Nature abhors a vacuum. And Andrea, apparently.

{Mandatory preamble: As with all of my blog posts, the views espoused herein are mine alone and should be construed as neither shared nor endorsed by any organization with which I have an affiliation.}

This post is about @BoggildLab’s recent encounters with Kingdom Animalia. Full disclosure: this post is written solely for the purpose of pandemic levity. Any offense taken by those actually harmed by animals is unintentional and regretted. With that said, I’ve had all the usual escapades with wildlife one might expect of a life enriched by travel. I’ve had a jellyfish wrapped around my foot. Yes, the stinging kind. I narrowly escaped a braining at the hands of an enraged baboon brandishing a large stick. I’ve been bitten by dogs and cats and rats. And countless other scurriers. I’ve endured all the typical giant spiderings of a severe arachnaphobe. I’ve disimpacted ductwork of desiccated sparrow chicks. I’ve awoken in the dead of night in rural equatorial parts of the planet with some unidentified non-human being alighting from my person. Wtf *are* those things, anyway? Reflecting upon my memorable and occasionally aversive interactions with nature, two recent incidents come to mind, mostly because of the teachable moments embedded in each.

On Easter Sunday in April, I had been feeling pretty proud of myself, having pulled off a totally vegan Easter egg hunt that exceeded expectations, and having finally moved a truly colossal deliverable off my desk. I would even go so far as to say that for a short window, I was relaxed. But as is typical of the oscillating hot mess of calamity that is my existence, my moment of Sunday satisfaction was truncated by delivery of unwelcome news: the sweet, black, neighbourhood cat had died. On our property. And he was rotten. As I was busily making Easter dinner for the notifier at the time, I issued some evidently limp instructions along the lines of “Okay, gather my supplies and I’ll meet you out there”.  By this I meant gather the supplies that I ordinarily require to scrape the seeping maggot-ridden former-wildlife out of the tight peri-domiciliary crevice in which it has expired. Yes, friends, as a mega-urban dweller, I’ve done this before. For the record, such supplies include at a minimum: a set of industrial-strength rubber gloves, CSI-grade garbage bags (yes, plural), household bleach, a working flashlight, and some kind of flat implement. A pizza peel is *literally* perfect {you’re welcome for ruining dough — you probably didn’t need the carbs anyway}.

Out I went to investigate and hatch a plan with team discovery, both of whom were already fully masked in preparation for I’m not sure what, exactly. As the smallest, most flexible, and nimbly reflexed member of the household who is also in possession of nasal mucosa completely inured to the pleasantries of cadaverine, I was elected to slither under the porch where the slippery mass of fur was putrefying beneath a box of outdoor Christmas decorations. My mood soured accordingly. And where were my supplies?? Not one, not two, but three trips back into the house later, and my forensic pathology kit was finally sufficiently bolstered to action our plan. The sky was slate. The air was cold. My ability to focus imperiled by the uninterrupted stream of narration, pondering, and reflection arising from the 8-year-old larynx gabbing in my ear. How would I get the cat out? What would I do about the collar? Why would he have died under our porch? Was I expecting to see blood? That smell is terrible! Under I went, inching closer to the source of the stench. My light caught fur. Coarse fur. Fur very much unlike that of a domestic feline. I reported back: “It’s not a cat!”. My son practically cheered. The neighbour’s cat was alive! But what had I done? “Mommy, what *is* it???” I didn’t have to speculate. In that moment of paralyzing clarity, I knew. “O.M.G. It’s a skunk.” And I had slithered my face right up into the immediate discharge trajectory of its pressurized anal glands. {Quick PSA: as a corpse decays, bacteria liberate gasses that inflate hollow bodily tubes and sacs}. Those glands could detonate at any moment. I tried to remain calm and recall anything gleaned from “The Hurt Locker” as my inner voice vacillated between “This could go all ways of bad” and “Avert mitigation phase at all costs”. The threat had emerged, but the beast wasn’t out of the bag yet – I had hope of containment.

Priority 1 was creation of an impenetrable barrier between the ass-end of the skunk and my eyeballs. I needed some sort of plastic drape, and thus required a sharp implement with which to slice open one of the garbage (read body) bags. Immediately produced by my son was a blade that could gut an antelope. Due to an unfortunate constellation of circumstances last year involving the Zurich airport, my own jetlag-lobotomy, and cleverly marketed Swiss Army knives disguised as camping gear, I had inadvertently armed my son with the knife of Jr. John Rambo. It is invariably within his reach. After criss-crossing the Atlantic over a 48-hour period for meetings, I was in the door less than a minute before the obligatory guilt-gift was requested. I smugly dipped into my handbag (no last-minute $30 Beanie Boo purchase this time!) to produce a glistening package emblazoned with the instantly recognizable red and white logo, and placed it into an outstretched pediatric hand. Packaging was torn open and I had half a second to admire the Swiss craftsmanship of a combined camping fork and spoon set before my child lifted from the handle a 6-inch long razor blade and asked in earnest with eyes the size of saucers “Whoa, what’s this, Mommy??” Speechless captures the moment well.

Anyway, back to old skunko…… After gingerly tarping the carcass, I began to tuck the plastic drape under the edgeless gelatinous mass of rot, and slide the whole swaddle onto stiff cardboard, having wisely vetoed the pizza peel some 30 minutes prior. I began to back out from under the porch on kneecaps constructed of steel, apparently, whilst holding the entire skunkly package out in front of me. The stakes couldn’t have been higher had I been 30-feet in the air on a tightrope carrying a stack of porcelain plates. I felt like the Cat in the Hat. I could drop this cargo at any minute. Alas, detonation was averted and we were able to slide the corpse-on-cardboard into the second body bag. Zipties were cinched in record time and a voicemail was left for the wonderful service that offers curb-side pickup of your rancid cadavers, whenever you so choose to dispose of them. We retreated to the house for our usual coroners’ decon routine, and cleaned up. Whatever Jesus metaphor I was supposed to be ruminating over fully escaped my consciousness. Inexplicably, no one ate much that night…..

Pandemic spring morphed to pandemic summer, and I plodded along with it. As some of you know, I have taken on a bit of a project of sorts in the North. This project is a lot of work smack in the middle of an oasis of peace and silence matched by few places on Earth. Thus, the temptation to actually enjoy the vast wilderness landscape is high. One day, a group of us decided to visit a minuscule but picturesque island of rock and pine. The morning had left me inadequately caffeinated, so before we set off, I packed along a thermos and the favoured tea of the British monarchy. Could there be anything more decadent than enjoying a steaming mug of Royal Blend in a completely off-grid rugged paradise after mastering the operation of a pole saw? Well, this sentiment wore off quick about an hour into the trip when I was reminded that I own a pair of kidneys. Off I ventured to locate the least ecologically sensitive nature-latrine. Jaggedy rocks would do well, I thought. I prepared the necessary accoutrements: hand sanitizer, Kleenex, bag. Check, check, and check. I squatted. Incidentally, the view was phenomenal.

As I was emancipating the contents of my bladder down a deep fissure, I began to hear the distinct buzzing sound of wasps. Or were they hornets? Damn, I should have paid more attention to my son’s Grade 3 science project…… Visual confirmation erased the more favourable possibility of an auditory hallucination. There they were, ensnaring me in a concentrically tightening flight path. Who knew they circled prey like sharks? Perched precariously on a rock face with my undercarriage exposed, my flail-arms did little to repel their attack. Nothing about their swarming of me was half-assed. I had pissed on their nest. And they were angry. As I shrieked, my companions on the opposite rock face shouted sage and helpful advice like “Get the hell outta there!” Do ya think??  Sprinting across the craggiest, steepest cliff of the loosest possible stones in a totally inappropriate and dishevelled #MedBikini reminded me that I lacked the appendages and dexterity required for such an endeavour. Mountain goats would have deployed their teeth. Thankfully I was distracted by the two major and countless minor envenomations I was in the process of sustaining to worry too much about contusions and lacerations.

It was a mad scramble for the boat. No one wanted to stick around to witness the fallout that trailed me by a nanosecond. Everyone bolted. I shored up the rear, laden with chattel others happily abandoned including the snack bag, the hot beverage bag, the towel bag, the cooler, various sundry offspring shit. As people were diving into the boat, and with me fulfilling the important role of human shield, the man to whom I have been legally married for 15 years and the father of my son, said this to our child: “Oh, Jacob, grab your rod! I just saw a 4-to-5-pounder!” This obtuse observation went over like a lead balloon, prompting my septuagenarian Catholic mother to drop an F-bomb. Said dense man was literally casting a rod while straddling the hull as we shoved off of Deadly Wasp Island. Concussed with incredulity, the look I unleashed could have incinerated a vampire. That all went well, I mused. Afterbite was offered. Cue. Eye. Roll. Oh, is it miraculously also an antidote to the moral injury caused by *rathole judgment*?? I thought not. It was decided, though. The nature Gods had spoken: we ended our afternoon of leisure and got back to our toiling.

As a young child on vacation in – you guessed it – Florida, I was inspired to go into medicine after witnessing the autopsy of a beached pilot whale. The use of autopsy over necropsy here is intentional; cetaceans have been legitimately granted personhood rights and freedoms in several jurisdictions (1). The aforementioned jellyfish sting was also sustained on the exact same trip. As someone who reveres nature and its animal inhabitants, I fully acknowledge the immeasurable harm that our species has done to most other species. Their otherness constitutes the precise justification of our quite inexcusable collective remorselessness around the damage we have caused (1). Occasionally they bite us humans back. And sometimes we deserve it.


Boggild AK. COVID-19 and Prioritizing Human-Based Research.

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