The amount of reptiles inside of Scid Howard’s house outnumber the human residents five-to-one.
He has geckos, salamanders, blue belly lizards and snakes: a king snake, a couple ring-necked snakes, and even a rattlesnake that he caught and domesticated. Like, with his bare hands.
Howard isn’t a zoologist, nor a wildlife preservationist. He’s just a guy from East Oakland who’s always had an affinity for wildlife.
The plastic toy animals that his mother bought for him when he was a kid were seeds sewn into his heart, and they’ve now sprouted into his full-blown passion. He has glass cages and large plastic cases that house all kinds of animals, some caught in the wild and some store-bought.
“This is a breeding colony,” Howard told me as he opened one of the cases. “I’ve got three different animals in here: snakes, salamanders, and tarantulas.”
“Tarantulas?! Like, spiders?” I uttered.
“Yeah, you want to see one?” he calmly retorted.
“Hell yeah, I want to see one; I don’t want to hold one, though,” I said, still a little startled.
“Na, you don’t want to hold these,” he cautioned. “They’re venomous and they will attack.”
Dumbfounded, I said, “Why do you have tarantulas in your house if they’re venomous?”
He nonchalantly replied, “I’ve got a rattlesnake over there. I like venomous animals, I’ve always had a thing for…”
“Living on the wild side,” I finished his sentence for him.
I asked him about the leaves and shrubbery, “Where’d you get this?” He said, “It’s all from outside. I tried to make it look like what you see in the Oakland Hills; people walk past this stuff all the time and don’t know that it’s full of snakes.”
He went back to poking through the large container of reptiles and arachnids, and said, “Yeah, these all came from Oakland, bruh. Right here, up Keller Road.”
And in the very next sentence, he casually told me, “Right now I’m in the process of looking for a mountain lion, so I can record it.”
And that’s Scid Howard in a handbag. Snakes, spiders and mountain lions—oh my.
I’m fascinated with Howard’s story because he’s an African American man from the ‘hood who loves the great outdoors; and he’s not the only one. While the popular narrative that people of color, specifically African Americans, don’t like the outdoors is slowly being chipped away through organizations like OutdoorAfro and Facebook groups dedicated to POC hikes, my guy Scid takes it to the next level. He eclipses the narrative that we don’t like hiking, camping, getting in tune with nature. He toes the line of being a Dr. Doolittle / Crocodile Hunter type—and he does it all with a gold-toothed smile and locs as long as some of the snakes he owns.
He’s a real East Oakland kid. He’s been to sideshows, had run-ins with the law, and has lost close friends to gun violence; one even died in his arms.
It’s this pain that he exorcises in the great outdoors.
“All that stress: your homeboy getting shot, the police harassing you, racism, all of that shit goes out the door when you’re in the woods, bruh, because it’s so quiet.” He took a seat in his vivarium-styled living room, and continued to talk. “All you hear is the trees and the animals. And then you start to make connections. People think I’m crazy, but I’m starting to make more connections with animals.”
There are some people who think he’s slightly off his rocker. When I told a friend I was doing a story on him, they referred to him as "Father Nature."
Yet people are fascinated by his deep appreciation for the wildlife native to the East Bay; his 20,000 followers on Instagram are evidence of that. In his videos, he lifts logs looking for snakes, and films families of bobcats.
“Why aren’t you scared?” I asked him.
“Because I’m the number-one predator,” he said, without hesitation. “I’m from Oakland, we’re dodging bullets. Think I’m going to be scared of a damn wildcat?”
By exploring nature and using green spaces for mental health purposes, Howard is a prime example of why the June 5 vote on Proposition 68 is important. Among other things, if passed, the ballot measure would grant $200 million toward local parks (on a per-capita basis), allocate $725 million to park poor neighborhoods and grant $218 million toward improving public access to parks.
Howard, whose favorite park is Redwood Heights, where he says he has secret spots (and has discovered some ancient Native American ruins), is in favor of funding the upkeep and improvement of local parks.
He’s also a big proponent of exposing young students of color to the benefits of indulgence in nature, as he wants to develop curriculum and speak at schools in the near future.
With each adventure, Scid dispels myths and inspires those who tune into his wildlife channel on social media and YouTube.
At his house, before I left, he told me, “They assume Oakland is all about sideshows, pimping, hustling, selling dope, smoking weed, going to the clubs... we’re always stereotyped to be a certain way. But we are all talented in our own ways. I happen to know nature very well... I’ve found my purpose. I can’t see myself doing anything else.”
He then stepped outside with me into the neighborhood, the flatlands of Deep East Oakland. As we got closer to my car, he couldn’t help but to point to a grassy hill above 82nd Boulevard and say, “There’s all kinds of alligator lizards up there.”
Pendarvis Harshaw is the author of 'OG Told Me,' a memoir about growing up in Oakland. Find him on Twitter here.
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