This Dave Barry column was originally published Sunday, September 10, 1995
Once again we are forced to ask ourselves, as a society, whether nature should be legal.
Consider a story from the June 22 Manchester (N.H.) Union Leader, written by Paul Tracy and sent in by alert reader Arnie Alpert. This story states that, on June 20, a Laconia, N.H., police officer was called to the municipal water-treatment facility in response to -- and as you read this column, please bear in mind that I am not making ANY of these newspaper quotations up -- "a report of a suspicious-acting woodchuck that would not let people out of the building." The officer sized up the situation and, according to the story, "determined that the animal needed to be euthanized and tried to run it over with his cruiser."
So far, so good. Law-enforcement experts will tell you, after they have had a few belts, that in a situation where a member of the marmot family is holding people hostage in a sewage plant (in police radio code, this is known as a "10-6"), the textbook response is to drive a police car over the alleged perpetrator, then, if necessary, advise it of its rights.
Unfortunately, things did not go exactly according to plan. The story quotes a plant employee as saying: "When he (the officer) got out after running over it (the woodchuck), I think he thought it was dead, then the thing sprung up and attacked him."
At this point the officer -- and if you have never been attacked by a woodchuck, then do not second-guess this decision -- pulled his 9mm pistol and commenced firing.
"We think he emptied a clip," a plant employee is quoted as saying, "but we could only find eight casings on the pavement."
The story states that during the battle, the officer, seeking to escape the woodchuck, "jumped up on the cruiser and injured his knee." Fortunately, before anybody else could be hurt, the woodchuck went to that Big Burrow in the Sky.
I wish I could tell you that this was an isolated incident. I wish I could look you in the eyeball and say, "This was just one lone disgruntled woodchuck, possibly a former postal employee, who fortunately will never again terrorize humanity, thanks to a quick-acting police officer, who fortunately was not carrying nuclear weapons."
But I cannot say that. For one thing, I lack the lung capacity. For another thing, I have here an article from the June 28 Gaithersburg (Md.) Gazette, written by April E. Fulton and sent in by several alert readers, which states: "Nine residents of the South Village area of Montgomery Village -- two adults and seven children -- were playing near Docena Court on the morning of June 15 when they suddenly were charged by a band of about a dozen squirrels."
The article quotes one of the women -- who was bitten on the foot -- as saying: "We were just playing in the yard, like we do every day, and suddenly, out of nowhere, about 12 squirrels started charging us, making these high-pitched, shrill noises." A neighbor is quoted as saying: "The squirrels that day went crazy."
The article states that on June 21, a representative of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources inspected the area and "found no abnormal behavior from the squirrels."
Of course not. They may be squirrels, but they are not stupid. They're not about to go after a government official, not after what happened to the woodchuck. No, they put on a cute little Walt Disney show for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, squeaking and scampering around with acorns in their cheeks. But you may rest assured that as soon as the coast was clear, they resumed smoking tiny cigarettes and planning their next attack. They will stop at nothing, as we can see from the following headline from a Sept. 2, 1994, front-page article in the Missoula (Mont.) Missoulian, written by Michael Downs and sent in by many alert readers:
FLAMING SQUIRRELS IGNITE FIRE
The story states that "two electrocuted squirrels fell from a power line Thursday morning, their flaming bodies igniting a small grass fire near Tarkio." A fire official is quoted as saying that it could have been a male and a female squirrel engaged in an act of "burning rodent passion." (The fire official does NOT point out that both "Rodent Passion" and "Flaming Squirrels" would be excellent names for rock bands; this was probably just an oversight.)
At this point you're saying: "Dave, you have presented ample journalistic evidence here to prove that the animal kingdom is attempting, for whatever reason, to wipe out the entire human race. But at least members of the news media are safe!"
I wish I could agree, but tragically I cannot -- not in light of a June 21 Associated Press item from Kennewick, Wash., sent in by several alert readers, which begins: "A TV reporter's hair gel apparently attracted a swarm of bees that stung him more than 30 times yesterday." The reporter was doing a story about beekeeping when the attack occurred; the story states that the beekeeper, in an effort to help, covered the reporter's head with a protective hood, but unfortunately the hood "also turned out to contain bees."
I am sure that you, as a person concerned about the First Amendment, have the same reaction to this story as I did, namely: How come this never happens, on-camera, to MY local TV reporters? Until we get solid answers to this and many other questions raised by this column (such as: "Why would anybody print this column?"), I am urging everyone to avoid all contact with nature in any form, including vegetables. Speaking of which, you should also write your congressperson.
© 1995 Dave Barry This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Electronic or print reproduction, adaptation, or distribution without permission is prohibited. Ordinary links to this column at http://www.miamiherald.com may be posted or distributed without written permission.