One thing that always strikes me about wild animals is their failure to behave reasonably. I live in a fairly populated urban area, and it is literally crawling with wild animals. These stupid birds are screaming–not singing–right outside my window most of the time, day and sometimes late at night. Squirrels are cute at first, but quickly you grow tired of them emptying out your bird feeder and doing their little squirrel-yells at you from a tree when they aren’t happy that you’re out in your yard. We’ve had fox, turkey, deer, and wild ducks pass through our little plot of suburbia recently. And what‘s the deal with raccoons? It’s like there’s a hidden raccoon mound in the neighborhood, and every night someone kicks it and out they pour.
Are They Trying To Tell Me Something?
But I was walking a trail in Big Bend National Park this past weekend, and it suddenly occurred to me that you seldom actually see wild animals in places where there are fewer humans. What you see instead are constant signs that an animal has been there, but rarely the actual animal. You don’t have to tramp very far at all up in the Chisos Mountains before you come across your first pile of animal poop right in the middle of the trail. And then another. And another. You don’t ever see the animal, just this consistently sized, colored, and shaped pile that something leaves right in the middle of the trail, mile after mile. But what could it be? Judging by the size of the scat, it wasn’t especially small and wasn’t a bird, but there was a lot of it with no correspondingly visible herd of mid-size mammals crashing about. This seemed like the sort of knowledge I needed to acquire, but why?
Why Did The Mouse Cross The Road?
I like useless knowledge. It’s just part of who I am. Not the “knowledge” part–the “useless” part. I used to get down on myself for acquiring all this info but never actually doing anything with it, but past a certain age you finally get comfortable with the under-performing parts of you that just aren‘t going to change. I was thinking about this as I drove out of the Park in the pre-dawn hours when a mouse ran across the road. “Why, with all these hundreds of square desert miles to choose from, did that mouse dart in front of my lone car at 6 a.m.?” Moving along crisply at 75 mph, I’d just had time to formulate that question when a jackrabbit also decided that, rather than wait the two seconds it would take my car to pass, he too needed to run directly in front of my car. “What is wrong with these animals?” I believe all life is sacred, but that some life is more sacred than others. I’ll do everything I can to avoid running over a squirrel that is doing its best to run under my wheels, but let a fly buzz into my bedroom when I’m trying to sleep and one of us is going to die (hint: it’s the one with the wings). Driving alone on an arrow straight desert highway in pitch black morning focuses your thoughts on immediate issues like this–until I saw the deer. Still trying to understand how I could suddenly be surrounded by wild animals after spending much more low-velocity time in their midst but only seeing poop, I was nonplussed to now find a rather large deer vectoring across the front of my car. I try not to curse, but “oh, fuck” just came right out. Not angrily, but slowly, in awe. The next seconds became a game of chicken, as I tried to judge if and how much I’d need to slow down to miss the deer without going into a skid, while the deer, with a glance over his shoulder (I swear I am not making this up) also decided that he could slow just a tad and still cross the road without hitting me. Now a second, much louder “Oh, fuck” came out as I realized that we had faked each other out, and gassed the car ever so slightly to avoid all kinds of bad things.
The next half hour was a nightmare. More mice darting across the road, more rabbits. When I saw another deer standing by the side of the road, it’s antlered head raised and reflecting red eyes staring, judging as I approached whether he had time to dart in front of my car, I decided it was time to pull over and wait for the sun to rise and more reasonable heads to prevail in the desert ecosystem. Now, I’m sure somebody is going to know why all these fricking animals suddenly decided to become visible just as my car passed, but honestly I’ve already moved on.
Nice. How was Big Bend? Last year after Ed & I finished the last segment of the Colorado Trail, we hit an elk on the way home. Luckily, only a broken windshield.
Super strong wind when I arrived, almost couldn’t pitch a tent. Got short on time after I got the tent up, so ran the Window Trail as a warm-up. Next day the Rim (both sides) was in the clouds–glad I knew what it looked like on a clear day, because you’d have had no idea otherwise that you were standing on a 2000 foot dropoff. Still, always good to get away.