Friday, March 29, 2013

Wild Animals Are... Wild

BRM posted a story about a man in Utah that got knocked against a fence by a bison, because he was dense enough to chuck rocks at it. Since he was taking pictures, presumably he did this to get the buffalo to look at him.

Now, this is a symptom that I see a lot, whenever I'm anywhere there are animals and the public, pretty much.

Darwinism has been thwarted to such a great degree that a large segment of our population has lost all ability to detect no-bullshit danger.

Folks in the gunblogging circle talk about this a lot in terms of keeping an eye out for criminals and knowing which way to jump when TSHTF. But honestly, I think it illustrates much more easily with stuff like this.

So this brain surgeon is in a state park, where they have bison, and bison are awesome and he wants a picture. Fantastic. But a picture of a grazing bison isn't good enough, nooo. He's got to have one of the critter looking at him.

So what does he do? He puts a fence at his back (leaving him handily stuck between a barricade and an animal that makes wolves think twice unless they have some extra advantage) and starts tossing rocks.

Ok, let me pause for a moment here and explain something, if you haven't been to one of the state or national parks that has resident buffalo. The American Bison has become the icon of the west. Everyone knows how there used to be millions of them, and now there's not. So when they get to see them, they ooo and ahhh a lot, and stand there like morons clicking pictures for half an hour. Meanwhile the bison go about their business completely ignoring the humans. You know why? Because they're used to them. Definitely NOT because they like them.

So, they're accustomed, and they ignore. That is, until you do something they aren't accustomed to, or something that annoys them. Like chuck rocks at them.

That guy in Utah? He's damned lucky that was a chain link fence at his back, and not a pipe or barbed wire fence. He's also damned lucky that that bison gave him the equivalent of "dude, knock it off" and wasn't seriously peeved. If the animal had been serious about it, I wouldn't have been surprised to hear that the man had been pushed through that chain link fence, to ooze out the other side like play-dough.

Please remember here... when in rut, bison males fight over females. That big hump? It's not fat. That's muscle. You know why they have that big hump of muscle right over their shoulders? Cause their heads are freaking heavy, and they like to hit each other with them. That muscle gives them the power to whack into each other repeatedly. It also helps hold up their skull since it's thick.... again for the whacking.

If that bison had been more than annoyed, dude would be dead. We're entirely too squishy and slow to change a buffalo's mind once it's made up. Luck, and the fact that we pretty much actively prevent these geniuses from either learning or becoming a shining example of What Not To Do has resulted in a human gene pool that I'm pretty sure could use some chlorine.

Another example, from the last time I was at the zoo. Observing the cougar habitat, I noted that the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo did something nifty for their cats, they built a section of the enclosure that went out over a tunnel the visitors could walk through. That tunnel has a glass ceiling, and in the enclosure is a sturdy branch to overhang.

I watched a group, with children, approach the enclosure. Some woman put one of the kids up on a post so that he could see the cats better. One of the cats was busily gnawing on a bone from a pile hoarded in a corner, but when the child was lifted up into sight, wandered over.

"Oh look, he likes you!"

At this point the kid, being smarter than the adult, is uneasy, because the cat is pacing in front of him. The kind of pacing you might expect to see if you hauled a quarter of a deer up and dropped it outside the fence. Kid freaks out, she puts him down, and off they go through the tunnel.

And the cat follows, pacing out on the overhanging branch and looking down at them through the glass. And they ooo and ahh, and say how neat it is, and again I hear "He likes you!"

Yeah. For dinner.

I have very little doubt that the designers of that enclosure had any illusions about what being above slow, squishy meat sacks means to a cougar. And it is a neat thing to watch them walk along that branch like they were on the ground, so everyone wins. But that window wasn't put there for the zoo patrons, oh no, that window was put there for the cats, for their entertainment and stimulation. Because when a cougar is looking down on a human, it sees dinner.

The woman was completely oblivious to this, to all of the body language of the cat or any sense of "oh if this fence weren't here, that thing would happily gnaw on my thighbone for days."

One more quick example from a trip I took to Yellowstone years back. Late August... breeding season for many wild animals with long gestation, especially herbivores, so that the little ones are starting to come off the teat about the time there's plenty of good green spring grass.

In Yellowstone all of the animals are pretty accustomed to humans. I swear I saw a moose there my first time through that deliberately posed for the flocks of people who had pulled off the road to take pictures and gawk (of course I was one of them, how often do you see a posing moose??)

Anyway, it's the same with the bison, and the antelope, and the elk. They're pretty chill with voices and cameras and people at a certain distance. Anyway, this trip, I was driving along one of the roads, going to waterfalls, and I see a bunch of cars pulled off and parked. This, in Yellowstone, is the international symbol of Wildlife In View Of The Road.

Glance over, and it's a herd of elk in a meadow. Just happened to be someone pulling out of the little pull-off area facing the meadow as I went by, so I decided to whip in and get a couple of pictures, because I hadn't seen any elk yet that trip and the bull was impressive.

Grabbed the camera, climbed out of the car and used it as a tripod since I'd need the zoom, and I hear off to one side the rustling of medium heavy paper.

When you go to Yellowstone they give you a map of the park, with all the easily accessible interesting bits marked. On the back of the map are drawings and names of the most common wildlife, everything from bison to marmots. (Or, that's the way it was when I was last there, they may have changed the design by now.)

"I don't know, I think they're some kind of deer." I hear from the direction of the paper rustling. Ok, so not everyone knows what an elk looks like, fine. When I glanced over, she looked like Mrs Suburban Housewife Supreme Model. One of those people who buys what they think they should wear to go to "the wilderness" to go to Yellowstone, and ends up looking like a moron in all the wrong brand-new gear. Her husband hand the camera.

He grunted at her a bit and futzed with it, trying to get a good clear shot I guess, it was a decent distance.

"Get closer, just walk out there!"

At this point, friends, I'm afraid I contributed to thwarting Darwinism. But I wasn't sure if the elk would get in trouble for killing a clueless tourist or if I'd have to do paperwork because I saw it.

I just wandered over and told him "No, don't walk out there."

They both looked at me like I was something they'd never had to scrape off their boots before, of course.

I quickly explained that those were elk, a bull and his harem, and that this was mating season, which meant that the bull would be very touchy and very likely to hurt badly anything that he thought was getting too close to his lady friends. Then I went back to my car, in time to see one of the rangers pull up.

So I waited for him to get out of his vehicle, and let him know he might want to keep an eye on things until the elk decided to wander off, since I had heard someone mention something about walking out into the meadow to get better pictures.

The ranger, not being a moron, went sort of pale and mumbled something about hating mating season.

I wandered off back to my car and the happy knowledge that I'd prevented myself from having to call someone a fucking moron in an official report.

Human beings, as a species, are weak, watered down predators. Take a kitten that has lived in a nice comfy room all its life and been fed lovely food every day, drop it in the woods with no other protection or weapons than it was born with, and it has a better chance of surviving for a week than most humans in the same situation. The kitten will, at least, have the sense to realize that shit out there wants to eat it.

Humans aren't at the top of the food chain because we're better than other animals, we're at the top of the food chain because we're smarter than other animals. Or, we were. Unfortunately I don't think that the trend has continued.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Pope Francis

Just a few comments on the new Pope. Bear in mind I am not Catholic, though there are Catholics in the extended family, it wasn't a faith that I was raised in or that I am intimately familiar with, beyond what pretty much everyone knows about the Catholic Church.

First, the previous Pope, rather than wait to die, stepped down. On the one hand, I have a certain amount of a respect for a man who has the humility to recognize that maybe he isn't the best man for the job, and step aside to put the good of the Church first. On the other hand, being the first Pope Emeritus in something like six hundred years brings it's own level of fame and notoriety.

No one knows why the Pope Emeritus stepped down, for sure, other than he himself. Regardless, knowing what I do of human nature, I can guarantee that he had some curiosity about who his successor would be. What part that played in his decision, who knows?

As for Pope Francis, the first Pope from the Americas, and the first Pope to take the name Francis, I wish him luck. He's assumed a leadership role over a tiny country, and the entire world, all at the same time. He'll set the tone for millions of faithful Catholics in a time in which a lot of people really need their religious leadership to be strong and sure of itself.

Not being Catholic, I'm not sure I'm technically supposed to have an opinion, but I can't help but hope that he takes more after Pope John Paul II than Pope Benedict XVI.

Pope John Paul reached out to the faithful and non-Catholics alike. His personality, demeanor, and behavior while Pope endeared him to the common man.

I have a general distrust of the leaders of organized religion. Too often they seem to be more worried about their own prestige and accomplishments than the welfare and care of their congregations. Either they focus on the honors they are due or they focus on the number of souls they can "save" (because if they convert or recruit more followers, they become more powerful).

Don't get me wrong, there are exceptions. I know several pastors that I sincerely like, who are truly and deeply concerned with the care and welfare of their congregations. I also know one former priest that, at every poor turn in my life, has offered his support and experience to help. The fact that I haven't taken him up on it is not his failing, but my own. I'm not very good at asking for, or accepting help in those kinds of situations.

In general, though, with my interactions with the leaders of organized religion of any stripe that I've encountered, there was always an impression that either I didn't count, because I didn't follow their creed, would go to hell anyway, and it didn't matter, or that they had this burning drive to convert me, to save me. For my own good of course.

So I tend to take any action or advice from religious leaders with a grain of salt, and look for that ulterior motive.

But Pope John Paul II carried himself and presented himself in such a manner that, if I had met him during his lifetime, and had a chance to chat, I think I would have liked the man, and respected him enough to take his opinions and advice under serious consideration.

I think the Catholic Church needs another Pope that outsiders like me can respect. So I hope that Francis is up to the job, and I wish him all the best in his time as Pope. It would be nice to have a leader in the world that is worthy of respect.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

I'm A Sucker

 I was headed out to the farm today and nearly hit a dog. It just stood there and looked at me, then jumped out of the way of the semi that was behind me.

She didn't run off, and when the semi stopped too, she headed back toward it. The driver got out and was talking to her as I made it back to where she was. Again, she didn't run off, but she didn't really appear to want to come close either.

He got a couple of snack pastries and started feeding her bits of them. When she calmed down enough to take a few bites from his hand, I hopped in my car and ran back to town to grab some supplies...

A kennel, some dry dog food, a can of wet dog food, and a bowl.

By the time I got back she'd found herself a den:

It took some work to lure her out, she'd filled up on pastries and didn't want to come out even for the smell of dog food. She growled a lot, a low kind of "I'm not comfortable with this" kind of noise, not a sound that says "I'm going to bite you" or "look at how vicious I am."

Eventually got her in the kennel (before which she'd let me pet her hip as she had her front half in the kennel with me sitting right beside the opening, because I'd put the paper plate with the water on it further in the back) and shut the door. She turned around, saw the closed door, whimpered, nudged it with her nose, then gave me this look:

So yes, I am a sucker. She's terrified, not socialized, starved and thirsty, but she's not *mean.* 

I'll find her a home where she'll get good meals and love. But I couldn't just leave her to be hit or starve. She's still got her puppy teeth, fer gawd's sake.