I’m in western South Dakota right now. A few weeks ago, I asked my son if he wanted to go with me on one of my trips. He said, “Sure. I’d like to see the Badlands.” That was more than all right with me, so off we went.
Of my child and step-children, the only one that comes close to being as comfortable in the outdoors as Travis and I are is my stepson, Deryk, who entered the Army last year and now sleeps in foxholes occasionally for a living — and therefore may now be disinclined to do it for pleasure. I don’t know; we’ll have to see.
But the other two, though they don’t subscribe to the “Shower? What’s that?” philosophy of trip-taking that Travis and I do, both focus their ambitions and passions on nature. My stepdaughter, Taylor, is an entomologist working at EPCOT’s greenhouses at Disney, and Sean, at 14, is obsessed with venomous herpetology.
I knew I wasn’t going to have my typical trip if I took Sean. There would be hotels mixed in with the tent-sleeping, which is how I am typing this up on my laptop right now. But it’s up-ended me a little bit, and I’ve felt somewhat disoriented and unable to get into my groove. That’s okay. It just means it’s time to expand my habits, and loosen up. This is good for everyone occasionally.
I took him to Reptile Gardens in Rapid City yesterday, where he zinged back and forth, fast as a black mamba, marveling over his favorite snakes: juvenile Gaboon Vipers (longest fangs and biggest venom payload in the snake world!); a calm and measured King Cobra; and a Coastal Taipan daintily dunking its entire head under the water for a drink. I mean, the kid knows a LOT about snakes for his age. He asked one of the interns if the Burmese Python was “gravid” and when she looked at him quizzically, he walked away in disgust in search of someone who knew the term. (It turns out the answer is no; the python is merely overweight, and used to be even more so before arriving at Reptile Gardens.)
After we examined every single snake and attended the snake show twice, I wandered out to — where else? The prairie dog town.
As I’ve written before, I’ll photograph animals everywhere I find them. I have a ton of wild prairie dog images, and many captive prairie dog images. But in addition to ease of access, this captive town offered a few more opportunities and props for the photographer.
As soon as I poked my head over the lip of the wall, I saw several miniature prairie dogs zipping about in much the same youthful way my son was taking in the “Death Row” exhibit of deadly snakes. Prairie dogs are born underground, and stay there for the first few weeks of their lives. Then they come topside to terrorize their mothers — much like human children who declare they are someday going to be the curator allowed to handle the mentally unstable Monocled Cobras.
We’re going back again this morning. And then we go back to the Badlands.