Stupid Deaths

There are many options to choose from, but don’t.

A friend of mine just posted footage of some people on a beach in Lake Tahoe. Bucolic enough, until I add that there was a mama bear and her three cubs walking straight toward them. And they see that, and don’t seem to care at all. They’re too busy sunbathing to worry about minor details like their imminent demise. When in doubt, save the freakin’ beer.

IDIOTS!!!

I was just telling dear husband the other day that when I die, I hope it’s not because I’m being stupid about something. There are so many stupid death options out there to choose from. Most intelligent people value their lives too much to “take advantage” of those options.

For example, you won’t see me driving while intoxicated. I’m also not going to cross train tracks when the traffic gates are down. Nor would I ever jump an opening drawbridge. But you’d be amazed how often these things happen.

I’m also not going to eat something that can kill me if it’s not prepared just right. Fugu can’t taste good enough for me to risk my life or it. Nothing can. I’m also never going to ingest something without knowing what it is, even if everyone says the high is awesome.

I also have zero desire to play with explosives or fire or deadly weapons. I think a lot of stupid deaths are caused by youth and arrogance. That whole, “It can’t happen to me” thing is ridiculous. If it has happened to someone, then, by definition, it can happen to you.

I’m not saying that people should be so cautious that they don’t live their lives. If that were the case, no one would ever walk across a street, even if the traffic lights are red. We’d all be paralyzed with inactivity.

It’s a statistics thing, really. If I want to enjoy the redwoods, I’m not going to cancel my trip to see them because one person was crushed by a falling redwood. I just won’t wander amongst those trees during heavy winds or rains, and will heed all warning signs that I come across. Calculated risks. That’s the ticket.

Currently, 95 percent of the COVID-19 deaths are by people who refuse to get vaccinated. The fact that this whole issue was ever politicized is a travesty. Going without a mask while unvaccinated is not living free, it’s living stupid, and potentially dying stupid. It’s entirely preventable at this point. There’s absolutely no valid excuse.

So if you’re thinking of juggling chainsaws while walking a tightrope across the Grand Canyon, I’d urge you to think of the consequences and consider how much you value your life. Because there’s nothing quite so pathetic as having someone stand over your grave, shaking his or her head, saying, “what a stupid, unnecessary waste.”

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We Are the Intruders

And we’ve forgotten how to be gracious guests.

I just read a very sad article entitled, “Grizzly bear kills guide just outside Yellowstone National Park”. Carl Mock was a seasoned outdoorsman who happened to get too close to a male bear that was protecting his fresh moose kill. From there, nature took its course.

It was a tragedy, no doubt about it. He wasn’t purposely bothering this bear. He was out there fishing. (And I’m sure that fish don’t enjoy being hunted, either.) He just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The 420 pound bear was also killed in the course of the subsequent investigation. That, too, is a tragedy.

Of course, there was the usual pushback. We should allow bear hunting to keep these monsters in check! These nature types shouldn’t be allowing predators to kill humans!

For Pete’s sake.

We tend to forget that we are the intruders upon nature, not the other way around. Wolves killing your cattle? You chose to live in wolf country. Gator took out your poodle? The gator was there first.

Nature can be harsh. If you choose to get out there in it, and I highly recommend that you do, then you have to play by its rules and accept natural consequences. I suspect that Mr. Mock understood this. May he rest in peace.

We seem to think we humans float high above the great web of life. We think we should be accorded certain special privileges. We’ve forgotten how to be gracious guests. It’s all very sad.

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Bears, Bears Everywhere

They even started entering my dreams.

Idaho. Nevada. Arizona. California. Oregon. Washington.

In every state I drove through last month, there was a recurring theme: Bears. I saw evidence of them everywhere I looked. Bear boxes. Warning signs. But mostly, sculptures.

Bears carved from wood. Bears made of bronze. Humorous bears. Ferocious bears. Abstract Bears. Bears standing on their hind legs for all eternity. Bears holding signs, and most likely grateful to have a job in this economy. Here a bear, there a bear, everywhere a bear, bear. They even started entering my dreams.

The only thing I didn’t see was an actual bear. That’s probably a good thing. The only bears I’ve ever seen in the wild were in Alaska, and I was grateful to be able to observe them with awe from the safety of a vehicle. Bears are amazing and worthy of respect. I’m glad they’re out there. I’m also glad none have ever tapped me on the shoulder.

What follows are some of the postcards I collected from my Pokemon Go application while passing by all these bear statues. Enjoy!

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Amanda’s Awful Adventure

In the delightful little town of Yachats, Oregon (pronounced YA-Hots) you will stumble upon the beginning of the Amanda Trail. This got me curious. Who was Amanda, and why did she merit a 3.7 mile trail from Yachats to the top of Cape Perpetua, the highest point on the Oregon coast?

When I inquired at the visitor center, I was told that Amanda was an Indian who used to live here, and halfway along the trail was a statue to honor her and her people. Having seen nothing but lily-white faces since I’d arrived, I suspected that Amanda needed a great deal of honoring, indeed.

But I’m 51 and out of shape, so the thought of climbing to the highest point on the Oregon coast gave me pause. No. That’s not true. It didn’t give me pause. It gave me a huge case of Oh Hell No.

But then the lady at the visitor center told me that the part of the trail from Yachats to the statue wasn’t so bad. It was rated “moderate”. It didn’t become “difficult” until you went from the statue up to the cape. Moderate didn’t sound too hard. I figured I could handle moderate. So off I went.

After illegally parking in someone’s driveway, thus shaving off about half of my walk, I set out, intrepid hiker that I am. And got lost. Karma. After backtracking and picking up the trailhead (well, the trail middle, technically) I set out through the woods.

And the view of the coast from here was stunning. I’m not used to being alone in the woods and yet hearing the waves crashing on the beach, but I liked it quite a bit. I tried not to think of bears, or, worse yet, humans of the serial killing variety. I just concentrated on enjoying the scenery.

But moderate, my butt. After climbing over some roots that were thicker than I am, and scrambling up several steep slopes, I began to wonder if this was intentional. If you want to honor the Native Americans here, it seems, you have to be pretty freakin’ determined.

At one point I slipped on the loamy soil and came down hard on my tailbone, knocking the wind out of me. As I sat there recovering, I wondered how long it would take for someone to find my body up here. It is, after all, shoulder season.

But now I was feeling kind of stubborn. I was going to see this statue, even if it killed me. I went around a bend in the trail and came upon a bear statue. Bears. Great. The statue was well done, but seemed out of place here. Like a human invasion in a deserted landscape. And all around it were elk hoof prints. Onward.

Next, I came upon a laminated sign nailed to a post. “The Amanda Statue contains a satellite tracking device that will alert authorities as to it’s (sic) location if the statue is moved. Due to ongoing vandalism to the statue, visual surveillance has been added.”

Sigh. It says a lot about man’s unbelievable level of greed that one would trek all the way up here, over hill, over dale, over big ol’ honkin’ roots, to steal what one can only assume is a heavy statue. Or maybe greed isn’t the motivator. Maybe some people want the past to be forgotten. Now I was really intrigued.

Finally (Thank you, Lord) I entered a grotto, and could see the statue in the distance. But before I approached, I stopped to read the informational sign. And what I read broke my heart.

It spoke of forcing tribes that had lived here for hundreds of years off their land. It spoke of treaties violated. It spoke of starvation and violence and abuse. It spoke of Indian agents hunting “squaws” and “bucks”. And it told the story of Amanda De-Cuys.

Amanda lived with her husband, a white settler, 50 miles off the reservation. She was old and blind, and had a young daughter. The agents ripped her from the arms of her family and marched her back up the coast, barefoot, over jagged volcanic rock, for 10 days. Her feet bled so much, it was said, that you could track her by the blood trail. No one knows what became of her after that.

Tears in my eyes, I then went and sat before the statue. I felt ashamed for complaining on my way up this comparatively simple trail. How soft we have become.

I tried to imagine what Amanda would say if she saw me now.

“Your people stole our land, starved us, tortured us, ripped our families apart, dragged me blind and bleeding over rocks for 10 days, and all I got was this lousy statue.”

Funny. You don’t see that on any of the t-shirts in the quaint little shops on the Oregon tourist trail. And still, I went back, embarrassed at how relieved I was to return to my hotel room and support the local economy, and disgusted by the fact that I might still consider retiring here some day.

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The Tragic Tale of Twenty-Two Bears

It pains me to write this so hard on the heels of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, but the only way I can get this horrible story out of my head, it seems, is by putting it into yours.

Our National Parks have a very checkered past. Our efforts to “tame” nature often had disastrous results, and then later, as philosophies changed, our efforts to restore nature to its original state were often just as bad. This very topic, the fight over the best way to control nature, is the subject of a new book, “Engineering Eden” by Jordan Fisher Smith.

I haven’t read the book but I’m looking forward to doing so. I heard the author discuss it on the radio. He was a park ranger for 21 years, so he speaks about the parks with a great deal of experience and authority.

One of the stories he told was about something that occurred at Yosemite back in 1973. It seems a tourist was in the back country and came across the corpses of 22 bears at the foot of a cliff. There were adults and cubs, and some of the bodies where caught in the trees. Three of them were skinned.

The tourist informed some reporters, and it was discovered that these bears had been killed by park rangers and tossed off the cliff so that the public wouldn’t see them. The three skins where used in an exhibit. The park officials eventually admitted that 200 bears had been killed over the past 12 years in Yosemite alone.

This was their awful solution to a bear “problem” that had been created because humans had habituated them to our food. You can see a lot of historical photos of delighted people hand feeding bears out of their car windows, or gathering around the dump sites to watch the bears eating our garbage. Naturally that caused the bears to become a nuisance. The park policy was to try to relocate the bears, but often they’d be back to their original locations before the rangers could even drag the bear trap back to the capture site. So as a last resort, they’d get the cliff treatment.

I looked all over the internet for more information on this story, and I only came up with this article from the New York Times archives. You’d think that there would have been enough shock and outrage to cause a bit more buzz, but it was 1973. People were much more apt to look the other way back then.

There are now policies in place to discourage the feeding of bears, and there are lock boxes at campsites for food and garbage, and the open dumps no longer exist. Even so, I can’t stop thinking about what it must have been like for that man, out in the wilderness, simply wishing to take in some gorgeous views, and instead coming across that grizzly sight. (Pardon the pun.) It must have been horrifying. One can only hope that the park service has evolved since then, even if the bears haven’t.

Bear