When good vegetarians turn bad.

Being a connoisseur (stress on "sewer") of giant monster movies, I have been struck by the great acting wasted in many of them. In "Night of the Lepus," (1972) Sheriff Cody, played by Paul Fix (see below), manages to deliver the following line in a dead straight, no nonsense, policeman doing his duty manner: "Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention. There is a herd of killer rabbits headed this way." This man should have gotten an Oscar for being able to get that out with a straight face. In the gang my wife and I hung out with when we were first married, trying to equal Fix's performance was a test no one was able to pass. Most of us were okay until we got about to the word "herd," then we fell apart. It's still a great party game for science fiction/fantasy fans.

Which brings to mind a question: Why would giant herbivores turn into carnivores in a desert? According to the plot of "Night of the Lepus," the rabbits, growing to gigantic size, switched from vegetation to meat as a food source. This also shows up in the movie "Them" (1954) when Joan Weldon, playing Dr. Pat Medford (the pretty one), remarks about the giant ants, that with the lack of forage, "...they'd have to turn carnivorous." Huh? Looking at the American Southwest's deserts, there's a heck of a lot more biomass available in vegetation than large prey species (well, yeah, there is Sun City). Most likely the dedicated herbivores would have died of starvation before they developed into dedicated carnivores if the situation was that dire. Of course, they could have gone only half way and joined us and bears as omnivores (would you care for a small steak with your salad, sir?). Being multi fueled is a pretty good strategy sometimes. One could consider carnivorous rabbits as something of a throw-back when you figure mammals started out as a bunch of bug-snatchers (this might explain why some of my relatives, as Jeff Foxworthy's wont to suggest, consider a six pack and a bug-zapper as a fine evening's entertainment). I realize for the sake of the story the giant whatevers have to chow down on people (that good old chill up the small mammal's spine) and the desert is spooky and handy to Hollywood, but for the biology types a little cringe comes with it.

For more on this, you may want to get a hold of a copy of: Fudd, R.E. "Giagantism as displayed in some specimens of Oryctolagus cuniculus from the Basin and Range Province, Western North America." 1973. Extracts in Papers on Late Holocene Mammals from the American Southwest. Ed. B. Bonnie, Oswald Rarebit and Fr. R.A. Hare, S.J. Berkeley: University of California, 1996. 337-452.

Paul Fix (1901-1983) appeared in 350 roles in movies and TV starting in 1927 (he appeared in 27 John Wayne movies alone). He started as a smooth heavy then moved into character roles such as Marshal Micah Torrance in the ABC show, "The Rifleman" (1958-1963), starring Chuck Conners.

Christmas Gift Idea:

Bird Watcher's Digest. http://birdwatchersdigest.com/

This bimonthly digest-sized magazine kind of snuck up on me. I tripped over it for the first time at the supermarket. The pictures are nice and the writing is well done.

A story that jumped out at me from the November/December 2009 issue concerned the rediscovery of a forest owlet thought to be extinct 100 years in India. Mixed up in this was the Richard Meinertzhagen affair. This was gravy to me as Meinertzhagen (remember the staff officer and his trick in the movie "The Light Horsemen?") and his doings are of especial interest to me.

26 November 2009: Feast of St. Conrad of Constance, Thanksgiving (U.S.), blizzard of 1896-North Dakota, Note: Tomorrow it becomes legal to play Christmas music in 23 states.

The desert and the story teller.

For the teller of stories, the desert is often the place of the other. A place outside the world of settled man where strange and dangerous things and men move just on the edge of perception. It is seen as a place where anything can happen because the laws of normality don't apply there. The desert is a dimension from which monsters and raiders come. This still holds true for story telling today. It is probably no accident Stephen King set a large part of The Stand in the desert or that Michael Crichton placed the "Wildfire" lab in The Andromeda Strain there. Hollywood loves it as a setting. It's close, spooky, timeless, and relatively cheap in which to shoot a movie.

The thing that really hits you about the desert is the silence. It's not just quiet, sometimes, when there's no wind or flies, sound hasn't been invented yet. This affects people in different ways. Some try to be as quiet as possible. As if the least sound they make is deafening and may lead some doom down upon them. Others go the other direction. They try to fill up the silence all by themselves. They sing, talk, and make music much louder than is their wont when in civilization (or what passes for such). They seem to fear that the silence will suck away the sounds, so they must supply a surplus to even it out.

The desert blasts not only objects, but people also. It sometimes seems that anyone who lives alone long enough in the high desert ends up either a saint or a mass murderer.

For the writer, the desert is always there waiting. It would be terrible to waste it.

Review (Note to FTC: I bought this dang book myself!)

Buck Fever: The Deer Hunting Tradition in Pennsylvania. Mike Sajna. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1990.

Late November is special to me. Three major events in my life collide at that point in this month: my birthday, Thanksgiving, and deer season west of Blue Ridge. The week of Thanksgiving meant I would get to miss school for a week, much to the shared relief of both student and teachers (back before school administrators were under the impression that children belonged to them, it was sufficient that my mom sent in a note saying I wouldn't be in school the next week). Season opened in Virginia's Rockbridge and Augusta Counties the Saturday morning before Thanksgiving. So my daddy and I loaded the truck when he got home Friday afternoon and, after dinner with my mom, the two of us would head southwest. We'd get to the camp about 22:00 [10:00 pm] and be unloaded and in bed by 23:30 [11:30 am]. Ah, to sleep (like that was going to happen with deer season opening at daybreak). During the rest of the dark hours, the rest of the family, in-laws, and outlaws straggled into camp making sure to be in time for breakfast. Then, gray in the eastern sky, we headed for our spots on the mountain where we'd take that six, eight, or--can it be?--the thirty point buck.

Mike Sajna writes about one deer season at his family's deer camp in Warren County on Pennsylvania's Allegheny High Plateau. We meet the various members of his own platoon of the "pumpkin army." The hunters depicted are recognizable to everyone who has hunted with good hunters as opposed to the game hogs, drunks, and hunting slobs one hears about all too often. The Yoopers they ain't.

The reader also learns that deer hunting was destroyed in Pennsylvania by market hunting in the 19th century. How a group of hunters got together and started the state's first conservation organization, the Pennsylvania State Sportsmen's Association, which led in turn to the Pennsylvania Game Commission in 1895. Sajna tells of John MacFarlane Phillips who, horrified at the thought that he had killed the last deer in the state, set out to put the matter right. And put the matter right he did. Through his and his fellow hunters efforts, deer were successfully reintroduced to the state's woods. Upon his death at 92 in 1953, The Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph called him the "Grand Old Man of Conservation."

Best, Sajna limns the relationship between he and his father as hunters, men, and father and son.

Buck Fever is not a book only for hunters; it will show the non-hunter what goes on in and around a proper deer camp. This is a book that works on many levels as Sajna blends the several interrelated story lines in such a way that each compliments the others and builds a strong and enjoyable whole.

24 November 2009: Feast of St. Andrew Dung-Lac & companions, publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species 1859, my birthday (you win some, you lose some).