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Wild Animals - Dr. Vern

Posted in News on September 16, 2013
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Contributors: JP StaffDr. Vern
Photographers: JP Staff

I’ve got a bone to pick with Mother Nature. Whenever I’m out in my Jeep enjoying the time away from civilization, there’s just too much of the great outdoors in the way. I suppose I should be more specific. Mountains? Those are great, bring ’em on. Trees? No problem there. Rivers and streams? More, please. Wild animals? Well, let’s just say there are good reasons why cages were invented.

It’s not that I’m particularly afraid of wild animals. For example, as a kid I never experienced any nightmares after watching Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom.” All sorts of vicious predators entered my living room, but they were safely presented via a glass-front box. It’s a little different when I’m out in the boonies with my open Jeep and the only thing between me and that hungry mountain lion is a whole lot of nothing.

Now, I realize most wild animals are more afraid of me than I am of them, but such theoretical knowledge brings little comfort. However, I do know I am relatively safe with my ability to flee in my Jeep. All bets are off if it’s a motorcycle-riding bear escaped from a traveling circus, but statistically there are more important things about which to worry.

By this point, we can safely establish that I’ll generally be safe from wild animal attacks if I follow a few common-sense rules. Make plenty of noise when traveling to make my presence known. Don’t slather myself with bacon grease, at least not when four-wheeling. (Editor’s note: From personal experience, this will also make you more likely to slide off the seat.) And most important of all, I should remain inside my vehicle, preferably locked safely inside my garage.

"Wild animals are more afraid of me”

So far, so good, but this month’s column would be a little short if that was the sum of my fears. Thinking back over the years, I’ve seen a grand total of two bears in the wild, and both were some distance away and retreating. One morning I found my tent surrounded by fresh elk tracks, but he was probably just wondering what smelled so gamey. (In my defense, I had already been camping for a few days and was on the “relaxed hygiene” segment of the trip by that point.) Well then, why do I often approach the great outdoors with trepidation if big scary creatures are few and far between? Maybe it’s because of small scary creatures. And by that, I mainly mean wasps.

As you might deduce, I’ve had a few wasp incidents. The latest happened when I found one in my ’63 Willys wagon. One cool morning while driving to work (me, not the wasp), the heater was set to max and the defroster fan was on high. I’m not sure exactly what was going through this particular wasp’s mind, but he decided this was a good time to crawl out of the defroster duct. If he was looking for an inconvenient time for yours truly, the wasp succeeded, because this happened just as I was merging onto the freeway. He then sat at the base of the windshield and made some angry twitching movements. Maybe he was just miffed at being woken up so early. Perhaps he was running through a pre-sting checklist. Whatever he was thinking, he was clearly not a morning wasp.

Thankfully, I had the presence of mind not to jump out and run away in a panic, screaming like a little girl. Not a wise move when in motion, as you might imagine. Nope, I first pulled over at the nearest exit and then jumped out and ran away in a panic. I didn’t even scream like a little girl. Rather, I used a slightly deeper tone while screaming, at a pitch more common to a teenage girl, albeit one at a Justin Bieber concert that just got cancelled.

After zipping up my coat and donning a hat and gloves for an extra smidgen of protection, I shooed Mister Wasp out the open door. As I patted myself on the back for a job well done, another thought hit me. Was that the only wasp? Had a colony made a nest on top of the heater core? Was the first one a low-seniority scout? Were others waiting to attack en masse if he didn’t return? Was I about to play an expendable role in the first scene of a B-grade horror movie? Would I even make it past the opening credits? And for the math geek in all of us, what percentage of those wasps would go to the extra effort to fly up my nose during the impending Sting-A-Palooza?

And so it passed that I was a little late getting to work that morning. I shut off the heater and listened carefully, but all was quiet. Luckily, I had a roll of tape handy and covered the defroster vents, just to be on the safe side. Even though the morning was still on the chilly side, I drove with the heat off and windows wide open. I only had a couple of mini-breakdowns for the remainder of the ride, as this old Jeep is prone to making various buzz-like noises. It’s been a few months since this latest episode, but I’m no longer bothered by the thought of being trapped in a confined space with wasps. However, one of these days, I should work up the courage to check inside the wagon and make sure the wasps are gone.

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