Consider This

I – and many if not most of you reading this – would simply not exist without the findings of science, technology, and engineering.  Unsure of what I mean?  I have written about this topic before but here we go again because this cannot be overstated.

Starting off with the obvious: somewhere during your timeline of life a medical procedure/surgery, external or implanted medical or dental device, topical, or internal medicine, antibiotic, vaccine, or vitamin, – (that was invented, tested, guided, administered, and/or prescribed by the expert skill, advice, and training of medical experts we call medical scientists, virologists, immunologists, bacteriologists, prosthetists, orthodontists, dentists, plastic surgeons, doctors, surgeons, nurses, anesthesiologists, and all the other “ologists,”) – has repaired, prolonged, enhanced, or saved your life – or the life of one of your progenitors. 

Speaking of your progenitors; without one or more of the modern medical techniques and procedures I mentioned earlier – they may not have lived or lived long enough to bring those individuals who produced the being you call you into existence…in fact, they – and therefore you – may not have even been born at all.   

Another fascinating fact: it is very likely that some of your progenitors would have never even met each other without a horse and wagon, car, truck, bus, boat, ship, aircraft, or possibly even a rocket bringing them to the instant in time where they first met – changing the course of history to eventually create you.  

How many countless times in your life did a sanitation system such a water purification system, portable water filter, purified water from your local municipal water department, a simple wooden outhouse or gilded penthouse toilet – remove or greatly reduce the chance that you or your ancestors would contract a nasty parasite or deadly disease?

Where would you be and what shape would you be in without your soap, toilet paper, tooth brushes, contact lenses, eye glasses, dental implants, hearing aids, CPAP, Oxygen concentrator, hip, knee, and heart valve replacements, pacemakers, insulin, etc?

Then there was the discovery and implementation of better agriculture/animal husbandry techniques such as selective breeding, fertilizer, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, genetic modification, preventative medicines – just to name a few – working together to produce a higher quality and quantity of foods allowing you to grow up strong and healthy.

Think about your home appliances for a moment.  Where would you be without your refrigerator, range, microwave oven, dish washer, laundry machines, blender, coffee maker, ceiling fans, HVAC, and all that electricity that powers them…how different would your life be without these technological wonders?

What about all that energy that powers and supports your lifestyle? Where would you be and what would you be doing without petroleum products such as oil, gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosene? Then there is all that earlier mentioned electricity you use that is produced by all those coal, hydroelectric, geothermal, wind, solar, battery, and nuclear-power stations – and all the inventors, scientists, technicians, electricians, miners, roughnecks, refiners, shippers, managers, and other people who worked together to bring all that energy to you and to keep it flowing when you want and need it?

What about your modern clothes, tents, buildings, your home’s walls, doors, door locks, glass windows, the screens on the windows keeping out the blood-sucking and disease-carrying insects, all allowing you to live a comfortable and safe existence?

Do you perform work that requires the common sense use of PPE’s (Personal Protective Equipment) to protect you from the elements such as sunglasses, safety glasses, air filter mask/respirator, chain saw chaps, snake gaiters, clothes, boots, gloves, sunscreen, climbing helmets, life jackets, body armor, or a simple bandana to keep you safe and healthy?

Have you used a personal tool or weapon that has protected you from a predatory animal or human attacker?

Where would you be without all these things?

Would you even exist?

What about your smoke/carbon monoxide alarms…your seat belts and airbags, automatic emergency braking and self-driving systems in your cars…your skateboard, bicycle, or motorcycle…?

That advanced tool of some kind – that hammer, handsaw, cordless drill/driver, Bic lighter or matchstick, pocket knife, multi-tool, Swiss army knife, fishing pole, rifle, animal trap or snare, backpack, length of nylon rope, dry bag, plastic bucket, or tin can, or again the ubiquitous bandanna, – that allowed you to fix a machine, build a shelter, procure, preserve and protect, cook, and prepare food or water so you could beat the odds and survive on and on?

What about all those electronic devices – like the one you are using to read these words – that you love so much; your smartphone/watch, computer, iPad, television, stereo, 2-way radio, that Tesla or Toyota in the driveway – do you have the first inkling on how they actually function? Do you have any idea how much engineering, science, thought, research and development, and testing went into them to bring them to reality on this very day so you can use them and trust them to work as you wish and need them to?

How about the systems in place that allow you to know what the weather will be tomorrow, when the tides will flow, the fish will bite, your exact location on the planet, and then give you turn by turn directions to the bodega where you buy your baked beans and Beluga Caviar – do you even have a clue what it takes to make all these things happen and get those beans and caviar to your dinner table?

And what about your dinner table…?

And what about all the intricate supply chains that have brought all these things to you? Have you ever given any of these technologies and systems the first thought with even just one of your 100 billion neurons?

All these things and systems are products of our science, engineering, technology, ingenuity, vision, and invention.

All of these things are also the products of our own evolutionary development.

Image from this good read: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/monkeys-make-stone-ldquo-tools-rdquo-that-bear-a-striking-resemblance-to-early-human-artifacts/

One of the defining characteristics of our unique species is tool-making and use. All of the technologies we create are nothing more than tools made of modified natural resources (complex combinations of liquids, rocks, fibers, and sticks spiced up with a little bit of fire, electricity, and lots and lots of science and engineering) that allow us to better adapt and survive in this thing we call life.  Since the first time early hominids turned simple rocks and sticks into stone tools and then more recently (maybe 1.5 – 1 million years ago) harnessed the power of fire and added it to his fast-growing tool box – we human-animals have invented, adapted, and “MacGyvered” our way through deep time to bring us to this day in our lives.

The simple fact is this: without our tools (ancient and modern) and without all the inventors, engineers, scientists – without all the experts (ancient and modern) that made them – in all probability we would only exist as just another ape among apes at the mercy of predators, the elements, and the relentless nature of nature.

Ouch!

The simple fact is that many if not most of us living today would not even exist without the findings of science and the miracles of modern technology and engineering – yet, a vast number of people alive, existing, and living today have absolutely no idea how any of these technologies – and the science and engineering that developed and supports them – function – even at a basic level. 

It seems we may have created for ourselves a broken system in which some individuals in the human population today – while they gladly accept and use many of these tools on a daily basis – have willingly chosen to nurture and perpetuate an irrational fear and distrust of many of these most important life-supporting, life-sustaining, and life-bettering technologies and sciences. The very same technologies and sciences and that have allowed many of them to exist, to continue to be healthy, to have the things they need, use, and enjoy. Yet, for whatever reason – they still choose to take many of these things for granted, to fear some of these things while accepting others, and to ignore the findings of the experts even if it brings hardship and harm to themselves, their loved ones, and those around them.

Strangely, a small but growing fraction of the population of planet earth has chosen to not only fear some of these technological tools – but also to use some of them as tools and/or weapons to spread irrational fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) about still others of these most important tools they have chosen to misunderstand and distrust. A great example is this: people with little more than a high school education – if that – sitting on a couch at home or in traffic – or in their production studios – safe in their comfortable bubble of air conditioned from climate change (which they also do not understand or believe) existence – using their high technology personal electronic communications devices connected to the internet via fiber optics, ground and space-based data relay stations, and wireless data transmission towers and access points – only to spread loads of made-up FUD and misinformation about the expert advice of an entire planet’s worth of medical professionals on the need to wear PPE’s (masks) and the need to use the medicines and vaccines derived by science to fight off a microscopic viral attacker in the middle of a global pandemic…and then they take livestock dewormer…and sell loads of marketing, paraphernalia, self-published books, “cures” and “potions” and just get richer and richer off the ignorance of their followers.

This last fact is the most dangerous of them all. These “lunatic fringe” dwelling, anti-science, anti-knowledge, illogical charlatans – are nothing more than knowledge terrorists working to bring down the progress of civilization by sewing irrational fears into the minds of those without the capability, the education, or the desire, to see through their toxic charade.

It seems as if a cold-war spy movie mated with Austin Powers and gave birth to today’s reality.

The only way I know to fight this growing anti-science, anti-knowledge, fear-focused trend is to teach, to work very hard to open young minds – and the minds of those that are young at heart and still open to accepting evidence-supported, peer-reviewed knowledge.  The jobs of those of us who call themselves teachers is to plant the seeds of knowledge, inspiration, curiosity in how the natural world and the cosmos in which we float works. Then, we must continue to nurture those seeds with even more empirical evidence, adventure, experimentation, and lots of quality time outdoors in nature.  Hopefully, the seeds of evidence and curiosity we plant will grow into great and wonderful trees of knowledge that will empower its gardeners to cast off their fear, hate, doubt, xenophobia, and anxiety and nurture it with curiosity, knowledge, evidence, wonder, love, trust, passion, and coexistence and a deep reverence for all life. 

Plant that seed.

My personal science story:

The fact boldly stands that I would not exist without the findings of medical science, technology, expertise, and technique.

Why?  

1. I was born premature – medical science, technology, and engineering supported my life until I could support myself.

2. Vaccinations protected me against all the things all the other kids carried – all the things that wanted a piece of me when I was just starting out.

3. I acquired Mycoplasma “walking” pneumonia twice – I may have died without treatment and medications and the experts who administered them.

4. I developed Appendicitis: I would have most certainly died without treatment and appendectomy.

5. I was bitten by a Timber rattlesnake:  I may not have died but I would have probably lost the use of a finger and had lasting ill effects.

6. Both my biological and adoptive parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents – would have never met each other without ships, automobiles, and airplanes.

7. I have been in countless situations – many severe electrical storms and one hurricane come to mind – where a structure, vehicle, or technology provided shelter for me, and without it I would have died.

…and so on. 

So yes, without the findings and application of medical, materials, chemical, food, engineering, botanical, and physical science and engineering – I would simply not exist. 

It is as simple and as complex as that.

I do not fear the science, medical advancements, technology, and engineering discoveries, that have given me life – I accept and embrace them just as I accept and embrace nature – because science is our way of understanding and interacting with, and when the need arises – controlling the nature of nature.  These things have given me life and are a part of me, and for that I am eternally grateful. I am also eternally grateful to all the teachers, scientists, engineers, botanists, doctors, dentists, nurses, immunologists, virologists, biologists, and others who have helped me along the way to become the living, healthy person I am today – and to understand the value science and engineering brings to all of us.

You are all my heroes.   

What about you? 

How has science given you life?

Ponder it.

Improvise, adapt, overcome, evolve, survive, thrive.

Freedom

A true story.

Several years ago, while visiting Savannah Georgia, USA, I found myself down on the historic waterfront exploring the myriad of boats moored at the docks.  As I browsed the many makes, models, shapes and sizes of watercraft I noticed something unique at the far end of the pier.  It was the largest boat there – an older, wooden, two-masted, schooner-rigged sailing vessel that looked as if it had been outfitted to travel the seas forever.  I quickly forgot about all the other lesser little boats and soon found myself taking in the sea-seasoned beauty of the rustic old wooden ship. 

As I took in all the intricacies of the weathered old craft – that to me looked as if it had been around the world and back again many times over – a man carrying an oddly shaped bundle in a canvas sack walked up and climbed aboard the craft.  He was lean and muscular, possibly in his mid-60’s, had a skin tone of deep-brown sun-weathered leather, a medium length grizzled white beard, and a full head of white-blonde hair – he briefly looked in my direction and I noticed he had piercing jade-green eyes.  He was wearing a faded, threadbare t-shirt with what looked like the Japanese kanji for “Mt. Fuji” printed on it – but it was so faded that it was hard to make it out – faded old khaki shorts, and pink flip flops.  He eyed me again briefly then turned and knocked (what to me sounded like a secret knock) on the door to below decks – it opened to reveal an exotically beautiful younger woman wrapped in a tropical print sarong with bronze skin and a waist-length braid of thick, jet-black hair.  She came topside briefly, picked up the bundle he had been carrying, and disappeared back below.  The old sailor picked up an even older toolbox, stepped back down onto the dock, and began to make a minor repair on one of the boat’s portholes – and I took the liberty to strike up a conversation.   

After chatting for a while I discovered that he and his partner, whom he never named – nor did he say his name and I did not ask – lived aboard the boat with their scruffy old mixed-breed dog he called “Bandar” (Bandar = monkey in Hindi).

He did not say where they were from and I did not ask but from his accent I would say he had been either Australian, Kiwi, or British.  He said they did not have a land-based home and for over two decades they had traveled the planet’s oceans – their boat their only home.

The elements provided their energy – as evidenced by the wind turbine spinning almost silently on the mast and several solar modules (panels) of different ages and designs covering the roof above the wheelhouse and part of the deck area.  He said they relied on the rains and island freshwater springs to provide most of their drinking water and they had built a simple but effective collection system of shade awnings constructed from what looked like old canvas and plastic tarps strung up over parts of the deck amidships.  These tarps funneled water into a series of bamboo and plastic gutters, tubes, and pipes that lead to water storage tanks below deck.  When water started to get low and they were far from land they also had a homebuilt solar distillation system that would provide them with just enough fresh water to survive until they were able to locate more.

When I asked if the boat had a secondary power source the old sailor said “I rely on the wind mostly but when the wind dies I just drop anchor until the winds return, or if in the deep – I just drift with the current and work on projects that need my attention until the wind returns.  If close to port or if conditions are so bad that I need to drop sails to save them – or if the need be great enough to move faster than nature wants me to move – I will use the motor.  It’s not petrol – the boat’s electric.  The ancient old petrol engine threw a rod about a decade ago when I was about a week out of Darwin.  I made it safe in to port and then, after finding out how much it was going to cost to replace the old petrol monster – I just tore it all out and sank it in the shallows where it is now a home for the fishes.”  He went on to say that he replaced the old engine with a salvaged electric motor from a fork truck.  He mated the motor with the transmission of an old lorry (truck), bolted it to the boat’s propeller shaft, dropped in several fork truck batteries in place of the old fuel tank and some ballast, and connected it all to the solar panels and wind turbine.  He said “it works perfectly, is far less of a hassle than the old petrol engine ever was, doesn’t stink or leak, is silent, simple, easy to maintain, and also provides electricity for all of the boats navigation/radio/lighting/galley systems – and the best thing is that unlike petrol – it does not promote or support war and environmental pollution and destruction and therefore it is free from the subscription to dependency that is attached to all things powered by godawful petrol.”  (I did not get around to asking him how often he had to replace his batteries or how he afforded to do it since batteries are very expensive but I’ll bet he had that one figured out as well.)   

He said that Dolphins, whales, turtles, and the occasional other sailor were their neighbors. Fish, clams, crabs, shrimp, oysters, conchs, birds and bird eggs, coconuts, taro, yucca, agave, mango, oranges, limes and other citrus fruits, papaya, bananas, breadfruit, and other island fruits provided most of their food.

He said he occasionally made use of ports all around the planet to acquire certain things that he could not easily find at sea such as some “land fruits,” veggies, and parts for his boat.  He stated that he did not usually need or like to stop in port – while stopping did sometimes make life easier and more convenient, it was also dangerous…he did not say why and I did not ask.

While in port he would service other people’s boats in return for the cash needed to buy the supplies/parts he needed to stock up for a while – then he would set sail and move on. 

Then he said “Money is one of the most evil and destructive things ever invented and it pains me deeply that I am occasionally forced to make use of it to get what I need – I would rather fish, forage, scrounge, or barter to survive – but sometimes that is just not what works out.”

I asked him what the other evil things were and he thought a moment and said “greed, selfishness, the childish need for power and control of others, division, slavery, war, people breeding without thought for the future or for the new life they are bringing into existence, the infantile, fearful, self-centered idea of white supremacy, twisted religions that denounce the earth and claim to be the way to salvation for those that follow them – at the cost of everyone and everything else that does not.  And above all else the disrespect and disregard for other living beings and for the living earth that freely gives us all our very lives.”

I sat in silence while he worked, thinking about his words.  While I first found his views on society somewhat shocking, I also found them very refreshingly obvious but often not observed by those who are so caught up in them on a daily basis.  His insight had the wisdom of the truly awake and thinking outsider looking in from beyond the wall of society at the bizarre and troublesome puzzle we have created for ourselves, the full puzzle we cannot usually see because we are stuck on the inside of this matrix of society – forever bound up as slaves to this dangerous and divisive illusion of freedom that we are fed from birth.   

He worked for a while in silence then put away his tools, reached aboard his boat and grabbed the same canvas sack his partner had taken below earlier – only now its contents had been reduced by about ½ – and started walking down the dock, I followed at a respectful distance, interested in where he was headed.  He went to the dock master’s office and proceeded to pay him for his time moored at the dock.  From my perspective it looked like he paid him in tropical fruit, a silk garment of some kind, and what appeared to be a small flask of a clear fermented beverage – all this made me smile – they obviously knew each other and had a friendly barter agreement.  I would bet that somewhere below decks of his boat the man had a very detailed log/map listing all of the ports and individuals who would accept nontraditional payment for docking fees as well as all the tiny uninhabited tropical islands with safe anchorages, fruit, good fishing, and fresh water.

He shook hands with the dock master, said a few parting words, turned, and started walking the dock back toward his boat.  I asked him how he had made it all work for so long and he said “Because I was done. Done with the garbage. Done with the hatred. Done with the killing. Done with the greed. Done with the lies. Done with the illusion.  I had no other choice.”

I did not ask him what he meant by that last part.

He then continued “The sea and small islands provide me with almost all I need to survive and what the sea does not provide I will often find washed up on beaches and in the horrible floating garbage patches of your modern civilization – I make use of the cast-off flotsam and jetsam from your society to help me continue. People like Frank (the dock master I think) also help me when the need arises – but that is not often.”  He said he was saddened deeply that so many people chose to pollute the planet without a care at all for nature or for future generations but he was also grateful that some of the cast off refuse was still so very useful – and free. He made use of many of these items turning them into everything – from the earlier mentioned rainwater collection system, to fishing tools, kitchen utensils, and even the solar still for making fresh water and seasoning salt from salt water.

As we walked back to his boat this most intriguing man then said one of the most interesting things that has stuck with me ever since.  When I asked him where he was from he said; “I do not have a state or nation that I call home. I have cast off all connections to my previous citizenship – from when I was a slave to the system.”  He never did say the country he was originally from – and I could see that it was a sore spot so I did not go there.  “My boat and the oceans are my home.  I am not connected or beholden to any nation, governing, or supportive system other than the governing systems of nature and the vast ocean of the cosmos.”  He then said “My heart hurts for the people caught up in the petty bickering between friends, between families, between nations, over childish soul and society destroying politics, evil money, cultish culture-dividing and soul-destroying religions, I weep for those lost in the horribly wasteful wars, insane terrorist acts, and loss of life all in the name of blind patriotism and body and soul-killing toxically divisive religions, the endless quest for oil, gold, and other material things, the tribal division, the skin deep hate, the denial of observable facts, the carelessness and callousness and frightening blind devotion to flag, nationality, and so many archaic faith-based systems.”  He then quoted Albert Einstein saying “Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind!” 

Interestingly, in all his commentary about the state of things – his words were never bitter, mean or hateful – only a peaceful commentary on the sad status of the world that by choice he had distanced himself from as much as possible…and in some ways that he seemed to be running away from.  I got the feeling that if he had the means he would leave this planet entirely and wander the cosmos – a nomadic drifter, searching for nothing and learning everything.  I silently wondered what it was that had driven him to leave his home country and culture.  The answer I am sure could be found somewhere in his commentary but out of respect for his journey, his privacy, and his freedom to truly be himself – I did not ask.

He then became really quiet and walked to his boat, when he reached the gangplank he stopped, turned to me and said “The only way to be truly free is to completely and forever let go of the illusions of freedom that your parents, your government, your society, your education, your religion – whatever illusions have been programmed into your mind by your culture and society that holds you like a slave in its grasp – and become your own person.  That is what I did after…”

He abruptly stopped speaking, looked out to sea for a long moment and said – “Cast off the imaginary anchors and chains of the illusion of freedom and only then will you be really and truly free and only then will your eyes be opened to the true nature of things.”

With that he turned away from me, walked up to the ramp onto his ancient schooner and made ready to depart. Silently I watched as he was joined by the scruffy Bandar and his beautiful partner and together they pulled in the gangplank and moorings, used a long pole to push the boat outward from the end of the dock into the current of the outgoing tide, deployed a single sail – the soft mid-morning breeze slowly filling it out pushing old boat, its human and canine passengers and their entire free-floating world silently through the waters of the inter-coastal waterway and out into the Atlantic Ocean where they deployed the rest of their sails – and then within a few moments – they were gone.

No illusions, no limitations, no flag, faith, or nation – only mysterious residents of planet earth who were truly one with nature and well and truly free.

Free your mind and find true freedom.

High Gravity

A remote waterfall near my home

As a naturalist and trail ranger at many private, state, and national parks in the 1990s and early 2000s, I lost count of how many times I had to stop people – adult, seemingly intelligent, aware, thinking people – from climbing over fences (and doing other daft things) – usually just to get photos – but not always. More often than not these fences were at the top of sheer cliffs and waterfalls that were hundreds of feet in height.

These scenarios would almost always go something like this:

I would be quietly making my rounds on the park’s trails/beaches/backroads/highways, and byways when I would come upon a person on the other side of the fence holding a camera up to their face taking a photograph of the view. I knew the gravitational danger so I would quietly stand by and wait until they had finished their photo taking session and were starting to cross back over the fence and, therefore – as my reasoning went – they would be less likely to be startled. The absolute worse thing I could have done in these situations would have been to call out from behind them during their photography session, potentially startling them causing them to lose their footing/balance and topple over the cliff falling to their death on the rocks below. So, I would wait patiently and quietly until they were in a more stable position and then I would move forward making some slight noise with my feet on the rocks of the trail below to attract their attention, then, when I knew they had seen me, I would calmly ask them to come back over to the safe side of the fence. They would usually do so – while apologizing for climbing the fence. It was obvious they knew they were in the wrong and were not supposed to cross the fence. Maybe they just thought they would be able to get away with it… maybe because they did not see any obvious enforcement of the “Please do not cross the fence” warnings posted all over the place. For me, gravity – and the abrupt body-breaking, life-ending, sudden stop, on the rocks at the bottom of the cliff was all the enforcement I needed to tell me to not cross the fence…well, unless I had the appropriate authorization/climbing gear/PPE.

I would then ask them why they had ignored all the warning signs they would almost always reply – “The photos are better on the other side.” I would then reply “Really, how exactly does that work? You must have far better vision than I do because I am unable to see any difference in the view on this side or that side of this fence. The eye does not notice a difference and neither does the camera. The only difference is that you were on the unsafe side of the fence standing on a mat of moss/lichen that is very loosely attached to the rock and, had it or your shoes lost its grip on the rock, you would have fallen to your death hundreds of feet below – and I would have to clean up the mess.”

With this new knowledge the blood would often drain from their face and they would become silent as they realized the true gravity of the situation and the massive error in their recent decision making process. At this time they would then shakily apologize, and quickly move on – hopefully, never to make that same mistake again.

One of my most fond memories of this type of incident happened when I was working at Chimney Rock Park (now Chimney Rock State Park) in western North Carolina, USA. One warm spring day I found myself walking the trail near the top of 404′ tall Hickory Nut Falls – that’s it in the below photo.

Hickory Nut Falls Photo Source: https://www.visittheusa.com/state/north-carolina

After stopping at the cascade above the top of the falls to cool off in the natural creek shower, I then made my way along the Cliff Trail – a very narrow trail that hugged the edge of the cliffs following the mountainside all the way back to the area near Chimney Rock – the namesake of the park. After leaving the waterfall area I walked a short distance into the forest – approximately half-way between the waterfall and the outcropping left of center in the above photograph. I passed through a tunnel of Rhododendrons and was just about to pop out of the woods onto a more exposed section of the trail when suddenly, I noticed what appeared to be a female human crouching in the woods about 10 feet downhill on the cliff-side of the trail. Her back was to me and she was bracing herself against a small tree while holding something out of my view out in front of her. There were several small trees and shrubs between her and the edge of a cliff a few feet away so she must not have recognized the danger. She did not notice me as I silently made my way along the trail to investigate what she was doing. Then it came into view – she was holding a naked toddler! I stared in disbelief and then said – “Excuse me ma’am, may I ask what you are up to?” She looked up from the dangling child and snapped angrily back – “Can’t you see she is going to the bathroom!” I said, “No ma’am, I just arrived and was just curious because I have never seen someone dangle a child so close to the edge of a 400 foot cliff before.” She stopped, pulled the child against her body, and quickly clambered back up onto the trail, put the child down on the trail, hurriedly put on its diaper, picked it up, and started to head off down the trail without another word. I said to her back – “Excuse me ma’am, would you please return and pack out your used diaper? Not only is it smelly, unsightly, and an unsanitary danger to wildlife, but it could potentially spread diseases – and along with all that it is littering.” She had dropped the child’s soiled diaper on the side of the trail near where she had been dangling her kid near the edge of the cliff. She stopped dead in her tracks, shot me an eat shit and die stare, and went back to get the diaper without ever saying a word. She picked it up, shoved it in her bag, and stomped off down the trail. I followed her all the way back to the parking area because I feared she would just toss the diaper – or maybe even the kid – into the woods or over the cliff if I let her out of my sight. I wonder how long the trail of dirty diapers littering the woods and roadsides is for her and many more like her? Once in the parking area she jumped in her car and sped off down the mountain. While she seemed to clearly realize her serious safety error and was embarrassed by her mistake, at least she chose to keep most of her feelings to herself.

Sometimes, however, the individuals I would encounter and reprimand for their, often intentional infractions – would puff up, and strut and crow like a mojo-filled rooster, clucking loudly of this being a free country and/or an infringement on their personal freedoms, how much they paid to get into the park, and sometimes even cuss/insult my authority as a park ranger – or even insult me personally. When this happened I could only smile and calmly wish them luck because luck is all they had going for them – they clearly had zero intelligence/common sense and/or a great big chip on their shoulder – or all of the above.

On one of these crazy occasions, I was again working as Trail Walker ranger at Chimney Rock Park. I was again strolling quietly along the rugged, and wild, Cliff Trail on a beautiful summer day and I noticed what appeared to be several 20 something-year-old young men standing on a rocky outcrop I affectionately called “Turtle Head Rock.” Turtle Head Rock was about the size of a VW Beetle and it stuck precariously out of the side of the mountain and under it – open air all the way down for several hundred feet to the bottom of the cliff. On the top of the turtle’s head stood this troop of young men, one of them – the largest of the troop – let us call him Biff – stood upon a mat of the same type of moss I spoke of earlier (for those of you botany nerds out there it was Twisted-hair spikemoss (Selaginella tortipila). Biff then started to move forward on the moss mat…and then he started to lean out to get a look over the edge. One false move and Biff would have died a horrible death as his body impacted on the rocks hundreds of feet below. Outrageous! In this rapidly evolving situation, I had no other choice but to call out to stop him from continuing forward and making a huge mistake that ended only in a dead-end – so I forcefully said – STOP!

Biff and his comrades stopped, looked up, perplexed at the voice that came from seemingly out of nowhere. I stood in the middle of the trail, about 50 feet or so away, with the open-air gap between the cliffs and “turtle head rock” in between us. Biff stared with a glare of hatred that I felt might ignite me. I then said. “You are all in a very unsafe location. Please, everyone move back off the rock the way you came and cross back over the fence and onto the trail.” Biff stood up straight, put his hands on his hips, and said something insulting and guttural under his breath that I could not fully understand and then he said loudly – “WHY SHOULD I!?!?” I calmly said – “Gravity.” Biff looked at me in silent, beady-eyed, mouth-breathing, stupidity. Then, he and his troop of brainless bipedal primates turned and reluctantly started to make their way back over the fence to the trail. While they were clambering over the fence I quickly made my way to their location and waited for them to all cross onto the trail. Finally, the ape-like Biff crossed over the fence at which point he turned, and squared up with me – he was a head taller, a foot wider, and mighty muscled – his fists were clenched, his face was bright red, and he started spitting venomous words and insults directly in my face. I could smell the alcohol on his breath and this revelation helped me understand more about his recalcitrance. I let him finish his toxic diatribe and in answer to his final question of “Who gives you the right to tell me what to do!!??” Again, I calmly said – “Gravity.” He stared blankly at me and his face turned another shade of red. He then said, “What the fuck man, – are you some kind of know-it-all egghead!!??” I replied – “Yes, I suppose I am and thank you for the compliment.” He grunted, fumed like an enraged bull, with the veins in his neck popping out as he started moving even closer to me and at that moment I thought he was going to pile drive me into the trail with one of his meaty, sledgehammer-like, clenched fists. I backed against the cliff wall and had nowhere to go and simply said – “The moss you were standing on is not well attached to the rock. Had I not stopped you when I did, your dead, broken body would be bleeding on the rocks at the bottom of that cliff right now and your own stupidity – and gravity – would have been to blame.” He stopped, backed away from me, became very quiet, and stared at me for what seemed like a very long moment, a moment in which I could almost hear the tiny wheels turning in his minuscule, alcohol-soaked, monkey brain, pulsating somewhere in the dark void behind his squinting little eyes and his tomato-red, sweat-beaded face – he then backed off, turned, and said to his troop of muscle-bound monkey boys – “Come on team, this asshole is not worth our time.” They all then laughed at Biff’s lame comment and as a group then turned and started lurching like troglodytic cavemen along the trail. As I followed at a safe distance I could not help but notice that they looked like a troop of testosterone-fueled teen-aged baboons hell-bent on getting themselves into any and all mischief and mayhem they could find. Soon, we came to a fork in the trail where I found the group gathered around Biff looking at a park map. I asked if I could be of any assistance and Biff turned and yelled at me “Hell No! – you wimpy little MF!!”

That was it. These individuals – mainly Biff – were clearly unstable and a possible danger to themselves and to other park visitors so I calmly said “That’s it. It is time to go. Everyone head down that trail to the left and then to your cars. It is time to go home.” Biff turned and again squared up to me, his face even redder than before – and bellowed “you and what army!” I put my hand on my radio and said – “Just try it. In moments you will have a swarm of rangers, maintenance men, and police all over you and your “team” – and, by the way – there is only one way in – and out – of this park.” At this new knowledge, Biff chose wisely and backed down, turned, and they all headed down the trail to the parking area. I followed close behind – but at enough of a distance so I could discretely call ahead to the staff managing parking and let them know what happened. I gave them a description of the toxically masculine alcohol and testosterone fueled gorilla Biff and his troop of yes men and I asked them to escort them safely out of the park. When we arrived at the parking area Biff and his “team” got into their vehicles and sped off down the mountain – with the parking chief following not far behind. She later radioed me to report that Biff and his boys had stopped and tried to take off on another trail but she stopped them and made them get back in their cars and move along. By the time they reached the park entrance a few miles below, a local police officer was waiting to escort them out of town – just to put the fear of the long arm of the law into them and make them think twice about ever again acting like knuckle-dragging, slack-jawed, sub-human, primates* when visiting private property. *I know, this is an insult to respectable primates everywhere – but it is the best descriptivism I can come up with without getting really nasty.

Yet another example…

Once, again while I was working at Chimney Rock Park, I encountered a man and woman hiking down the trail in front of me – very slowly. This would not normally be an issue – people are free to hike at whatever speeds they want to. The issue on this particular day was the massive gray-green cumulonimbus cloud towering thousands of feet overhead and now starting to sink down under the mass of all the water it was carrying and about to unleash as fury on the countryside and all the tiny creatures therein. As I approached the slow moving individuals I could not help but notice that the male of the couple was a towering mass of tan, rippling human muscle with a neck thicker than my body, tattoos on his bulging, sweaty biceps, a tight mesh tank top, shorts that were several sizes too small, a buzz cut, and wrap-around mirror style sunglasses. The female was drop-dead gorgeous – maybe a model – with greatly enhanced centerfold/Barbie-doll proportions, a very revealing in all the right places red sundress, she had long flowing shiny-black hair reaching down to her waist, her hands ended in shiny black long fingernails, and her silky legs ended in red stiletto heels. Ah, that was it – the heels – that is what was slowing them up (why on earth would anyone try to hike this rugged, unimproved, mountain trail in stiletto heels – it is a wonder she had not already broken an ankle!) I ran up to them and said something like: “You folks need to get moving, the park is closing soon and you are the last ones on the trail and we are closing things up for the night.” The woman shot me a glare and the man turned his gorilla-like bulk toward me and said “What gives you the right to speak to us in that way!?” I just pointed up at the sky and said – “That massive storm and the fact that I am a park ranger and what I say, goes.” Then I said “Ma’am, if you don’t take off those heels right away and get moving a bit faster – we may all end up casualties when this storm unleashes its energy on us!” They both looked up and at that moment there was a huge clap of thunder and an icy wind screamed across the exposed cliff face where we were standing. Both of them looked instantly terrified and the woman struggled to keep her tiny dress from revealing too much – but the wind had other ideas. As she fought to keep her dress on she braced against her mountainous male partner, quickly removed her shoes – and they both took off running down the trail with me in hot pursuit. All the while I was hoping neither of them tripped and fell and broke a bone and I would then have to call for a carry-out in this kind of wild weather. Soon, we came to a great dark crack in the rocks known as the “Needles Eye” – if you have never ventured through the Needles Eye I will attempt to describe it for you – imagine a giant rock, several stories in height, with a narrow crack running through the middle of the rock. In that crack is constructed a precarious set of stairs with a spiral staircase at the midway point – it is probably one of the steepest spiral staircases in the world.

The Needle’s Eye from above
The Needle’s Eye from below

No two steps in the spiral are the same size – it was an amazing feat of engineering but sadly, it is no longer in existence due to safety code requirements. But on that day in the late 1990’s it was – and when we reached the top of the staircase we started down just as the clouds opened up and started dumping giant cold drops of rain – with embedded tiny ice crystals – all around and upon us. It was a beautiful show of nature’s power – but I also knew then that we were in for a monster of a storm. As we made our way carefully down the staircase we could hear howling winds and sheets of rain moving over the mountain and huge claps of thunder echoing throughout the gorge and the rocky crevice we were making our way through. None of us spoke, we just moved as fast as possible down the stairs and through the crack in the mountain – terrified at what was coming and hoping that we were not about to get washed out of the crack like the spider in the drainpipe. As we soon exited the relative safety of the Needle’s Eye the rain was now coming down in a torrent and our clothes were instantly saturated – I could not help but notice that “Barbie’s” tiny red dress was now clinging to her in a way that – even with the life-threatening storm screaming all around us – burned a mark forever in my brain (I blame my testosterone for that last comment). We all ran faster and made it to the trailhead at the parking lot just as larger hailstones began to fall. The couple thanked me, jumped in their Hummer, and sped off into the growing storm.

I made my way up the elevator to the Sky Lounge where I joined the other park staff to watch the storm unfold from the safety of the lounge. After the power blinked a few times and the storm did not let up, I and the other employees were dismissed to head home. As I drove down the mountain and through the gorge in my 1965 Series IIa Land Rover, I realized that this was not your average late summer storm – it was a real monster. Not only was the rain falling so fast and hard that my windshield wipers were useless, but the sheer volume of water falling from the sky and running across the road was unimaginable and truly frightening to witness. About a mile west of the park’s main gate I saw headlights shining up from the left at an odd angle – I slowed and peered through the torrent of rain to see a car half submerged in the Rocky Broad River! Its driver’s door was open and I could see that no one was inside as raging waves of water were crashing over the submerged trunk of the car. There was also no one around so I could only hope they had made it safely to shore. Then I heard one of the most frightening yet amazing sounds – a sound that I have only heard one other time in my life – the sound of huge car-sized boulders being pushed around in the river by the rapidly building flash-flood. Both frightening and amazing because the power of nature is both of these things. This was when I decided it was time to get the hell out of the gorge as fast as possible – or I may not be able to get out because I still had travel several miles of twisting narrow mountain road and cross one more bridge over the rapidly swelling river. After slowly making my way up the remainder of the road – and crossing several torrents of water gravity was pulling down the steep mountainsides from above – I finally came to the place where the bridge was supposed to be – and luckily, it was still there. I slowly drove over the bridge and started up HWY 64 towards home. The higher I climbed the lighter the rain became. When I topped out in the small community of Edneyville the rain had stopped and it was a beautiful afternoon. I pulled off the road and looked back toward the gorge only to see a massive towering anvil of a cumulonimbus cloud – one of the largest ones I had ever seen in the mountains. It looked more like a cloud one would see associated with a tornado on the Great Plains or a Hurricane out in the Gulf of Mexico – not sitting stationary over the Hickory Nut Gorge. It was truly a freak storm. As the hours passed that storm ended up being one of the most terrifying and terrible flash flooding events the Hickory Nut Gorge had ever seen. It dumped over a foot of rain in just a few hours and, due to the steepness of the terrain, it laid waste to almost the entire gorge area, destroyed several bridges, homes, and businesses, and shut everything down for several weeks until the damage could be cleaned up and repaired.

More on the storm of ’96 can be found here: https://www.weather.gov/media/gsp/localdat/cases/1996/Hickory_Nut_Gorge_Flood.pdf

On that wild wet day I listened to the warnings of nature, helped two absolutely oblivious individuals move along (possibly saving their lives in the process), and, as fast as possible, took measures to get myself out of what was becoming a very bad situation.

Similarly, in many other situations, I have had to separate countless people from potentially dangerous self-imposed situations with snakes, bears, alligators, deer, thorny and toxic plants, moving water, wind, sand, and even sunlight, heat/cold, ice, snow, and rain. It boggles the brain how so many people can be so incredibly stupid so often – and it is almost always just to get a unique photo or “not have their vacation ruined by the weather.”

After seeing this kind of crazy exhibited by so many humans at so many separate locales and situations I, and many of the wonderful rangers, naturalists, and officers I have worked with in these locations and circumstances – have come to the conclusion that, at least with a portion of the weekend-warrior type segment of the human population of this country, it seems that some of these individuals may, in fact, develop a syndrome we ranger and naturalist-types call the “amusement park mentality.” This is the idea that if one has to pay for access into a private, state, or national park – then that this area must be safe – like an amusement park is presumed to be. Somehow to these people, it seems nature must somehow be “tamed” in these areas, or fabricated, fake, a show, and nothing can hurt you – apparently not even gravity. The animals are friendly and tame, the snakes are all non venomous, the bees can’t sting, and – yes, even the bears are friendly and are put up in their cages for the night along with the waterfalls which are turned off when the park closes its gates. This – nature cannot hurt me amusement park mentality – has been the cause of many an injury and death of countless individuals in countless wild places all over this country and possibly the world. Oddly, from my observations of people from almost three decades of personal experience, it seems that – for whatever the reasons – it is primarily Americans who exhibit this bizarre, common sense lacking trait. I wonder why that is?

And today I find myself wondering if some of the people that I – and all of us park ranger types – have asked to step back from the edge, cross back over those fences, distance themselves from the wildlife, get out of the weather, etc. – are these now some of the same folks who choose to ignore the experts and not wear masks, not stay out of crowded places, not get vaccinated, open up their businesses, cities, and states too early, and/or believe all the conspiracy “theory” nonsense such as but not limited to the erroneous belief that the virus was manufactured in a lab as a bio-weapon or as a way to control the population, tracking devices in vaccines, 5G will give you COVID and/or allow the government to track you via your vaccine – instead of listening to the actual experts, the peer-reviewed evidence, and good old common sense during a global pandemic?

Sadly, and to put it bluntly – many of today’s big brained bipedal primates do not seem to be in any way fit for survival on this gravity-created, water-soaked, rock we call home. The only things keeping them alive are dumb luck, laws, and those who enforce the laws therefore keeping those who lack intelligence and common sense from making the stupid decisions that would have quickly weeded them out of the gene pool.

From a purely Darwinian perspective – could it be that by asking a certain some of them to cross back over to the safe side of the fence – we may have unintentionally spawned many of the problems we are facing today…

Nature is a harsh mistress.

She does not care about us, so if we want to survive, we must care about ourselves and care about each other. We must learn as much as possible about how things work and become naturally and scientifically literate – we must listen to those who know and trust their knowledge until better knowledge comes along.

Nature only gives us two choices in life: adapt or die.

Improvise, adapt, overcome, survive, thrive, live!

Please consider supporting my nature and wildlife conservation nonprofit organization Earthshine Nature Programs.

Stop Rattlesnake Roundups


It’s that time of the year again.

Timber rattlesnake – photo by Steve Atkins

This weekend, in Sweetwater, Texas – thousands of Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes and other rattlesnake species will be ripped from their home habitats – often using gasoline pumped into their hiding places which causes the snake to vacate the safety of the hide allowing it to be captured. The dozens of other animals that share the hole with the snake are then overwhelmed by the fumes and die. The toxic nature of the gasoline then goes on to poison the environment – and possibly even the local groundwater supply – the captured snakes are then put on display/parade then publicly slaughtered and eaten without hesitation.

This is the largest wildlife massacre happening on any single day.

The weekend starts with a “Sweetwater” beauty pageant where the winner gets to kill the first snake of the season. Then it’s followed up with two days of non-stop torture and death as snakes have their mouths sewn shut for grotesque “selfies,” and are then decapitated by people and yes, even children – who are told the snakes are “overpopulated,” “evil,” “bad,” “demonic,” “the devil” etc. – then the snakes are skinned, chopped up, deep fried, and eaten for public dollars.

Something also tells me that this being Texas, and this being 2021 – I would also predict that many of those who visit the roundup will be mask-less, in close proximity, drinking, cheering, preaching, and unvaccinated – making this another COVID-19 super spreader event…

Please do not support these disturbingly sick, destructive, events in any way, they are the last vestiges of a brutal practice that needs to end immediately.

Evidence follows – some of it is very hard to watch if you are sensitive to blood and/or animals being slaughtered. Some of the videos are age restricted and viewable only on YouTube via the embedded links.


Visit the Sweetwater Jacyees Rattlesnake Roundup Homepage: http://www.rattlesnakeroundup.net/

This last link has a map showing all the locations where rattlesnake roundups are held. Some of these events – such as the Whigham, GA Rattlesnake Roundup and the San Antonio, Florida Rattlesnake Festival – have stopped the collection and killing of wild snakes and instead, use their public platform to educate attendees on the unique biology, beauty, and environmental value of rattlesnakes. If those in Sweetwater and the others would just convert to this format…

https://www.rattlesnakeroundups.com/

I do not have any issues with hunting as long as it managed scientifically to support the health of the wildlife and the ecosystem, and it is carried out legally and ethically. The Sweetwater Texas rattlesnake roundup is none of these things. It is time we end this type of Rattlesnake Roundup as fast as possible. Just imagine if this were a roundup, slaughter, and feast of dogs, cats, dolphins, manatees, Bald eagles, horses, rabbits, goats, turtles, – whatever – the public outcry would be unbelievable and the perpetrators of those acts would be arrested and heavily fined under animal abuse/cruelty charges and obviously wildlife protection laws. However, because it is rattlesnakes and because it brings so much precious money into the community of Sweetwater – so many people just look away, sit on their hands, and stay quiet ignoring the heinous animal cruelty and abuse that happens in this horrible mass murder of wildlife. On top of all this madness the perpetrators of this insanity, the Sweetwater Jaycees and all others who support them with their support of this mass murder event or through their inaction to stop it, are using this horrible program to teach children that this is an accepted way to treat wildlife.

I was bitten by a wild rattlesnake and yes, I still support their conservation.


If you do not see a problem with this sickness then my friend, you have a serious problem.


This needs to stop now.


Do all in your power to fight this madness.


DO NOT support rattlesnake roundups, coordinated animal cruelty/poaching/ wildlife/ecosystem destruction, and trafficking in threatened and endangered wildlife.

Unless.

Recently I read this article in The Guardian that really hit home with me how urgent the need is to stop burning things for energy.

Sadly, until our species stops burning long-dead life-forms – fossil fuels – as our primary sources of energy for our homes, businesses, and transportation systems, this trend will only continue. More people will sicken and die due to atmospheric, land, and water pollution directly and indirectly due to burning fossil fuels for energy. Then there are the anthropogenic climate change implications – but that is another can of worms for another day.

If you do not understand the issues and the connections between burning fossil fuels, pollution, climate change and the health and continuation for humans and wildlife then it is possible that:

– you may not understand the problem.

– you may understand the problem but feel that it is hopeless and that nothing you do will change anything.

– you may have the desire to make a change, but do not believe you have the ability or the means to start the change.

or

– you may not want to understand the problem.

– you may for some bizarre reason actually believe the rhetoric of the corrupt politicians who are in bed with fossil fuel corporations.

– you may be listening to and trusting those with agendas.

– while choosing to ignore those with the peer-reviewed evidence.

– you may have money invested in fossil fuels that you do not want to loose.

– you might be comfortable in the way things are – or were – and you do not want to change – even if that change would make you more comfortable, happy, wealthy, and provide your children and grandchildren with a better world.

– you may actually believe the ancient scribblings in a dusty old story book that tells you the earth and its resources are somehow “imperfect” “corrupt” or “evil” and are here for us to dominate and squander without any consideration for future people, wildlife, or the balance of nature.

– you may even somehow believe all of the above.

This is all really very sad.

These limiting, restrictive, erroneous, and destructive beliefs will only serve to make problems such as this far more malignant and deadly.

The cold, hard, inconvenient truth is this: our species must stop burning things for energy and transition as fast as possible to local, energy secure, clean, renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, gravity, tidal and wave energy, and eventually – fusion. We must keep the majority of fossil fuels in the ground and use them only as fuel for systems and projects that do not play well with renewables such as rocketry – as well as keeping them in reserve as backups for when emergencies happen and as feedstocks for reusable, recyclable products that are made from them – such as plastics.

If we want our species to continue much longer into the future – we must listen to those with the evidence.

We must follow the evidence wherever it leads.

We must listen to the science.

This is the only way we will ever evolve.