February 7, 2015
“There are three black bears,” the Missouri conservation officer said, pointing to the south along the Missouri River. “We don’t advertise it—you know how people can get. But they’re out there in the wetland.”
“There is a black bear along the bluff over Clifton Terrace,” my friend Layton told me over coffee. “I seen it shufflin’ across that bean field.”
A farmer at the diner showed me and the boys a photo from a trip wire camera he mounted along his fence line. A full grown mountain lion, its eyes red from the camera flash, stared at us.
“A person would have to be a fiend from hell, to shoot that beautiful animal,” Layton said.
That noise you hear is the fiends from hell who live around here locking and loading their semiautomatic rifles and Uzis.
Genehouse is less than five miles from all of the animals mentioned above. I have seen the bobcat early of a morning, bathing itself with its right leg raised over its head. Coyotes regularly walk across the yard. And there are the footprints in the soft earth, the paws as large as the palm of my hand. Is this the return of the wild?
“They’re all guys,” the conservation officer said. “There aren’t enough girls to go around, down in the Ozarks. So the bachelor bears roam north and south. There are no girls here.”
And there are the several black wolves, all males, which the Illinois Department of Natural Resources staff is tracking, less than two miles east along the bluffs. Another wolf shot near Peoria had DNA from a Northern Wisconsin wolf pack.
Good news! So how do we explain the 69% of wild animals across the planet which have been eradicated in the last decade, by bullets, climate change, poison, overcrowding? But let’s not have negative thinking, we who did the eradicating.
99% of monarch butterflies have been wiped out because of a word: “weed.” Milkweed, a tallgrass prairie plant, is the only food monarchs eat, and thanks to Monsanto’s Roundup, milkweed is mostly eradicated. And there is curly-top gumweed, pigweed, soapweed, ragweed, swamp smartweed, sumpweed—the list is endless.
“Pigweed”: Ick. “Amaranth”: Exotic. They are one and the same. Where did this weed suffix come from? Germany. German immigrants (my people the Millers among them) came to the Midwest, took a look around and said, “Weeds. Nein.” In fact, all of the above “weeds” are edible and medicinal prairie plants with intricate root systems. Had the German farmers simply harvested the perennial prairie, they could have made the most nutritious bread ever known. Instead, they plowed and sewed wheat. And declared war on weeds.
The morphing of wolves into dogs is the best known evidence of fast evolution. Wolves became dogs in a single generation, 7,000 years ago, when bands of Archaic Indians roamed the New World. With the Archaic people, came garbage dumps. With garbage dumps, came wolves which stopped hunting and learned to “shake hands” and “roll over.”
Bad luck: that thing about there not being enough girl bears and wolves and mountain lions to go around. Or: human expansion is driving out those creatures. Thank god we were made in God’s image (if you believe the patriarchal, misogynistic writers of that hate tome the Old Testament). It is a bad time to be a bear.
Will those thriving-on-human-garbage bears and mountain lions and bobcats and wolves evolve into domestic animals? We had better hope so.
Otherwise, they’ll eat the baby.