Hog Days of Boars

We have, here, spent some time discussing public land in the United States. This is for good reason. Public land is explicitly under attack by the Republican Party Platform, and wild places are at the center of numerous land use bills currently circulating through Congress. One need not look past the recent decimation of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments to see how effective extractive industry has been in dismantling America’s Best Idea.

Right now two bills in particular are fracturing the western conservation community – one allowing bicycles in designated Wilderness, the other closing the books on decades old wilderness study areas. This has, perhaps by design (<—conspiracy theory), caused some dissonance between conservationists who ride bikes and conservationists who don’t ride bikes, and is generally occupying a lot of peoples’ time and energy. Generally speaking this is good stuff for us to be thinking about, and we are fortunate to have the wild places to fight over in the first place. (Although I do think it would be much more productive if we all just stopped yelling for a minute).

But then there’s one threat to public land that folks don’t really seem to be talking about that much, and which may deserve some yelling. WHAT THE FUCK ARE WE DOING ABOUT FERAL PIGS?

Seriously guys this shit is real. You know them as bacon, probably, or maybe “the thing that got Robert Baratheon”. Fans of their earlier work may remember that scene from Snatch. But the thing is, feral boars are a real thing, they’re coming, and before we dig too deep, there’s a few things you should know about them.

  • These fuckers are the size of Marshawn Lynch
  • They begin breeding at 6 months old, can have 12 piglets per litter, and two litters per year
  • Boars can each impregnate about 10 sows per year
  • Feral hogs can occupy essentially any habitat on earth, tolerate harsh winters, and happily thrive at 15,000′ above sea level
  • They are voracious omnivores and will delightedly out-compete every species of charismatic megafauna you hold dear
  • While you hunt the boars, the boars hunt you

Wild pigs present a clear and growing danger to all of the fancy endangered species, across all types of habitat. Sage Grouse, Grizzly Bears, and Lynx are all at risk for further competition and depredation, as well as the animals that people actually care about: elk. In fact the only wildlife that really stand to gain by an influx of feral swine are mountain lions and wolves.

Of course feral hogs also thrive on wild flora and agricultural crops, by tilling the earth with their tusks for plant roots or tearing bark from trees. They are indiscriminate eaters, and ruin landscapes. The US currently spends $1.5 billion annually on pig control and crop replacement, and in Japan agricultural depredation once got so bad that more than 3,000 people starved to death during what’s now known as the “Wild Boar Famine.” And this is all, of course, to say nothing of their prominence as vectors for human-communicable disease, deadly aggression, adaptability to suburban and urban environments, and ready habituation to human presence.

Basically feral hogs are kind of a bummer.

Which is why the next part is so spooky: Hogs are present in 44 states and expanding their range by about 8 miles per year. Without intervention, they will be in every county in the US by 2060. Pigs are coming, and they are going to fuck shit up. Right now the most remote, wildest landscapes in the lower 48 are in Montana and Wyoming, two of the last bastions without pig sightings. Once the boars arrive, they will be changed forever.

Do you think those docile elk in West Yellowstone are weird? Just love the Jeremiah Johnson fantasy of riding your horse through the Bob Marshall? Annoyed when squirrels eat your bird feeder? You haven’t seen anything yet (btw there are pigs in Oregon, Idaho, and North Dakota).

“Sure they’re bad,” you say. “But whatever can we do?” I’m glad you asked. Really the big thing is to STOP DRIVING THEM AROUND TO INTRODUCE TO NEW PLACES SO THAT YOU CAN PLAY GI JOE AND HUNT THEM FROM A HELICOPTER WITH NIGHT VISION. Short of that you can usually hunt them*, and pig roasts are delicious (Columbus introduced them in the West Indies so that future expeditions would have food security).

At the very least we should acknowledge that this is kind of a big deal that we’re not talking about at all. We’ve seen a few studies, a headline every year or two, and that’s really it. So let’s get it together, and maybe take a breather from bickering like Khaleesi and the Lannisters. The boars are coming. It’s real.

 

*And they’re mostly nocturnal, so you may want night vision. And they do move around a bit so if you have a line on a helicopter I guess it wouldn’t hurt.

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New Orleans

I am, right now, seated behind a bloody mary at a scarred wooden table in Le Bon Temps Roule, a laughing dive bar on the corner of Magazine and Bordeaux Streets on the fringe of the Garden District. At this moment it is 1pm on a Friday, and the weekend is underway.

The room is much darker than even the overcast sky outdoors, and towering next to me is the first cigarette vending machine I have seen in more than 20 years. Three gambling machines flash silently in the corner, and a handful of television sets are split between football analysis and music videos that are unrelated in any way to the 90s R&B that pounds through the air, the table, the floor. Eight or ten regulars laugh and dance around two red felted pool tables.

From the ceiling hang Saints memorabilia and the paper mache underside of a crocodile, so that it seems we’re looking up at it from beneath the murkey waters of the Atchafalaya. This is fitting, but I do not understand the skier’s legs that are suspended near the reptile’s tail.

This single block is home to at least three vacant buildings – one appears to have been a pawn shop, the other two were homes. On one of the empty houses someone has used every inch of their height to spray paint “LIES” in crude black print on the molding white siding. The other has more or less completely burned. It is fenced off from the sidewalk and the facade, still partially intact, betrays that it was once a clean, brightly colored shotgun in a row of clean, brightly colored shotguns.

On the corner is a hip-looking Israeli restaurant and shawarma stand which boasts Tal’s Pita in bright pastels. In less-bright pastels Sugar Rae’s is selling sweet pralines, and I admit to myself that I have no idea what a praline is.

Danny’s No. 2 advertises fried chicken, seafood, Po Boys, and Chinese food. It does not appear to be open and later, when we cross the road to peer through its darkened windows we will nearly be hit by a Mazeratti. Next to Danny’s (No. 2) is a retired residence occupied by a real estate broker and an Edward Jones office. The money movers are in place next to a nameless bodega shrouded in a chainmail of steel grate.

Aside our anonymous store, presumably filled with chips and beer and cigarettes is Apolline, discreetly signed and well-received by Yelp as a semi-expensive hot spot for contemporary southern fare. It is filled by immaculate table clothes and thin white ladies with excellent posture, and out front a duck-footed gay couple paces amid a cloud of cigarette smoke and argues about their future.

As they move along the block, shouting questions and ignoring answers across shattered, skewed concrete sidewalks they pass the beads, invisible at first but onmipresent once seen. They hang from trees, from power lines, from fence posts, from buildings, sunbleached ghosts from 300 years of parading through the streets.

In Le Bon Temps Roule the pool table cracks. “Like Dolly Parton,” croaks the bald white man with the cue. “All bust and no balls.” He casts a grin across the bar in search of someone to catch the joke. Now, by 2pm, the music is louder still and we have been joined by maybe a dozen more people and a single lightly colored bulldog, and here we are, at Magazine and Bordeaux, in all of New Orleans on a block.

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Texas

By the time we crept through Houston at four miles per hour as work let out on a muggy Thursday evening, the dog and I had more or less settled into a routine. I did the driving; he napped in the back seat and asked only that I let him know when dinner is served. It was a simple, if tenuous armistice, and if the terms broke down he would usually take it upon himself to find something to eat (old tortilla chips, bag of coffee grounds, quart of motor oil, the steering wheel, etc.). Texas was hard on both of us.

Prada Outlet Depot, Marfa, Texas (I found this picture on Wikipedia but I was there I swear ok?)

From the Prada Outlet Depot in Marfa, Texas to Beaumont is 700 miles on the nose, and stretches essentially the entire width of that once sovereign state*. We had no choice but to traverse it in a day. We wound our way through a foreign sea of No Trespassing signs and armed border guards and brutal, endless desert to land finally, safely, in the embrace of an old friend, ice cold Lone Stars, and deep fried frog legs in the mid-size refinery town of Beaumont. In the morning, Louisiana felt like home.

And hot damn, Louisiana.

I’d been in the state for less than 24 hours when I found myself crouched in a swamp, taking heavy fire from a well-positioned and well-armed band of outlaws, and creeping slowly toward the opportunity to draw against the Waco Kid. The sun had long set and the moonlight coursed through a ghastly fog that blanketed the bogs and marshlands. Shots rang out from the darkness and shadows slipped between cover in the old jail and the undertaker’s home. I aimed and fired**, and listened for the hit when the knife slipped between my ribs and I retreated to the dead zone. Final score: 198 to 56; we lost a lot of good men out there.

There is something magical about twenty grown men and women waging a full fledged bb gun melee in the middle of a meticulously recreated western town (you know it as Rock Ridge) in the middle of swamp country in the middle of the night between rest breaks for terrific food and terrible beer.

I only know them by their noms de guerre: Hawk, X, Camo, Mad Max, and they’ve been meeting in the woods to shoot each other with bbs every winter full moon since before they were sent to Vietnam. It’s a war game steeped in tradition and story telling and a demonstrated commitment to not taking things too seriously, and I don’t exaggerate when I saw that this is truly world class screwing off.

I’d spent one day in Louisiana and it was clear that things happen differently here, and I hadn’t even really been to New Orleans yet. I think this is a place I can wrap my head around.

*Of course statehood, in Texas, is understood to be ephemeral. It’s as though the people there are all in on the secret that sooner or later this Great American Experiment will grind suddenly to a halt, but that there in the south Texans will simply keep going to work and church and might just go ahead and invade Mexico out of an appreciation for tradition.

**Red Ryder carbine action two-hundred shot range model air rifle

Your Trip Report Is Boring

Before we get started, I need you to know that this is not directed at you. At least, not you personally. I love all the blogs and all the stories of all my friends. This is more directed at you, in general. You, the internet. It pains me to say this, although not as much as it pains me to keep clicking on these links. Your trip report is boring and I don’t want to read it.

I get the impulse. A lot of you out there are doing some pretty cool stuff. Some of you are riding motorcycles around the world. Some of you are skiing improbable lines in exotic locales. Pretty much all of you have done something in the last year or so that’s worth sharing a beer over, and you’ve probably heard, “you should keep a trip report blog so we can follow along!”. But if someone’s going to go out of their way to pull up your story and skimread it at a red light or during their morning poop, keep in mind that there’s basically three reasons a person is interested in what you have to say.

  1. They care deeply about you as a human. This is the aunts. The Godparents. That kid you went on a few dates with like 10 years ago who, unbeknownst to you, wonders every day if you were the one who got away and scours the internet for any hint of what your life is like so they can insert themselves and wonder what might have been as they sit in traffic or drift to sleep at night next to someone else. These people are your fan base. They’ll read anything you put out there, even if it’s awful or doesn’t make any damn sense. That’s great. Cheers to the fans.
  2. They are interested in doing exactly what you did. These folks are looking for beta. They want to know whether to turn left or go straight when the trail forks at that big cedar with the lightning scar. They are completely uninterested, and starting to get a little annoyed, at long explanations of what you had for breakfast, the color of your shoelaces, and which brands are currently offering you 25% off one order a year. Honestly, a few photos and an annotated map is probably much preferred to any kind of prose.
  3. They’re interested in the story. And by story, of course, I don’t mean simply what happened, or even necessarily why. I mean the human drama. The nitty gritty. It’s not enough that you had a nice time, or a bad time. It’s not enough that the weather was bad. It’s not enough that you were right; someone else has to be wrong. It’s essential not only that you prevail in righteousness, but also that you quell the haters, which, generally, is composed by everyone else on earth.
I went for a jog after worth the other day and this is exactly how it played out. I swear.

When Homer recorded the greatest trip report of all time, The Odyssey,  he could very well have said, “Odysseus went for a walk. He got lost. The haters hated. His new caligae really had the arch support he needed to go the extra mile. He came home, he brought the drama. The end.” That’s not a very good story. He didn’t waste time talking about which brand of goatskin flasks the Phaeacians relied on to stay hydrated. And when it stormed? This was no ordinary squall. This was the wrath of deeply, personally offended gods.

Odysseus never got bonked, but his crew was drugged by lotus-eaters and turned into pigs. They were never distracted, per se, but lured toward a cold, violent death by a supernatural Siren Song. Like, 500 people died, or something. And when he got home? Ho man. No shower beer and Netflix for that guy – he got right to killing everyone who even walked on his lawn while he was out.

That’s a trip report I can get behind.

Not every hike is an adventure, not every ski tour is an epic. Almost nothing we do is really all that interesting, if we’re honest. So if we’re going to have a story, tell us a story. We’re not all that interested in exactly what happened.

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Morning People

There are some people who rise each day without an alarm. These morning people spring from bed some time before dawn, bright eyed and bushy tailed, and embark (I presume) on satisfying a meticulous list of things to do, prepared the night before in neat handwriting. These people don’t drink coffee. They don’t eat bacon sandwiches. They subsist primarily on juices of kale, broccoli sprouts, and optimism. These people are not to be trusted.

For the rest of us, the regular folks, the Joe Sixpacks, mornings are a little bit different. We grapple with digital alarms and claw ourselves from the confines of our beds whole dozens of minutes before our first engagement of the day. Shower briefly, dry off a little bit (not too much, no time), stagger bleary-eyed with a paper cup of strong black coffee into the first meeting of the day, whatever it is. Don’t forget to check your fly.

For us normal folk the routine is the same, plus or minus children. What varies, though, is the means by which we manage to extract ourselves from the linen womb. Where do you fall?

The Snooze Gambit

The alarm rings; you cringe. You press snooze; you wait. It rings again. This is easy, it’s satisfying. The Snooze Gambit appeals to the truth that as pleasant as sleeping is, the best feeling is that semisomniferous haze that comes the moment before you’re actually asleep. That moment when dreams are lucid and you reign as lord over a physicsless domain. It allows you to actually fall asleep four, five, six times before your first cup of coffee. Of course after a few snoozes your alarm gives up on you, and that’s assuming that you don’t just keep snoozing indefinitely like a rat with a heroin button. Tread carefully.

The Puzzle Master

You heard once that in order to wake up to need to engage the mind. You have a collection of apps on your phone that force you to solve arithmetic problems or trivia questions before it will silence. You hide your phone in a different place each night so you have to paw around the darkness for it before it can be quelled. Mostly you wind up stubbing your toe and cursing before you go back to sleep.

The Sensei

You are a master of discipline. You understand that only the force of will can rouse you in the morning, but that you possess the strength and fortitude to simply get up when the alarm goes off. You drift to sleep with the comfort that when the thing buzzes you will rise, rested and un-phased. You use this inner strength to simply set the alarm for 11 minutes before you have to be someplace.

The Self-Aware

You’re not getting up. You know it, they know it. You don’t schedule things before 11am.

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