 

In closing?

Oh Disney, what tales you spun! Where I live, animals do not rest in my lap or gather round affectionately. The Princeton deer are flighty, raccoons gluttonous, cats indifferent, squirrels deranged and not even singing to them can help. If I were Snow White, I would choose somewhere far, far away to make my woodland home. 

However, I am not a princess.

Animal frands

I am a Princetonian! And this campus of animals suits me perfectly.