Locking eyes: Self-restraint and the lives of animals

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I have never seen a wolf in the wild. I’ve been fortunate enough to spot many other species in their natural habitat – alligators, manatees, mountain goats, moose, bear, pine martens, American crocodiles, loggerhead turtles, moray eels, seals, elk, you name it. But never a wolf. The closest I ever came was a clear and unmistakably fresh paw print on a beach in the Minnesota Boundary Waters. She could see me, but I could not see her. Wolves are good at that.

Wolves certainly live in the places I travel; they are just good at staying out of my way. Last summer, while backpacking the North Fork Wilderness in Glacier National Park, we met an 86-year old park ranger, who had been working the park for decades. We began talking to him about a bear sighting on our intended route, but he was such an interesting character that the conversation meandered, and I asked him if he’d ever seen wolves in the North Fork. He described an encounter with a young wolf.

“Oh, of course,” he replied. “One day I ran right into one, and we stared at each other for a little bit. Then he picks up one paw and holds it up for a second, and he starts to back up, real slow. He didn’t turn his back on me till he was ready. When he finally did, he trotted a few steps, then turned back to look at me one more time.”

To me, the idea that a human being might share such a moment with a wild animal in its own home is a thing of wonder. To be close enough to such a creature that has every reason to fear you – close enough to lock eyes with it one last time before it vanishes into the woods – strikes me as one of the gifts of a lifetime.

That this is so, however, marks me as different from many of my fellow humans. There are times that I feel more of a kinship to wildlife than I do some people –most typically the folks who see wolves and other apex predators solely as threats, and would never pause to consider the expression in its eyes.

Human/wildlife relations have evolved during the age of mechanism. People have always been, and remain, the true apex predator. But as human beings continue on the road to causing the sixth great mass extinction, we are learning the steep costs of wholesale domination. Those costs exist in any kind of relationship, whether parental, romantic, political, or, in the case of wildlife, environmental. And the price is always, somewhat paradoxically, a chunk of the dominator’s humanity. That we have wiped out huge numbers — maybe as much as half — of all wildlife in the span of my life renders the earth a more emotionally and experientially sterile place to live. Many of us have realized that, regret it, and have set about ameliorating it.

In that vein, last year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service promulgated a rule to block some of humanity’s most brutal practices against wildlife in national refuges, including such depredations as killing hibernating bear mothers and cubs as they sleep, shooting wolf pups and their mothers in their dens, aerial hunting, and trapping bears with painful, steel-jawed leg traps. At the time, Republican Representative Mike Fitzpatrick said, about the rule:

“Inhumane hunting methods have caused the overkilling of native Alaskan predators, this rule takes a balanced approach allowing for traditional, permit-based hunting,” said Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick (R- PA). “Congress vested the FWS with the responsibility to manage our Wildlife Refuges. They intend to protect the necessary diversity of wildlife in our refuges while respecting traditional hunting methods.”

In 2016, a poll taken on behalf of the Humane Society of the United States found that Alaskans opposed the practices barred by the rule on a 2-1 basis.

That’s why it’s somewhat puzzling that last week, the House of Representatives voted to repeal the rule, thus, should the Senate and White House agree, allowing back into practice the fringe hunting practices to which most Alaskans are opposed. (Republican Rep. Fitzpatrick was one of the few Republican “nays.”) To be sure, the newly unified Republican government has an anti-regulatory tilt to it, but the repeal of this rule demonstrates the pointlessness of blanket hostility to federal regulations, simply because they are federal regulations and regardless of their support by those regulated.

Sportsmen, along with tree-hugging liberals like myself, turned the tide against the recent initiative to transfer certain federal lands back to the states in which they are located. I hope they show up this time as well, against fish-in-a-barrel tactics that would drain the challenge from the hunt as quickly as it would reduce the populations available for them to hunt.

207I visited a wolf sanctuary a year or so ago, not so much resigning myself to never photographing one in the wild as just impatient to learn about them and interact with them. Wolves, even domesticated ones, are elemental in a way that companion dogs are not. At the time, I wrote that “[l]ooked at in the abstract, a wolf can seem either like an utterly mystical creature, a thing apart from humans — a symbol, almost, that looms large in the human imagination. Or it can seem like just a big dog. I found that they are neither, really. When a wolf brushes against your leg, you can feel the heft of the animal, and you can tell it’s somehow different from a dog. Not more, or better; just different. Their fur is coarser than a dog’s; there is a steeliness in how a wolf evaluates you, even when its attitude is friendly; you can feel the power and the presence in a wolf standing near you — or, as the case may be, jumping on you.”

Shortly after I thought about all of this, a big male wolf, Wotan, buried his nose in my crotch to decide if I was worth his company. It’s not as romantic as my park ranger friend’s surprise encounter with a wild wolf in the North Fork. But it was enough to remind me, again, of the costs of refusing to restrain ourselves in relation to wildlife. Wolves, bears and mountain lions will slip away. And there will be nothing to remind us of the thrill of creation, no brief but magical interactions with those who are right to fear us, but who still allow us a moment of regard.

Find your Senators here. And while you’re at it, tell them to stop messing with the Endangered Species Act too.

What the Badlands know: a reflection on public lands, and how we stand to lose

Update: (Late last night, Rep. Chaffetz withdrew H.R. 621, saying he understood it “sent the wrong message.” Now for H.J. Res. 46, and H.R. 622, which removes federal law enforcement from public lands. Stay vigilant.)

One Wednesday afternoon at the office recently, I was idly checking my Twitter feed. Badlands National Park had a tweet, brisk and matter-of-fact, about five down from the top of my feed: “The pre-industrial concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 280 parts per million (ppm). As of December 2016, 404.93 ppm.”

On any other day, in any other year, this would have been an ordinary advisory about climate change from a national park. Today, though, it was compelling; the brand new, climate-denying Trump administration had just taken office a few days before, and that very day had instructed NPS employees to cease use of Twitter until further notice. But someone was refusing to shut up.

A second tweet appeared: “Today, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is higher than at any time in the last 650,000 years.” Then the retweets started. Soon every other tweet in my feed was a retweet from the Badlands National Park account. Then, in true Twitter fashion, the tweets about the tweets began.

A few hours later, the tweets from the Badlands had been deleted; it was a brief but unmistakable civic act, couched in the simple assertion of science. Later, the National Park Service stated that a former employee who was still able to access the account was the culprit. I don’t know if that’s true, but overnight, alternative agency accounts began proliferating like kudzu, some run by current employees, others run by those outside the various agencies but with connections to those inside them. The alternative accounts began tweeting the science relevant to their agency’s particular mission – in short, exactly what you would expect to see from government agencies that weren’t muzzled to ensure that facts don’t conflict with the administration’s politics.

As I watched this unfold, I thought for a long time about all the images I’ve shot in the Badlands, and how good that place has been to me, and to my photography. And although I love it, my affinity for public lands extends far beyond that particular park, because my identity was forged in them. An enormous part of my adult life – and my childhood as well – has been spent in national parks, forests, monuments, and refuges. Exploring open spaces, photographing them, and bringing back the stories they tell me is the most pressing, consistent urge in my life; throughout the nearly half century I’ve been alive, that urge has been on par with the drive I felt to partner and to parent. But the continued existence of those spaces, and our ability to access them, is at risk, both from the climate change the new administration refuses to acknowledge, and from the Republican party, that wants to sell them off.

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I sleep harder in a tent than anywhere else, and if the dog isn’t there to whine until I unzip the tent so he can pee, I’ll sleep into the late morning. My husband, Travis, is just the opposite. So one June morning at 5:20 a.m. a few years ago, he poked me and reminded me that the night before, I’d committed to getting some early morning shots.

I tried to deflect. “I’m cold,” I mumbled. He was immovable. “I’ll get you my jacket,” he replied.

As he left the tent, I cracked a single eyelid, and through a millimeter of clearance, saw a stunning, predawn Badlands sky. That was enough. I climbed out of my bag, pulled on my boots, stuck my head into my tie-died floppy hat, and set out. I was awake by the time we made it to the top of Sage Creek Basin and found our way blocked by a herd of jaywalking bison, who apparently also get up early. They parted for us slowly, and with obvious annoyance.

We settled at an overlook a short distance away with lots of vistas for me to shoot and a place for Travis to set up the backpacking stove and make coffee. As the sun crept over the edge of the Badlands, I hopped happily around taking photographs.

I was downhill from the overlook a bit, calf-deep in yellow coreopsis when I heard Travis calling my name and gesturing.

“You need to come back up here,” he advised, pointing at something further down the hill. I followed his finger, and saw a big, brown beast lumbering slowly up a nearby game trail toward me – a stray, perhaps, from the herd we had annoyed half an hour earlier. I shouldered my camera strap and hoofed it back to the overlook.
Surely, I thought, watching his progress, he isn’t coming all the way up here.
A few minutes later his head popped up over the lip of the overlook.

Travis had just finished the coffee when I returned, so we had picked up the steaming cups, stove and associated equipment and moved to a safe distance. We watched as the bull approached the posts near the overlook. He lingered near one for awhile, as if trying to make a weighty decision. Then he stretched his neck carefully over the pointy tip of the post and began scratching vigorously. After attending to his neck, he reversed his enormous body and positioned his hind end at just the right angle, and commenced a slow, luxuriant ass-scratch. He worked on his butt for a long while, and then stepped away and meandered off down the hill again.

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I looked down at my now cooled coffee, and took a sip. I had been too busy watching a bison scratch his ass to drink it. I respect that the life of a bison is probably an itchy one. This fellow probably needed the scratch more than I needed my coffee to be hot. And anyway, I reasoned, it’s far better to drink warmish coffee somewhere you can be interrupted by an ass-scratching buffalo than hot coffee in a place where no such diversions are available.

The concept of public lands is not a settled one. Most everyone takes the national parks, wildlife refuges, and forests for granted, but not only is their continued public ownership not guaranteed, it is actively being disputed. Outside magazine recalls the following portion of the Republican Party platform adopted at the convention last summer:

Congress shall immediately pass universal legislation providing for a timely and orderly mechanism requiring the federal government to convey certain federally controlled public lands to states.

But, as Outside also points out, most states don’t have the budget to care for these lands, and so will likely sell them off to the highest bidder. Which is the point: as the Denver Post editorial board observes, transfers of federal public lands are just a way to sell them off to developers or private corporations.

This is not a hypothetical. In early January, the House of Representatives included in a rules package a measure declaring that land transfers were “cost-free.” In effect, this means that the federal government need not account for the loss of their value in transferring them to the states in which they are located. Then, last week, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R), filed H.R. 621, “a Bill to direct the Secretary of the Interior to Sell certain Federal Lands in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming.”

Why? Well, the stated reason is again found in the Republican platform:

Federal ownership or management of land also places an economic burden on counties and local communities in terms of lost revenue to pay for things such as schools, police, and emergency services. It is absurd to think that all that acreage must remain under the absentee ownership or management of official Washington.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the facts are inconsistent with the notion that federal ownership is an “absurdity.” The same Outside article linked above references a 2014 Department of the Interior report that reached a completely different conclusion on the economics of the matter:

In 2014, the Department of the Interior says over 400 million people visited the lands it managed, supporting 355,000 jobs and creating $25 billion in spending. Energy production on DOI lands created an economy contribution of $220 billion and was responsible for one million jobs. DOI water storage and delivery netted our economy $60 billion and supports 378,000 jobs.

I’m skeptical about the Republican Party’s concern for the communities near the public lands, and suspect that other interests may be at the root of their wishes. I thought about that again this week, when the National Parks Conservation Association reported that Rep. Gosar (R-AZ) had introduced H.J. Res. 46, an attempt to repeal updates to the National Park Service’s rules for oil and gas drilling in the national parks in which parties other than the government own the subsurface mineral rights.

The rules at issue, as updated, require extensive planning for drilling operations and set safety standards. If repealed, the NPCA warns, the national parks would have little input into the drilling that happens within them. Leaks and spills could go unpunished and there would be little incentive to avoid them. Roads could be built within national parks with impunity. Drilling companies would not be required to inform parks or park visitors about their operations. In sum, operations could be easily commenced in our national parks to extract the carbon-intensive resources that are already degrading them through climate change.

The question arises: in whose interest is it that our national parks become drilling sites? In whose interest is it that public lands be sold to developers or extraction industries? It’s not in the interest of the $646 billion dollar outdoor recreation industry that provides the country 6.1 million jobs. It’s certainly not in the interest of hunters or fishermen. And it’s definitely not in the interest of ordinary citizens in the American West, of which group a staggering 95% visited public lands in 2015. That leaves the oil and gas industry, and other business interests that have donated millions to Republicans, who stand to gain the most from the conversion of public lands. It’s definitely in their interest. It is not in ours.

I can’t say I unreservedly loved the landscape of the Boundary Waters at first sight; rather, it was a place that slowly wore a groove into me, through appeal to my other senses. At the end of a five day trip on which we had encountered fewer people than we could count on one hand, we packed up camp and began paddling back to our put-in spot. We had been gifted with a cool, overcast October day laced with a gentle mist. The wind was at rest, and so the water was too.

My partners, my husband and his best friend of thirty-five years, climbed into the canoe. I took the kayak. The three of us had been talking endlessly all week, covering every topic from relationships to personalities to rock music trivia to environmental philosophy. But this morning, our tongues stilled along with the water. We were there to listen. All three of us seemed to sense that the Boundary Waters Canoe Area had chosen that morning to show its character.

_DSC0454Halfway down Loon Lake I understood that I was experiencing the difference between quiet and silence. Quiet is the absence of din; but silence is total, all-encompassing, and, I know now, exceedingly rare. I used to think I had experienced silence in my home, perhaps in my bed at night, but I suspect what I was really experiencing was quiet; there were other, background sounds, but they weren’t obtrusive.

But if you still your paddle on water like this, there will be long moments of genuine and unbroken silence, punctuated briefly and occasionally by the distant chattering of a ground squirrel, the snap of a twig under a paw, or, in the luckiest of circumstances, the call of a loon.

The paradox of silence is that it promotes the most delicate of sounds, and enables the listener to hear and experience things that would otherwise remain unobserved, like the journey of a single yellow aspen leaf from the canopy to the leaf litter below.
Many people I know visit here for fishing, for solitude, or for scenery. For me, though, the true genius of this place is that these vast stretches of open water serve a nursery for silence, at the same time they nurture wildlife, plants, and the spirit of the adventurer.

The purity of these waters, though, is not assured, and must be continually guarded. Mining interests want to extract sulfide ore just upstream of the wilderness area, a process that produces sulfuric acid runoff. In an op-ed last summer in the New York Times, Theodore Roosevelt IV and Walter Mondale notes that such runoff often ends up in nearby streams. Similar mines, they note, have already poisoned lakes and thousands of miles of streams. Such an outcome could also decimate northern Minnesota’s tourist industry.

Late last year, the outgoing Obama administration declined to renew the mining leases at issue. The Bureau of Land Management blocked mining in the area for two years while studying whether to block it for a longer time. However, Rep. Rick Nolan has sent a letter to the Trump administration asking them to overturn the Obama administration’s decision.  So the question, like so many others, is not settled.

Ultimately, I don’t think economics can dispose of the federal public lands question, even as I believe the numbers weigh in favor of their continued existence. But in any event, among those eager to transfer public lands to state or private interests, I see little real wrestling with the genuine economic impacts of transfer. Rather, as the Wilderness Society put it, there seems to be “an eternal grudge against the very idea of public lands” – an aversion to the very idea that a citizen without the wherewithal to buy them wholesale should be permitted to stake some claim to the vast and open spaces of America.

In many ways, this dispute over collective social goods is representative of much of what is tearing us apart in this country right now. But disagreements over Obamacare or food stamps do not appear to extend to public lands. According to polling conducted after the recent election, seventy-eight percent of voters oppose a plan to privatize or sell public lands. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, however. As we have seen, majority will does not always or even usually translate into corresponding actions of our elected officials. If they think they can get away with handing off our public lands to their donors, they will certainly do it. Our task is to make sure they understand they can’t get away with it.

It’s July of 2007, and I’m at a seminar in Glacier National Park on the subject of glacial recession. The thermometer back at the campground says 95 degrees, but the temperature near the edge of the Grinnell Glacier feels twenty degrees cooler. In front of me is a massive, grinding river of ice streaked with deep crevasses, powerful enough to chew up mountains.

I’m a little apprehensive about stepping onto this beast, but our workshop instructor, Jeff, is exuberant. He’s already testing the strength of the glacier with his ice axe, listening for hollow, weak ice that won’t support our weight. “Stay to the left of that crevasse,” he advises as he builds a cairn, or pile of rocks, to mark our way. “Oh, and avoid that gray ice over there,” he adds as he moves ahead. Uh, okay, I think. I follow his steps exactly. 978895176_5a8c426f31_z

Jeff leads us a short way onto the glacier. It’s not safe to go any farther, he says, as the tips of the crevasses extend only a few feet beyond where we’re standing. I look down. The ice beneath my feet seems almost iridescent. Rocks of varying sizes are liberally strewn on and embedded in the ice, accounting for its slightly dirty appearance from afar.

I stay rooted to my spot. Even with the cairns, I’d have an incredibly difficult time finding my way back across the ice safely. Two or three years before my visit, a day hiker ventured alone onto the glacier while his friends waited, and fell 35 feet into a crevasse. After much grueling work, the Park Service managed to extricate him from the crevasse, but he died shortly afterward.

Jeff talks about glacial formations and characteristics. He points out a moulin, which is a vertical shaft that runs down into the glacier. He reminds us of the discussion in the film An Inconvenient Truth about lakes forming beneath glaciers, and tells us that moulins like this facilitate the flow of water beneath the ice sheet.

Grinnell Glacier is not a quiet place; different noises punctuate Jeff’s speech. You can hear the loud rush of water somewhere below, and once or twice the thunderous sound of cracking ice interrupted our discussion. The place feels somehow alive.

Even though this glacier is a fraction of the size it was 150 years ago, it still seems just massive. I try to imagine this entire cirque covered in glacial ice, but it seems incomprehensible. But later on, when Jeff shows us how much of the glacier has disappeared just since last summer, the ice appears a good deal smaller. Indeed, Upper Grinnell Lake, adjacent to the glacier, did not exist the year before my birth; it was part of the glacier. The span of my lifetime saw the retreat of 40% of the Grinnell Glacier.

978895032_8e22b88407_zIt’s been ten years since I stood on the edge the glacier and watched as Jeff soberly marked off the amount of recession that had occurred since he had stood there the previous year. I look at images of the glacier, now, and am startled to see how much it has dwindled since then.
My son may be lucky enough to see the park’s glaciers before they disappear entirely, but it’s unlikely his children will. If carbon dioxide levels reach worst-case scenario levels, the drop dead date for the glaciers here is 2030. After that, like the snows of Kilimanjaro, they would be gone.

Every day, our park rangers see the life-changing impacts of our public lands on those who visit them. They also see the reverse – the impact of humanity on our national lands, in the melted glaciers, the diminishing and pressured wildlife, and the altered ecosystems. That’s why I wasn’t surprised when the Badlands went rogue; these people are in a position to understand the reality of climate change and environmental depredation in a way the rest of us aren’t, because they see it firsthand, every day, in their work. And because these are some of our nation’s most pristine areas, they know intimately what we stand to lose when we smooth the way for drilling within them, or tempt ourselves to sell them off. When the Trump administration attempted to muzzle park staff on matters of environmentalism and science, it must have felt, for some of them, like a negation of their life’s work.

Glaciers, itchy bison and public lands cannot speak for themselves in a world in which their existence is increasingly called into question. They need human spokespeople, and as one alt-agency account after another popped up last week, I felt a thrill in my heart for the people who refused to abandon this responsibility. I couldn’t help but feel that the parks themselves were speaking, and for a moment, I couldn’t separate my love of the Badlands from my admiration for the small but radical act of speaking a simple truth to enormous power. That afternoon, they showed us what we all have to do, if we value what is ours. We must all become the voice of the Badlands, and of every single acre of public land.

Because they are ours. And we are theirs.

 

(Follow the alt-NPS account here for information on how to help, or follow the National Parks Conservation Association on Facebook here. The cleverly named BadHombreLands National Park can be found here. Follow me here, because I retweet everyone!)

Brief diversion

I did a guest post over at my father’s (very left-wing) political blog. You can find it here if you’re so inclined. It’s about the uses and abuses of political mockery and satire. Spoiler alert: I’m for it. If it’s good enough for Ben Franklin, it’s good enough for us.

Other than that, we’ll keep the focus on “nature and shit” here. Thanks, friends.

 

Amtrak and the national grief counselor

My son was six years old in 2008, when Barack Obama selected Joe Biden to be his vice presidential running mate. My son is a true obsessive; he develops interests and feeds on them like a vulture until he strips the carcass clean and moves on. During the 2008 presidential race, he was obsessed with trains. When he found out Joe Biden took Amtrak every day between Washington, D.C., and his home in Delaware, he concluded the ticket was worth his support, based solely on that piece of information. He was, henceforth, an unabashed supporter of the Obama/Biden administration.  As the years passed, he found more substantive reasons for his support. Political beliefs are said to be informed first by worldview, and his worldview is thoroughly liberal.

As it happens, Joe and Jill Biden will be taking Amtrak home to Delaware after the inauguration. My son is now fourteen, and will be sad to see them go.

But tonight I was thinking about why Joe Biden took Amtrak every day for so many years, and how that is connected to what I value most about him as a public official. As most people know, Joe Biden was elected to the Senate when he was 29 years old. The month after his election, he got a phone call when he was in Washington hiring his staff, a call he would later recall he just “knew” contained bad news; his wife and toddler daughter had been killed in a car accident and his two sons were hurt.

There are events in our lives that are so seismic that the remainder of our life’s time – what we do with it, how we feel about it, how we approach it – becomes, in some way, organized around them.  It’s up to us, of course, what that means – whether it embitters us or opens us up; whether it turns us hard or whether we become soft to the experiences and pains of others. It’s clear to me that Joe Biden has chosen the latter path. In a speech he gave to the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, a group that provides support and care for the families of those killed while in the Armed Forces, Biden recounted his experience with the death of his wife and child. I have watched that speech many times, because of the facility with which he speaks of pain, grief, and recovery. The last time I watched it, I couldn’t help but notice that almost exactly three years after giving that speech, he lost his son, Beau Biden, to cancer.

 

The thread that runs through most of the public discussions of his own grief is an ever-present acknowledgement that grief is universal, that other people made it through similar losses with much less support than he had, and that the true marvel of human existence is that we get up in the face of grief at all. In his speech at the Democratic National Convention, he said:

As Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “The world breaks everyone, and afterwards, many are strong in the broken places.” I’ve been made strong at the broken places by my love with Jill, by my heart and son Hunter and the love of my life, my Ashley. By all of you, and I mean this sincerely, those who have been through this, you know I mean what I say — by all of you, your love and prayers and support. But you know what, we talk about, we think about the countless thousands of other people who suffered so much more than we have, with so much less support. So much less reason to go on. But they get up every morning, every day. They put one foot in front of the other, they keep going.

In an interview with Stephen Colbert in 2015:

There are so many people….who have had losses as severe or worse than mine, and didn’t have the incredible support I have. … “Think of all the people you know who are going through horrible things and they get up every morning and they put one foot in front of the other….I marvel at the ability of people to absorb hurt and just get back up.  And most of them do it with an incredible sense of empathy to other people.

This is how to talk about grief – and maybe how to deal with it, too. There’s a balance here that accounts for both the gravity of one’s personal pain and the universality of human anguish. Grief is a part of the human condition, but it’s also deeply personal, and we each experience it uniquely.  If we err too far on either side, we miss the whole of it. We either minimize our human vulnerabilities, or we miss what connects us to others. Either way, we’re missing our whole humanity.

To me, it’s deeply valuable for high level public officials to have both the experience of deep grief and the ability to speak about that experience, while extending empathy and recognition to the grief of others.

I’ll miss it.

(This is only about politics in the most limited sense. I intend to avoid many of the problems found in many comments sections discussing the incoming or outgoing administrations. Keep it positive, please. or silent. I know my regular readers are good at that!)

Toddlers of the forest

I spent some time watching an orangutan toddler last week. As I observed her, I was freshly impressed by how similar her behavior was to a human of the same developmental phase, and how readily her movements called to mind the bygone years when I was parenting a toddler.

They grow up fast. Before you know it, she’ll be attending high school and driving.

Scenic resilience

Getting away from my usual nature/wildlife thing, an image from Scenic, South Dakota. Those do appear to be longhorn skulls on the top — I guess that doesn’t really count as wildlife photography, though.

Lots of Scenic looks like this, sort of baked and frozen in the Dakota extremes for more than a century. Scenic is a far more interesting place than Wall, which is also outside Badlands National Park in another direction. Wall, however, has the notorious Wall Drug, with its wifi, throngs of tourists and fountains that are synchronized to “Dueling Banjos.”

Apparently, given the Budweiser sign, someone tried to make a go of this within recent memory. It’s empty and deserted now though. Resilient.

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