Wednesday, February 10, 2016

It Is What it Is

     I remember the first wild alligator I ever saw. It was a big bull gator, maybe 12 feet long. He was up on the edge of the Santee River in South Carolina. My old friend Larry Cartee and I walked over, close enough to him for me to snap a photo or two. He looked to be asleep. But then he opened his eyes. And he looked not so much at me directly at me as through me. It was one of those experiences that stay with you forever. His expression (if reptiles can have an expression) said very clearly, “We’ve been here since the Jurassic, junior. And we’ll be here when you're gone.” He wasn't annoyed, he wasn't alarmed. He simply didn't care.      
     Wild things and wild places are like that. They don't care. Our needs, our lives are of no consequence to them. I was reminded of that recently. I read an account of two young men who set off into the desert country south of Wamsutter in midwinter blizzard in a 2007 Ford Focus. Predictably, the car got stuck. Even more predictably, these two rocket scientists decided to walk out. By the grace of God, they found some shelter and were rescued by a search party a couple of days later. Natural selection was thwarted again, and they were safe.
     But more intriguing to me than the story were the comments on the online account of their plight and subsequent rescue. There were literally dozens of comments that ranged from, “Where is Wamsutter? I can't find it on Google Earth!” to “Oh, they’ll be fine. There's a ton of oilfield traffic out there!” But a friend of mine, a young game warden for whom I have tremendous respect, had the temerity to suggest that heading out into some of the wildest country left in America in a blizzard driving a Ford Focus might not have been a great move. A storm of angry comments followed, berating him for being “disrespectful” of the men and their families.      
     I can only imagine that most folks are so disconnected from the real world of deep winter out there near Man and Boy Butte that they don't get this one principle: Nature is not cruel and merciless, nor is it kind and loving. It just is what it is. Try telling that wind that it’s being disrespectful when it chills you to the bone. Try telling that crusted snow that it ought to reward you for trying really hard when you've been postholing through it for hours and you don’t have any idea where you are. The dry washes are full of the bones of those who thought they were too tough to die out here. And the snow and the wind and the desert – they just don’t care.