Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Thursday, August 1, 2013
By Joe Pflueger
Let me take you to an enchanting forest where you could probably picture mythical beasts wondering around doing some stuff. It’s a great wilderness where one can look at the trees and envision a magnificent table or awe-inspiring two-by-fours being made. Beautiful, right?
But this story is of a beast you only thought was a myth. It’s about bears. To prove bears exist let’s look at the grizzly – scientific name: Ursus arctos horribilis.
Horribilis is Latin meaning “big ugly bear,” probably. We know little of the world of the big ugly bear. To help us understand we meet Fred, a big ugly biologist.
It was Fred who told me the bear was “mythical.” He said, “It’s a wonderful, magestical creature.” Ooh, magestical. “No, MAJESTIC.” Ooh, majestic.
I went back-and-forth on how I wanted to introduce you to the bear. I wondered, to myself, if I should introduce you the same way I was introduced, which was when I was young, being exposed to a cartoon of a bear singing and dancing in the woods. After viewing that shocking video, I said to myself, that could never happen.
Fred thinks maybe that is why I believed bears to be myth. Fred likes to introduce the bear by taking you to the source.
Watch Fred as he ambles along the hillside of prime bear habitat. Identify him by his furry beard and face. Just as a bear does, he overturns rocks and he searches their food sources to better understand their place in the wild. He holds his nose to the wind and catches our scent – as a bear would.
In one swift motion, Fred is on his hind legs and shows us his massive claws like those of an old man who has not clipped his claws, but only sharpened them. It’s not until he gives us this disappointed look, like we aren’t what he’s expecting, that we realize this is not Fred at all, but some class of an animal that we can’t be sure of.
Fred must be back at the office doing some science. By studying the bear – what it eats for instance – we gain important insights into its livelihood. Watching the bear eat, we can compare it, metaphorically, to ourselves. Since the bear eats about anything, if we were the bear, the world would be our all-day buffet.
Fred tells us that before human intervention: from the Arctic Ocean down to Mexico the great bear used to wonder aimlessly, but our modern ancestors were able to fix that. Now the bear wonders only in designated areas.
The grizzly of today survives only because we allow it and we can hold this fact over its head, kind of. The next time we come face-to-face with a grizzly we will taunt him with this historical fact and watch him clamor even though Fred says it’s not a good idea.
We have labeled the bear many things over the centuries from "caveman assassinator" to "tourist taste tester" and finally the "insane circus bear on his crazy ball." But the bear has always labeled us as a sort of “audacious” creature.
But I ask the bear, who is audacious? The civilized man with a camera, luring animals with steak on a string, and other fancy gizmos like my mammoth-sized tazer; or the one who goes around acting like an animal all day?
Fred says to question the bear on trivial matters is pointless and that we should listen to the bear. What? Whenever Fred hears the cry of a bear, he responds with his best imitation in low bellows and grunts. I see no indication that the animal understands, but I think Fred thinks they appreciate the sentiment. Whatever, Fred. This leads me to question his legitimacy as a scientist.
Fred does all this for the bear, but what has the bear done for us? Aside from give us a life-long nemesis to fear.
Even today, the bear stands as a symbol of the wild parts of the world. In its shroud of dangerous spirits, the bear is glamorized. It is romanticized by human portrayals of the wild beast attacking and showing its aggressive nature.
I think we might portray romanticizing better if we drew a bear at a fine dining table. By the gentle glow of a fire we see the bear with a rose and a playful smile, which makes us nervous of its seductive ways. Maybe it’s the warm glass of wine, but we haven’t felt this romanced in a long time.
But that wouldn’t be the bear we know. Instead, the bear reminds us more of my aunt Hilda, who, like a bear, can sleep the winter blues away in a dark den where she can spend winter’s entirety for all we care, surviving off nothing but her fat reserves from an autumn of gorging.
Scientists do not disturb the bear for a fear, probably, the same way we fear disturbing Aunt Hilda’s winter slumber. They do not want to be met with a wild-eyed beast that is cranky from only being half-way through her months of sleep and she has a powerful morning breath.
The spring bear will emerge when she’s ready. She’ll wake from winter hibernation looking at us like we’re a T-bone and, on the side, a baked potato dripping with butter. What the bear doesn’t realize is that we’re not a T-bone – that was only our nickname in college. But she may realize the baked potato is real, and that’s our own fault. We shouldn’t carry butter slathered baked potatoes in bear country. This point is reiterated when the bear charges.
What people don’t realize is that nine-out-of-ten charges the bear is only joking. The bear sees how frightened we are then turns and laughs, satisfied. This, of course, angers us because nobody scares us in that way but our aunt, Hilda.
Grizzlies are content to joke charge, probably, because they will eat about anything in the woods, their favorite – a nice salmon, which they eat raw and without any regard for decency. If they tried eating like that at my mom’s table it would be my sister who would scold the bear, but the bear would never understand.
I guess the bear has it pretty good. All except the polar bear, maybe. It’s an animal that you’ve never seen equaled in its sheer content to live in a land of vast icescapes. Man needs more than ice. This major difference is probably why man and polar bear don’t get along. As far as we can see, the polar bear has nothing to look forward to. Socially, it has nothing going on.
In the polar bear’s struggle to maintain a foothold in this vast land of ice water you might be asking yourself, what makes the polar bear think it’s all worth it? But under closer observation, the polar can be seen on the ice, locked with a seal, in an epic game of peek-a-boo.
They are the largest of the bear family, so they have that going for them. But they have humans to thank. Their diet of people makes them big and gives them that shiny coat. It’s their will for maintaining good looks versus our will of turning up the heat in that cold wasteland. But when the ice is gone, the polar bear will be gone. We humans can adapt to change where the polar bear cannot. So I guess, in the end, we win.
It’s a harsh environment for bears to raise themselves in. For mating rights, adult males will fight and argue over who gets the first girl they see. After a brutal fight, to the victor goes his female prize. In reality, he won a girlfriend who reminds me of my aunt, Hilda, and that makes us shudder and want to close our eyes to the world of the bear.
With the curiosity of a child, the hairiness of a hobo and the claws of a mad woman, we have to tell ourselves: we’ll never understand the world of the bear.
Monday, March 11, 2013
Thursday, March 7, 2013
Friday, March 1, 2013
Thursday, February 21, 2013
After a hard day of droving cattle, a cowboy came into camp and was greeted by the cook who said, “There ain’t nothin’ a plate of beans and biscuits can’t fix.” The cowboy heartily agreed and they sat by the fire to eat.
Minutes later another cowboy came in looking down. “There ain’t nothin’ a plate of beans and biscuits can’t fix,” the two exclaimed. But the cowboy dragged with him a dead cow. Sadly, he said, “There is one thing.” They looked at each other and felt sad. Then they felt hungry. Then, like dust kicked up by the wind, it is lost to the sands of time what they felt next. Probably because nobody was there to make them share what they felt.
Monday, February 11, 2013
Sunday, February 10, 2013
As a hungry young photographer in the year of 2007, I sought wildlife and found mostly birds as a subject. Back then I was in the practice stage of my learning career. Looking back on these photos, I can learn and hopefully share some insights I have gained through the years. In this middle of February--a bleak time for wildlife in my part of the world--I want to post some photos and explore what I've learned.
Saturday, February 2, 2013
Two Likely Friends
Thursday, December 01, 2011
One reason historians bug me is because they often argue about who would have won in a gunfight, Jesse James or William Bonney. I think history speaks for itself, in that, the two men made better friends than enemies.
Although I should mention that a gunfight did almost occur between the two bandits when word spread around the country about the two and how many men they killed. Newspapers went back and forth on the actual amount and soon it became like a contest. Who could kill more or shoot more accurately. Jesse claimed that he fought in a real war and the numbers were of no comparison since, who knows the real number? William got on his horse to cross the country and meet Jesse with blazing guns and a firm, “Oh, so my fight wasn’t a ‘real war’?”
But one thing most historians can agree on is that, in those days, it took a long time to cross the country on horseback. By the time William reached Jesse he forgot what he was even mad about. They became good friends during a gambling game of cards.
Jesse was 12 years older than William which led to him acting as a kind of outlaw mentor for the young cowboy/gambler.
Though the two were considered friends, they were often at odds when it came to breaking the law. Jesse took the code of ethics for cowboy outlaws seriously and sometimes to the extreme. There was the time Jesse banned drinking while working. William rebelled and proclaimed that drinking was part of his work. Then he added ‘drinker’ to his accomplished resume of outlaw occupations.
It took time, but Jesse finally won over William. Back at the hideout, Jesse would coax the hung-over William out of bed with the smell of fresh-cooked bacon and waffles. The smell would make William sick at first, but then he would feel better and join Jesse for breakfast. They would joke with each other and say, “Another day, another dollar” and then go rob someone.
Sometimes they would get on each other’s nerves and William would say things like, “Jesse, you’re a hillbilly, redneck crook who is not going to call the shots for me.”
And Jesse would respond with things like, “William, you’re an out-of-control hippie who is going to let drink and dames ruin you.”
They would retreat to their separate rooms of the hideout and cool off. They knew they couldn’t help themselves or blame each other for their lifestyles. They were just doing what they knew how. They would shake hands and tell each other that their mother raised a good son.
I suppose if anyone gave them half a chance to do it all over, they might have become upstanding citizens. But I think it’s a safe bet that they would have stayed just the same.
They both gained fame and notoriety from their antics on the wrong side of the law, which led them to start using fake names to avoid capture. William chose the name, Billy the Kid, which was already revered in songs and folklore around his home territory. Jesse liked the name and called him that until their dying day.
Once in a while Billy the Kid would get bored of the refined bank robber life that Jesse offered and he would go run from the law and rustle some cattle. Billy would get himself into some pretty sticky situations which he and Jesse would argue about. Then Jesse would remind Billy, “This outlaw life is killing us and pretty soon we’ll all be dead.” Jesse’s famous quote put things back into perspective for Billy and everything would go back to being OK.
Billy was back out in the west when Jesse heard of his death. Jesse just laughed to himself and thought, that outlaw life sure did kill him. And Jesse prepared himself and the gang to make yet another bank robbery. But before the robbery, in a touching moment of remembrance, Jesse moved to dust off a picture of his late gun-slinging friend. And in that moment, Jesse, too, fell. Jesse’s body was riddled with old gunshot wounds he’d survived, but the shot that killed him, his gang later joked about saying, “We could have sworn it wasn’t loaded.”
Some say those were the two best bank robbers that ever lived and died. Some say they were never killed and they lived out their old age somewhere on a lake in Texas. Some say they never died at all – their spirit lives today inside aspiring new bank robbers. But others say, no, that’s not their spirit; that’s meth.***