Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mother Nature comes calling

I love the wild, but I prefer it stay in the wild. I used to love going out to the bush in Africa for a hike. And, to be quite honest, didn't worry very much about what I might stumble across, unless I was near water; then I worried about crocs and hippos, both of which are quite happy to attack people and very efficient at it.

It just bothers me when the wild doesn't stay in the wild. I don't mind visiting it, I just don't want it visiting me.

Not long ago a bear was found in our general vicinity. That, I admit surprised me. I didn't even know there were bears anywhere near here, let alone in the city. Now, I'm told a mountain lion has been spotted roaming the city. I have to say, I think I liked them when they were a little more endangered, and hence less likely to come a'callin'. Much to my surprise a google news search shows quite a few mountain lion spottings around the country.

That said, America's wildlife doesn't worry as much, not compared to living in Africa. Certainly we heard of cobras being found in the neighborhood there on a fairly regular basis—far too regular. One rather large serpent made an appearance in the parking lot on my property. (Yes, there was a parking lot on the property itself, enough for about 15 cars easily.)

I had an extension being built onto the garden cottage, where I used to have a car port. The builders got all excited and the maid came running in to tell me that a very large snake had made an appearance. I rushed out to see what was happening. It had crawled through the wire fence into the hillside for the cricket pitch at the sport's club next door. What I could see, in the weeds, was the middle of the snake. It was very, very green in color, about 10 inches in diameter, and the section I could see was about 4 feet long. How much was left at the front of the snake, and how far it was to the tail, I couldn't be sure, and I had no intention of trying to get close enough to find out.

We have a baboon in the general vicinity at one point and they can be nasty creatures. I was done on the Cape, going out to one of the lighthouses when a whole bunch of tourists who had hiked up to the lighthouse came running down the hill screaming. Apparently they had stupidly walked up the hill with ice cream cones and a gang of baboons mugged them for the cones. The baboons would literally hide in the bushes and watch for people with food, they would come out, attack the people and steal the food. And to think some people didn't believe me when I said crime was rampant there.

The baboon in our area actually brought about some rather funny calls to the police. In one spotting a woman reported a hijacker hiding in the bush outside her house. It was the baboon, who generally speaking is actually less dangerous. In another case a maid at one of the houses reported a potential rapists hiding in the backyard. That baboon managed to escape capture for several months. No one is sure how it got into the city.

I worried more than most people because my house bordered on a large field area where the local sports club was located. The area behind my fence went behind four houses in total and then down to the river. I don't remember the name of the river and apparently Google maps doesn't show it. You can see it in the satellite version, but it isn't mapped. That river was wild on both sides of it pretty much the entire distance and it was perfect animal highway into the city. Still, it was the human animal who worried me most.

Wildlife encounters in the US have been mercifully few in numbers. As a young kid my family spent a summer in Florida. We rented a house not far from the Everglades themselves. There was a canal that ran behind the house. I stupidly went into the water and stepped on a snake that was under the water. That is was underwater at the time seemed to help as it pulled away and swam off. It was a water moccasin. I didn't go swimming there again. On another occasion the woman next door was sunbathing in a lounge chair and fell asleep. When she woke up she scream, and ran to my father begging him to help. Apparently an alligator had come into her yard and was sunbathing a few feet from her chair.

I did run into bears a few times, but it doesn't count. I was in the middle of the woods when that happened. Though one big beaver did scare the hell out of one day when I was in high school. We lived on the edge of a forest with a large lake area in it—the whole wild area is now suburbs, including the swimming hole. Walking out there one afternoon this massive beaver appeared on the path, it slammed its tail into the ground several times, making one very loud bang each time, and then ran into the bush. I practically wet myself as I hadn't seen it until it started slapping its tail into the dirt.

As a kid I came across garden snakes all the time near the house and used to catch them frequently, terrorizing the neighbor ladies by showing the snakes to them. Around age 7 I handed one such snake to a babysitter, who just instinctively took what I handed her. She stared at this snake in her hand and started screaming, loudly. Good thing snakes don't have ears. Her problem was she couldn't figure out what to do with the snake. She was afraid to hold it and terrified to let it go. I did find it rather funny, still do in fact. She eventually dropped it and ran. To say the least, she never would come into my room from that point on. Alas, the music teacher was not so inclined and she ended up stealing my coin collection. She probably works in the administration now.

When in Africa, I didn't mind walking the bush, but I wasn't about to camp there. I did have standards, after all. So I'd rent chalets in the various parks for the weekend. For the most part these were safe havens. But not always. I did have a photo of my travel companion feeding a piece of toast to a warthog while we sitting on the patio having breakfast. That one was unusually friendly, though skittish. The warthogs are the great cowards of the bush, though they will get very nasty if they feel cornered, otherwise they run like hell with their funny bottle brush tails sticking straight up in the air.

Monkeys, however, were a plague. One visit I was with a friend who had gone to the main lodge for something. On the way back a young boy came out of a chalet and begged him to help. Apparently the boy had left a patio door open and the monkeys had gotten into the chalet and were ripping it to pieces. The boy was around 12 and when he tried to chase them out the monkeys ganged up on him, terrorized the poor kid, and chased him out of the chalet. My friend, however, was around 6'1" and built large enough that he played rugby for fun. All he had to do was open the door and the monkey beat a quick retreat.

One chalet I rented—it was my favorite actually and I stayed there often—was off in a section of the park that was entirely private to just this chalet. I liked my privacy and usually told the resort not to send cleaning staff to do the dishes, or anything. It was down a long, private, dirt road but it was fantastic. There were three buildings in the camp and you would rent all three together. They were also built up off the ground, among the trees, so there were walkways between the three buildings with the ground about 12 feet below.

One morning, very early, a huge ruckus woke me. It seemed the monkeys were on the roof and chasing one another about rather energetically. I went outside and they disappeared into a clump of trees a bit in the distance. One of the peeked up through the branches at me and when it saw me, would quickly hide again. I then squatted down and it would pop up again. When I popped up to see it, it would squat down again. That went on for a good two minutes, like some giant teeter-totter. If my head was up, the monkey's was done. I my head was down, the monkey's was up.

On one other occasion we heard the worst possible racket coming from directly under the chalet. This was in the middle of the bush in Kwa-Zulu Natal and there were no towns or houses for miles around, no decent sized city for many miles. So when it was night it was very, very dark, especially when the moon wasn't reflecting. And that night there was no moon at all so it was pitch dark. The sound, in pitch black night, was actually quite frightening. We turned on porch lights and eventually discovered that two wildebeest were fighting under the chalet. Since they can get up to 600lbs in weight, they can do a lot of damage.

And all that brings me to posting, again, one of my favorite videos of Kruger Park, though I believe it was given a more PC name recently. Here are water buffalo being pursued by lions. The lion grabbed a small calf, as is routine for them. But before the lion get to devour the poor calf it is snatched from them by crocs lurking in the nearby waters. At this point the lion and crocs are each trying to pull the calf from the others. And then something rather amazing happens, the victims gang up on the victimizers. You have to watch it. Even if you've seen it before, it's worth seeing again.