Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Elk

When I was a kid back in the 70s learning how to backpack and venturing into the forests on multi-day trips I would read of the animals who used to inhabit the Great Smoky Mountains before the arrival of the European colonizers. All sorts of animals who survived the Pleistocene extinction event were still present there, many of them through the 1700s and into the 1800s.

And I used to wonder what it would be like to hike through the Smokies and encounter things like timber wolves and fishers, bison and elk, mountain lions and beaver. From time to time I would hear some people talk of reintroducing some of these creatures into the Park, but I never heard any concrete plans to do so.

However, eventually, the Park Service did create and implement an action that resulted in the reintroduction of elk. They chose Cataloochee Valley to be the initial site for this and began to bring in and acclimatize the big deer. I will never forget the first time I drove into Cataloochee hoping to spot some elk and doing exactly that, seeing a couple of big bulls at the edge of the forest and the field, standing there on the verge where I was able to snap a few grainy photos with my first digital camera back in 2005.

I still enjoy going to Cataloochee to spot the elk. It remains the best place to see them, as the core of the burgeoning herds still call it home. I speak to people who encounter them in other parts of the Park, so they are spreading out. Eventually, I hope they begin to move out in all directions as the population increases and that they will spread into other parts of the southern Appalachians--perhaps even to my home state of Georgia. That would be something to see.

In meantime, it would be nice to see the return of some of the other great animals missing from the ecological web of the southern Appalachians. The fisher has been successfully reintroduced to West Virginia. Maybe they could naturally return to the Smokies.  Perhaps mountain lions could come back to the southeast. While it would be great to see bison also come back, the facts on the ground there would make it difficult. The Park is surrounded by suburban sprawl and I doubt that local people would agree with having to deal with such a large animal parading through neighborhoods and onto streets and lawns. But it would be grand.

This guy was in charge. He had a couple of scars on his right flank, probably from past duels.

A couple of cows.

Whenever I see elk herds or whitetail deer herds in the Park, I also see flocks of wild turkey.

On the move.

The bull was concentrating on courting this particular cow. I suppose she was the one most open to mating.

The herd here was large. Dozens of elk, mainly cows.

The big bull tolerated a couple of young spike bucks in the field. Not sure why, unless he didn't look upon them as anything approaching a threat.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Sweet Story

I have said it before, but to me it always bears repeating--many animals feel compassion. In fact, I am convinced that lots of animals have the same depth and range of emotions that humans feel.

This past week Carole and I camped at Standing Indian Campground. We both really enjoy that place and were keen on returning since the last time we tried it was closed and gated due to a government shutdown. So we reserved site #16 and commenced to setting up camp.

One thing that we had purchased for our camping trips is a picnic shelter called Clam Quick-Set Shelter. We'd heard lots of good things about these contraptions and all of the positive commentary are true, as far as we're concerned.

Our Quick-Set Clam Shelter 

So, we set it up and within about half an hour we noticed that a small bird (a junco?) had come in through the door and was trapped inside. We tried to get it to fly out by having Carole hold the net door open and with me trying to coax the tiny bird out that way. But she was having none of that and insisted on trying to fly through the netting at the back of the shelter.

The little trapped bird.
When I realized that the little bird wasn't going to go out the way it came in I decided to try to catch it in my hands and carry it out. This was surprisingly easy to do since she (he?) was exhausted. I carefully cupped the little critter in my paws and carried her out.

Now, here's the cool part. As I opened my hands to free the bird I noticed that a small flock was waiting on the other side of the shelter, lingering there in the hope that their panicked companion/family member would somehow escape. As she took wing, so did the assembled flock; and they all flew off together.

Fragile cargo.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Addressing the Pipe Dream

No. We can't terraform Mars. We can't even keep our own planet livable. Why the hell do idiots think we can make a hostile environment accepting of our limitations? It's bullcrap. Total bullcrap. Mars is utterly inimical to life. It is cold almost beyond comprehension. It is magnitudes more arid than the most inhospitable desert on Earth. The soil is toxic. That's right--the freaking soil is poisonous. Mars also has only 1% of our atmospheric pressure, and it has no magnetic field to protect life from solar and cosmic radiation. The idea of creating a comfortable and inviting environment on a cold, arid, dead, poisonous, inhospitable chunk of barren rock is fantasy. Not science-fiction, but fantasy.
Hell...we can't even get there. The nations who could try are so impoverished from feeding their wealth to the privileged elite that there are no funds to even develop and initiate a system by which we could send humans to Mars.
The whole scheme is worse than a drug-induced hallucination.

Mars. Where it's so cold that CO2 freezes into a solid. Yeah...people are going to live there.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Opportunity Missed

When I was a younger man I went out of my way three times to meet Ray Bradbury. I won't belabor the obvious again, but it was Bradbury's magic touch of poetic emotion that took me on journeys to hear him speak and to share a few words with him.

But, on one of those occasions (in 1986) I was surprised to find that another guest at the writers gathering was L. Sprague deCamp. As with Bradbury's fiction, I had grown up reading the stories of deCamp. In fact, his stories probably influenced me more than those of Bradbury. He was--to my way of thinking, these days--a finer and more accomplished author than Bradbury.

But, although I had many a chance that long weekend, I never once talked with deCamp and only went to hear him speak a single time, and that one on a panel with Bradbury in attendance. And, of course, the fans showered the lovable Ray with questions and attention, and barely paid deCamp any mind whatsoever. So he had only a slice of opportunity to speak and to impart his accumulated years of authorial wisdom.

One thing that I remember about him in that panel is that he was dressed like some kind of European out to explore Africa (this was in super-hot and humid Atlanta, after all). He was wearing khaki shorts and shirt and even had (at least this is how I remember it) a pith helmet. In my now forty-year-old memories, deCamp was a small man, and his wife accompanied him everywhere. Whenever I saw him, there she was. Catherine Crook was an amazing woman and writer herself. I later found out that he only survived her by six months in the year 2000 when they both died at the age of 92.

There are many stories by Bradbury that entranced me as a kid. But I can say the same of deCamp, even if only a few of his yarns come to the fore of my aging brain. It was mainly his greater body of work that left a stamp on the gray matter, rather than many individual tales.

But two of his short works that I read as a child are foremost in my mind and I think of them often, even when I'm not writing. They are "The Gnarly Man", and "Living Fossil". The first deals with the immortality of a Neanderthal and the deceit of modern humans; and the latter with human extinction and the rise of a species of South American monkey that rules the planet. I cannot stress to people how important these stories have been to me over the years. They are both based on themes that have always fascinated me and which influence my thinking practically, scientifically, politically, and philosophically. And neither of them seems to have any overt reason for existing on any of those points, except peripherally. And therein lies the mark of a truly talented author.

I have replayed my near-encounter with deCamp for decades. Of course I wish that I had spoken to him, if only to tell him that his stories and novels meant a great deal to me. That would have been enough. But, of course, I did not do that. I was there to meet the treacly Ray Bradbury, and that is what I did.

One thing that remains stuck in my mind is that during the panel--after the fans had ignored him for long minutes--deCamp finally got a chance to get a word in and he referred to Bradbury as his "competitor". At the time I thought that was a poor choice of term and that he probably meant "colleague". These days, I know better. He meant what he said. And these days I am sad because in just straight terms of drooling, vacuous puppy love, Bradbury won that sad competition.

Of course I also realize that deCamp wasn't a contestant in that kind of race. All he wanted to do was produce fine work. Let the gawkers have their hero-worship. I'll just stand aside and admire L. Sprague deCamp.

L. Sprague deCamp and Catherine Crook.