It was a Sunday morning in August, and I had just turned south on County Road 14 in southeastern Minnesota. This is one of the most scenic roads that meanders through the historic Sogn Valley.
I saw them before they saw me (at least I think so) dead ahead, four medium to large sized turkeys crossing the road from the passenger side drainage ditch to the opposite. I eased back on the accelerator and slowed my mammoth 1988 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham to just 45 miles per hour making certain they had plenty of time to conclude this little journey. As the last tom vanished, I picked up the speed and was now doing about 60 when the big tom, for reasons no one will ever know, decided he had left something behind and now suddenly was directly before me. Both of us knew we had made a huge mistake. Try as he might to fly, he hit the windshield then rolled over the top of the roof, bounced once on the asphalt road and rolled into the ditch, morte! The Caddy limped home making a strange noise and when I finally got my pristine beauty into the garage, I saw that the turkey had broken the corner of the chrome surrounding of the windshield. Not an easy fix, but it was better than a broken window and no passengers were injured. “This is the price I pay for living in the countryside,” I said to myself.
Fast forward to December 3, 2014, and another cold day at work. As I left the computer science building and made my way to the library, I suddenly heard some clattering sounds. Since I was looking down to navigate the icy sidewalk, there was no possible way to see what was coming. Now looking up, and in the nick of time, there appeared a very large 8-point buck coming down the sidewalk. Only by jumping to the side and onto the snow bank did he miss me, veer off, and then crash right through the window of our science building!
This brings me to my special blog and book review that should be required reading in every science or environmental science class, at any grade level, at any school in the United States. The name of the book is Nature Wars, by Jim Sterba, and it is without a doubt the most definitive and scholarly study of the clash between humans and critters that has been written in recent memory.
Mr. Sterba starts off by describing the U.S. as it was in the very early days of the pilgrims. The abundance of game and forests was overwhelming to these early pioneers. He then goes on to chronicle the destruction of both the woods and the wildlife. There is also a chapter on what was known as “market hunting,” where animals were slaughtered on a massive scale (the beaver is just one example) to fulfill the need of Europeans who wanted a bit of dash to their fashion outfits. In short time, the beaver was totally eradicated in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
But here is where the story really gets interesting. “Do-gooders,” or what he calls “ballot box biologists,” decided that the beaver needed to be re-introduced. The vote won, and the critters came back with a vengeance. Now they have a beaver problem, compounded by “tree huggers” who want more beavers and homeowners whose trees are denuded and carried off, and whose septic tanks are backing up because the furry beasts make dams in the worst damn places.
The chapters are just filled with classic stories of human/animal interactions and how often they don’t turn out very well. To tickle your fancy, here are a couple of chapters that should pique your curiosity.
1) The Spruce Illusion
2) An Epidemic of Trees
4) The 50 pound Rodent
5) The Elegant Ungulate
6) Lawn Carp
9) Doers to Viewers
10) Road Kill
11) Feathered Friends
12) Feral Felines
Despite the fact that every chapter is just marvelous in its research and easy prose style, my favorite was the last chapter on feral cats. What a battle this is: cat lovers vs. bird lovers, and it’s to the death. In case you don’t know, estimates show that feral and domestic cats kill between 500 million to one billion birds yearly. One side says the numbers are wrong, but the science proves otherwise. It is one of those inconvenient facts that have pussycat lovers physically threatening those who are trying to cull the numbers of feral cats in this country. I plead guilty as charged, as my tally of feral cats is by now over 100.
The winter is far from over, and this is as good a read as you are going to get. I heartily recommend a 75 grain .243 Winchester hollow point as your best cartridge.
Sterba, Jim. Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards into Battlegrounds. 1st ed. Crown Publishers, 2012.
Image courtesy Amazon