Nature does not care about us. There are only two options in the life of any living creature – animal or human animal: Adapt or Die. This is why we must care for ourselves – and others. Therefore, as I see it I still have only two options here:
1. I could choose to ignore the experts and treat COVID-19 like a religio-political control tactic or a hoax as some seem to believe it is. If I did this I would either: be just fine(luck)…or I would have a much higher probability of becoming sick (or dead) due to COVID -19 (and/or any other contagious disease). For me, the side effects of contracting COVID-19 have the potential to be far more damaging than the disease: lost wages, possible job/car/home loss, family, friends and coworkers and/or my students contracting COVID-19 from me and possibly suffering lasting damage to their health – or worse – death. Possible damage to the amazing company I work for, the life-long emotional and possible physical trauma associated with bad choices and their implications, the high cost of medical treatment.
2. I could choose to listen to the experts from many sources who are all saying the same thing and follow their recommendations and adapt accordingly. I could wear masks in public and at work, wash my hands more often, physically distance, avoid crowds, and get vaccinated. This road has been long and inconvenient, absolutely no fun at all, redundant, trying and tiring mentally and physically. However, even if I somehow still come down with COVID-19 – at least I am 100% certain that I did my absolute best to protect those I teach, those I work with, those I love, those strangers I do not even know, and myself from this virus.
As I have done since March 2020 and as I see it I have only one option here: I choose option #2.
If in the end, all the reports and “news” hype circulating around SARS CoV-2 one day mysteriously vanish from the scene and if all of it or most of it is exposed to be a religio-political* tool or cruel hoax** – I will eagerly, happily, and publicly ingest a large plate of deep fried, Cajun spiced crow and admit my error.
Until that time I will continue to choose option #2 and I will continue to stand by, support, and follow all the recommendations of the infectious disease experts.
To think that I know more than they do, or that some internet influencer or religious or political leader knows more about infectious diseases than the experts who study these things as their life’s work – is the ultimate of faulty logic and toxic hubris.
To choose not to listen to the experts would be selfish, incompetent, negligent, and potentially harmful to my loved ones, my friends, my students and coworkers, and even to people I do not know but may pass when I must visit a public place out of necessity…and obviously myself.
As I see it a little bit of adaptive inconvenience and a necessary deviation from the norm – is a small price to pay for the health and safety of my family, friends, coworkers, students, strangers, and for my own physical and mental health. I have far too much too lose to even ever consider Option #1.
*I despise how twisted and destructive religion and politics have become and IMHO I believe both should be totally and forever separated – and possibly even abolished. Our future should not be treated like the toxically divisive past and/or a business or a competitive sport.
**I do not believe COVID-19 is a hoax. I have looked at all the evidence, read the peer reviewed reports, have friends who work in the medical profession, and have friends who have had it. It is as real as you and I.
The needs of the many, outweigh, the needs of the few – or the one.
Improvise, adapt, overcome, evolve, survive, and thrive.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Anyone who has ever kept or worked with animals or livestock knows this rule: when an animal gets sick you pull it from the herd, quarantine it alone, in its cage, stall, paddock, in its home – away from the other members of the family/herd. You do this as directed and often as required by law, by the animal health and disease experts so as not to put your, and other, healthy animals at risk. You then treat the sick animal, as directed by the experts, with medicines, fluids, special diets, vaccinations, and isolation until it recovers.
If a neighboring population of animals is stricken with a disease, you quarantine the entire sick population in one location, in their cages, stalls, paddocks, in their homes.
You also quarantine the healthy populations in another location away from the sick population for a time period as set by the animal health and disease experts so as not to put your healthy animal populations at risk of cross-contamination from the sick.
No matter how much barking, braying, bleating, noise, and other raucous vocalizations, and displays of self-centered malcontent some of the quarantined animals may make in their request to rejoin the rest of the herd/pack/family/population…
…you do not under any circumstances give in and mix the sick with the healthy because your experience and common sense and the recommendations from the experts tell you doing so will cause even more sickness, death, and loss.
Once the animals have recovered you then have an expert in animal health that we call a veterinarian (who is a doctor) give the animal(s) a health check and if all checks out, the recovered animal(s) can then be released back into the herd to go on with their business.
We are animals.
We are the herd.
We must listen to the experts.
No matter how uncomfortable and inconvenient it may be.