I wasn’t enraged, like a trapped coyote, because I hadn’t been really trapped, but I felt plenty angry as I put the Danger Tree behind me. What a dumb trick, I thought, quite possibly one that could have ignited more trouble. And yes, probably, it had been intended for BLM personnel. That being the case, I was glad I’d triggered the gadget instead of a BLM officer, who might have not only taken its message more seriously but also regarded it as a threat, especially in the wake of the of local agones in which the BLM had played either black hat or white hat roles (sometimes both), depending on the angle from which you viewed their actions. After the 2009 artifact raid, they’d pulled some of their rangers out of back country recreational areas for their safety. The mood of San Juan County residents simmering at the high heat it was, authorities harbored concerns that more radical elements might express outrage over Dr. Redd’s tragic loss and arrests of friends and relatives through violence rather than by the traditional outlets of Fourth of July anti-environmentalist floats, ATV activism and rallies, and the usual long, rambling letters to the editor that typically publish in local newspapers.
Furthermore, I happen to know that the spot where the trapper set his snare has traditionally hosted a population of cottontail rabbits that, over the past two harsh winters, has suffered decline and only begun recently to rebound. Better that I had been caught by a couple of well-protected toes and acted the bycatch, I think, than one of them.
But really, when I’d put more distance between myself and the trap and walked off some of my high dudgeon, I began to think it gloriously fitting that I, who had spread news of the camera, should then find the good fortune to come across what could well have been a flamboyant effect of my words and been gifted with the rare chance to wonder over it. I’ve written here about the downstream influence that human language exerts upon the world. In fact, I’ve been making the point for years that human expression is actually a natural environment–a nascent, prodigious wilderness, teeming with energy and creative potency, all a-swirl and producing new strains and engendering movement that is building toward we know not what. I don’t care whether you account for language’s existence by Johnny-Come-Lately and still developing evolutionary narrative strains or by our progenitor narrative, creationism; in either case, developing effectual stewardship of the rhetorical environs is just as important as finding better ways to involve ourselves more deeply and meaningfully in the multiple layers of life on this planet. In fact, our success in turning over new stewardship leaves is dependent upon the language we use to ground environmental philosophies. Unfortunately, while we’ve awakened (what seems like) slowly to the revelation that we can’t treat with natural resources just any old way or we, our children, and other species may suffer in more ways than we can count, we’re still behaving in language as if it were an endlessly renewable resource with which we can do pretty much what we please with little regard for effect. In other words, we’re still acting in the quite sensitive biosphere of human expression as we’ve done in the designated natural world since the 1750s and the beginnings of the industrial revolution. And we’ve been garnering the same results, including the contamination of fertile ground and vitalizing currents and, upon occasions, over-damming to exert undue and dangerous control.
That’s not all we’ve done with language, though. Science is beginning to see that links between language, brain evolution, and hence human evolution have given rise to truly spectacular flowerings of mankind and keep us on the move in spite of ourselves. All the more reason to begin developing better language to help us see and engage in language on levels beyond mere tool-wielding … or trap-setting.
As I walked toward home through the abandoned prairie dog town, my anger melted off. I felt a flush of interest in the fact that I’d actually gotten a foot caught in an animal trap and that I might have been a link in the admittedly speculative chain of events that probably bound the trap’s presence to my falling afoul of it. The whole business was actually quite a fortuitous study in how language’s effects can trickle down to the environment to the point of disturbing the ground and causing things to happen out there where the deer still roam and the buffalo used to.
As I digested the experience more completely, my mood shifted to the exhilaration of discovery and even amusement. By the time I was within sight of home, I couldn’t wait to tell my husband and kids about the adventure in a classic, you’ll-never-guess-what-happened-to-me-today, dramatic narrative. All in all, a neat little adventure and a near perfect way to mark a Friday the 13th .
I decided to take my kids down to photograph the trap, as we’d done other artifacts of human use of the canyon, like the contested bridge and hidden camera. However, a week passed before I was able to free up time to return to the scene of the prank. When we finally hauled our camera equipment down the trail to the poor, pressed-into-service juniper, the Jaws of Gotcha had been removed and the Eye of Doom perched on its tree limb unaccompanied by other devices, still tethered by its optical nerve to the plastic box holding its inner workings.
As for me, I no longer walk within ten feet of the juniper but climb up a slightly rough slope rising from a drainage behind the tree then scramble up and over a squat sandstone ledge topped with a couple of logs that block a breach in an otherwise natural stone fence. From there, I return to the trail well above the point of contention. This new route has turned out to shave five minutes off my exit time from the canyon. All the quicker to get home to see what my family has conspired to spring on me there.