Sunday, February 6, 2011

Carnival of the Animals

Weird ideas abound here in my little stretch of the Oklahoma landscape. My fellow citizens think some really silly things. And in no other arena (apart from perhaps politics) will you find the Silly Things strutting about and flexing their muscles with more vigor than in the arena of animals—what they mean to us humans, how they ought to be treated, etc.

The following is a quartet of—as always—true tales, which I hope will shine a few rays on the Silly Things and, if we are lucky, send some of them scurrying back into the dark recesses from which they came.

Ditching the Dog

There is a perfectly splendid walking trail near my house. It winds its way through dense thickets of scotch pine, ponderosa, cottonwood, lacebarks, and blackberry bushes. I enjoy a stroll many afternoons, and almost always encounter someone walking his or her dog.

Maybe two weeks ago I came upon an elderly gent outfitted for his constitutional with a walking stick and pooper-scooper. In point of fact, I first met his dog, a chubby gray-and-white border collie whose name turned out to be Bud, and who, in dog years, was of a similar vintage as his owner.

Bud waddled up, his whole podgy hindquarters wagging happily, and gave me a thorough olfactory going-over. The elderly gent toddled along about this point, grumbling at “Bud” to leave “that big fella” alone. I told the guy that I didn’t mind, having once owned a border collie myself, and continued scratching Bud’s ears.

“You want ‘im? You kin have ‘im,” the ancient one said.

“Oh, well…” I mumbled. “No thanks. But he seems like a great dog.” Bud licked my hand in apparent acknowledgement of my compliment.

The old guy grunted noncommittally. “I had a black lab. Died two years ago. My son figured I needed another dog and got me this one.”

“Nice of him,” I responded, which earned me a second noncommittal grunt from Old Methuselah.

“Well, I didn’t want ‘im. Brought ‘im out here the first day and tried to ditch ‘im, but he found his way back to the house.”


“Stupid dog.”

I didn’t bother mentioning that Bud finding his way home was actually a sign that he was a pretty smart dog. Didn’t really have the chance to, actually, because the aged dude grunted one more time, hollered at Bud to get a move on, and thus the happy couple plodded off along the path into the trees.

After asking around a bit, and recounting the story of the guy’s attempted ditching of his dog, I discovered that “ditching” is quite the common practice in these parts. Don’t want that dog? Heck, just drive it out to the country and leave it to its own canine devices.

If only the same practice were routine vis-à-vis some of our local children…


About a week ago I drove my Mom down to the local tag office so she could renew her license plates. We arrived a few minutes before they opened, and were loitering on the sidewalk when a flatbed pickup rolled in next to Mom’s little Chevy. A man climbed from the cab, the whole lower half of his face distended by enough chewing tobacco to stuff a Christmas turkey, and joined our small gang of lingerers.

Lighting a cigarette, I glanced at the contents of the flatbed. Then I glanced again, counting silently. Yep, nine dead raccoons in an untidy heap, oozing.

The man followed my eyes, then looked back at me.

Nodding at the spoils of what could only have been an epic and majestic hunt, I said “What’s that all about?”

“What’a’ya mean?”

“Were they getting in your garbage or something?”

The man chuckled and voided about a quart of tobacco spit into the gutter. “Naw,” he said. “I jus’ like killin’ ‘em.”

Then the tag office opened, and we all went inside, where, ironically, my Mom was assisted by a woman who bore a striking resemblance to a dead raccoon.

OK, yeah, I made that up. She was much less pleasant to look at than a dead raccoon.

Playing Chicken

Fifteen or twenty years ago my pan-shaped state enacted a moratorium on all sorts of hunting. At the same time, state and federal authorities started enforcing anti-poaching laws and laws protecting endangered species. And now, as a result, my little slice of the state is a much different place, fauna-wise, than it was when I visited it as a kid. We have armadillos again. We have gray herons and Rio Grande wild turkeys and roadrunners. We have alligator snapping turtles, and mountain lions. We have so many whitetail deer they are becoming a public nuisance. And, lastly, we have prairie chickens again, back from the very brink of extinction.

The reemergence of our native critters has been greeted with a variety of attitudes. Predictably, the farmer/rancher camp has its coveralls in a twist over the mountain lions (they occasionally eat cows), turkeys (they eat grain shoots and wreck havoc on hay bales), and deer (which eat what the turkeys miss and reproduce like Baptists). Truck driver’s and highway patrol personnel also take a dim view of the surging deer population, mostly due to their (the deer) unendearing habit of inexplicably leaping out in front of fast-moving vehicles. Fishermen and noodlers, those whack-a-dos who catch catfish by hand, hate the snapping turtles, because the turtles eat fish eggs as well as noodlers’ fingers. And almost everyone abuses the lowly armadillos since, like the deer, they apparently can’t resist engaging in suicide-by-Frogger, and also, I think, because they are just plain silly looking.

Ah, yes, but my hunk of Okie Nirvana also has a small, but growing and quite vocal, number of animal rights types. Which brings me back to the prairie chickens.

It seems that one of our resident PETA-files has made it her mission to stick up for the strange little birds. She is deeply worried, you see, that the prairie has changed too much since the last time the chickens called it home. Most notable among the changes are the increased number of barbed wire fences criss-crossing the terrain, fences she believes pose terrible dangers to the chickens. And her solution to the problem? She would like the State to pass a law forcing all farmers and other owners of barbed wire fences to hang colorful flags on them so that the prairie chickens will see the fences in time to avoid a prickly doom.

For the life of me I don’t know who has the more bizarre outlook, the guy who just likes killin’ raccoons or this fluffyheaded twit. I do know this: it’s people like her that make animal-rights activists look ridiculous.

Hammer Time

This last story is not for the faint of heart. I mean that. It makes me feel all woogie inside just thinking about it.

Some months ago, when I still managed a local movie-rental joint, a customer arrived in the middle of a slow weekday afternoon. He browsed a bit and carried his selections to the counter, which was when I noticed the small flecks of blood on his shirt and fingers. (Longtime readers of these tales are probably asking themselves something like: What is it with that town and people walking around with blood all over them? I have no answer to their question. It seems to just happen. Like Dancing with the Stars.)

Anyway, here’s this guy with blood on him, and I felt compelled to comment.

“You have blood on your fingers,” I said.

“Yeah,” he answered, wiping them on his pants.

I asked why he had blood on his fingers.

“Oh, one of our barn cats had a mess o’ kittens. My dad told me to put ‘em in a sack and throw ‘em in the river, but I thought that was cruel. So I put ‘em in a sack and beat ‘em with a hammer. Some got on me.”

I gave him his change and he left.

There’s a lesson to be learned here, about the inner workings of the contemporary Western psyche, but I’m damned if I know what it might be.

And that’s the news from the wilds of Oklahoma. If someone wanted to pop by and kill me, that’d be OK.

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