Heard on National Public Radio this evening: the US Forest Service is refusing to allow specially equipped state-owned helicopters to be used to fight fires raging on federal lands in Montana because they don’t meet federal safety standards.
The issue is that, in terms of federal aviation safety standards, helicopters of this size may not carry buckets of more than 100 gallons of water. Montana’s Department of Natural Resources and Conservation uses five Vietnam-era Hueys, specially modified and safety approved (in terms of state standards) to carry 324-gallon buckets.
While these idiots are quibbling over bucket safety, about 100,000 acres of Montana is burning. In fact the whole of the Pacific Northwest is on fire, and firefighters are coming from as far away as New Zealand and South Africa to help. Firefighters have died. People have lost their homes, their livelihoods. Beloved pets, valuable livestock and countless wild animals have been toasted. Millions of acres of pasture, crop lands and forests are black and smoking. Himself and I live a hundred or so miles from the nearest fires, but we’re surrounded, and I don’t remember the last time we had a smoke-free sky.
The head of the US Forest Service is Thomas Tidwell. The politician accountable for this mess is Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. We already know Vilsack is a worm – he’s one of Monsanto’s whores. Thanks for that, Barack! Anyway, here’s the letter Governor of Montana Steve Bullock sent him, in case you feel like dropping him a line yourself.
It was around midday on a hot Sunday, and I had spent a deeply satisfying morning tiling the wall around the bath in our new home. The Girl Child, then aged about three, was off making friends with other kids who lived on the property. I decided to take a relaxing bath before calling the munchkin in for lunch.
I started the hot water running. My glasses steamed up, so I put them on the back of the loo. I peeled off my disgusting, sweaty, grout-smeared clothes, and, naked and short-sightedly peering, I ambled through my new home to the living room, which is where all the boxes and suitcases were piled up waiting for attention.
The front door, which opened into the living room, was one of those old fashioned ones that you occasionally see in South Africa – a solid wood door with a panel of ripple glass set into the top half, and a little railing above it from which one could hang a curtain. My clothes were hanging from the railing, so that’s where I was headed, squinting slightly to focus in order to make my selection … paying no attention at all to where my feet were going … until a loud HISSSSSS caused me to change gear instantaneously from first to reverse. I might have levitated a little.
On the black-painted concrete floor, just inside the door, was a hissing, writhing mass of … something blurry that hissed and writhed.
Full speed ahead, I scurried to the bathroom, snatched up my glasses, crammed them onto my face, kicked the dog outside, screamed “STAY OUT” at the Girl Child as she and her startled new friends ambled up the garden path toward the back door, remembered that I was naked, ducked out of sight, and skidded into the living room …
… Just in time to see the tail-end of a snake vanishing into a suitcase.
I slammed the suitcase shut, scurried back to the bathroom, turned off the bath tap, yanked my damp and grouty clothes back on, and ran to ask the neighbor mommy to watch the Girl Child while I dealt with the snake. (Well, no, I didn’t know her … but she seemed nice enough and I was planning to know her. And I knew where she lived. Hey, this was more than thirty years ago. People were trusting then.)
Around about then I probably remembered to breathe. It’s not that I’m scared of snakes, exactly – I’ll happily handle them and quite enjoy the way they feel.
But nearly stepping on one when you’re all naked and sweaty and thinking of a leisurely bath followed by a tasty lunch … aikona. Nuh-uh.
So anyway, to get back to the story. I marched boldly into the living room, picked up the suitcase, heaved it into the back of my car, and headed for the Snake Park.
What – you thought I’d just kill it? Why would I do such a thing? Listen, I’ll kill stuff if I must. I once spent a profitable morning with a neighbor, learning how to kill chickens. (This is a skill I have never actually used since that day, but I did acquire it.) I smack flies and mosquitoes. But there was no earthly reason to kill a perfectly good snake when the Snake Park was a mere ten-or-so miles away.
If you clicked on the link, you will have noticed that the Snake Park, today, is quite the tourist destination. In fact the snakes hardly get a mention. It is now all about crocodiles, and they have other animals as well, and you can buy pizza and beer, and if you are adventurous (i.e., completely insane, or an adolescent male with girls to impress) you can fly over the crocodile pond on a sort of foofy slide. Back then, it was a bit different.
Thirty years ago, the Snake Park on a Sunday afternoon was a place that nice people from Pretoria and Johannesburg (which were separate cities in those days) would take their nice kiddies, still nicely dressed in their pretty church clothes, for a nice educational experience, followed by tea and scones with jam and cream.
So when I came puffing up the hill from the parking lot, dressed as previously described and with my hair (did I mention that I had grout in my hair?) sort of bundled together in a pony tail, I didn’t really fit in. And when I barged into the front of the line of Sunday afternooners, I have to tell you, There Were Mutterings.
You couldn’t get inside unless the woman in the ticket booth clicked you through the gate, so I pushed my face up to the grille over her window and said, “I have a snake in my car. I need someone to come get it.”
Well, there was no conning this cookie. She had heard every imaginable scheme for getting into the Snake Park for free. “Two Rand,” she said. (Back then, R2 was worth US$4. Now the cost of entry is R50, which translates to around US$5. No, this makes no sense to me either.) It hadn’t occurred to me, during my preparations for this outing, that I would need any money, so I didn’t have my purse.
“No, you don’t understand. I’m not here to look at snakes – I am here to donate a snake. It is in my car. I just need someone to come get it.”
“Two Rand!” she replied, very firmly.
“I don’t have two rand! I don’t have any money! All I have is a snake!”
By this time the crimplened masses were getting restive and their muttering had reached an ominous level. I was greatly relieved to see a young man in a khaki uniform with a Snake Park logo on the pocket headed our way. I stepped hastily out of the line and explained my predicament.
“You have a snake in your car? Where is it? In the engine?” he asked.
“No, no – it’s in a suitcase. But the suitcase is heavy and I’d just appreciate some help getting it up here,” I explained. So he followed me down to the car and heaved the suitcase off the back seat.
“Wow – it is heavy,” he commented. “How did you get the snake to go in?”
“It just crawled in on its own. The suitcase was on the floor – I’ve just moved house and am busy unpacking.”
So back we walked up the hill, past the line and through the gate, with him lugging my suitcase all the way. I followed him as far as the doorway of a tiny room which was lined, floor to ceiling, with class cases full of – you guessed it – snakes. I was happy to watch him unpack my snake from afar, and not have to stand with my back to them. (Yeah, okay, maybe they do creep me out just a little.)
Cautiously, he unlatched the suitcase and raised the lid. At that moment, I realized that this sweet young man was expecting a Rider Haggardesque python, something like this …
… because I had completely forgotten to mention that, in addition to the snake, my suitcase was full of books. What he in fact got was more like this…
… only a bit more crumpled. And not pink.
To his credit, he didn’t say a word. He just lifted it out and put it in a glass box, then shut my suitcase and handed it to me.
The horse has a complex and fascinating environmental history. Wild horses have become such an icon of the American west that it’s easy to forget that humans introduced them to the continent five hundred years ago, during the age of European exploration. Horses quickly became part of Native American livelihoods and played an integral role in Western expansion, from Lewis and Clark’s expedition to the establishment of the open range ranching culture that still exists today. For centuries, horses played a central role in exploration and human livelihoods, until horse power was largely replaced by fossils fuels. Now, the human-horse relationship is shifting once again, and in contentious ways.
Wild, free-roaming mustangs. Wikimedia Commons.
In this piece on wild horses published in Slate a couple of weeks ago, Warren Cornwall wrote about managing horses as an “invasive species.” Certainly, horses have been a continual source of controversy in recent decades, as American and Canadian land managers, animal rights activists, and ranchers fight
Fantasy, published in 1972, available from Amazon.
I first read this book as a teenager and enjoyed it enough to look for more by Richard Adams, but although I have had it on my shelves on and off over the years I’ve not wanted to read it again until recently. I am not generally big on anthropomorphism. But I am so glad I opened it again the other day. It is a delight!
Watership Down is a story about a group of rabbits who leave their warren and travel several miles (a great distance when you’re small and low to the ground) to find a safe place to live. During their travels they have to overcome challenges, such as predators, weather, terrain, humans (of course), and other rabbits. Woven through the book are the old legends the rabbits tell each other, and these reinforce the fantasy element introduced by Fiver, physically the weakest rabbit, who has second sight.
The book has a strong conservation and animal rights message, but one doesn’t feel bludgeoned by it. The message gets across because Adams does such a darn good job of shrinking the reader down to rabbit size and showing you what the world looks like six inches above the ground. Yes, it’s anthropomorphic in that the rabbits interact with each other and meet challenges in decidedly non-rabbity ways. But they’re not little short furry humans, either. Adams never loses touch with the essential rabbitness of his protagonists.
The quality of the writing is good. Adams sometimes gets a tad lyrical when describing the beauties of the English countryside, but he doesn’t overdo it. So although that has the effect of slowing the pace of the book, what one has is a pleasantly leisurely read, with enough pace to keep one engaged without feeling you can’t put it down. That said, this morning I was two-thirds of the way through and actually I didn’t want to put it down. So I took pretty much the whole day off to hang with a bunch of bunnies. There are lots of worse ways to spend time!