Posts Tagged ‘outdoors’

Dear Sesame Street: Please stop teaching kids it’s OK to feed wild animals

Not even the squirrels. That's how serious this is, folks.

Not even the squirrels. That’s how serious this is, folks.

Though I know I’m not “supposed to,” every once in a while I break down and let my toddler watch a limited amount of TV, because sometimes it’s the only thing that keeps my sanity intact on a day that involves multiple meltdowns and outfit changes.

I make myself feel OK about this by putting on Sesame Street, since hey, at least it’s educational! Or so I thought.

Recently we watched an episode in which Elmo and Friend go on a camping trip. Elmo’s incessant need to piercingly narrate every damn thing they do apparently attracts all the woodland creatures within a 12-mile radius, and soon Elmo is inviting them to stay for dinner. Before you know it, a beaver, some turtles, a few raccoons and an entire flock of ducks are on their second helping of dandelion soup in what is clearly the start of their never-ending dependence on humans to provide basic sustenance.

All right. I know some of you might think I’m blowing this out of proportion. They’re not even real animals, for chrissakes. They’re puppets. PUPPETS. And it’s not like every toddler who watched the episode immediately started using Goldfish crackers to coax some new fluffy friends to live in their garage, dooming them to a life of human-fed captivity.

But hear me out. Less than 24 hours after watching this episode, I saw this unfortunate news:

Yellowstone

Think this is mere coincidence? Think again. It’s quite clear Sesame Street is at fault for each and every stupid tourist-wildlife encounter in recorded history.

OK, that’s a mild exaggeration. But sadly, it’s not unusual to hear a lot stories like this in Montana and other Western states, where it seems residents and wildlife intersect more regularly than in other parts of the country. Most of us grew up learning it’s not OK to try to feed or touch the wildlife.

Apparently, some idiot tourists don’t understand that Yellowstone National Park, et al., is not a goddamn petting zoo, and the animals don’t need you to feed them a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in order to survive. And that by doing these things, you’re actually risking both your and the animals’ lives.

Obviously, Sesame Street is not solely at fault for people thinking it’s OK to feed and/or touch wild animals. (And I admit, I’m making quite the cognitive leap by even trying to connect these two specific incidents.)

The thing is though, you also can’t only blame the idiots, either. When it comes down to it, most of them just don’t know any better. Where many of these tourists are from, close encounters with actual wildlife happen next to never, and when they do, they actually are in a goddamn petting zoo.

It’s kind of like when a tourist from Montana, who may or may not write a blog that rhymes with “Thuirrel Proughts,” stops in the middle of the sidewalk in New York City to stare up and take a photo of a skyscraper, because it’s something she doesn’t see every day at home. Doing so is apparently Extremely Annoying to resident New Yorkers (albeit slightly less Life Threatening than sharing a s’more with a wolverine, but I digress.)

Ya know what though? At the time, she just didn’t know any better.

You know what could’ve helped her know better? An episode of Sesame Street in which Big Bird’s country-born cousin Pudgy Pigeon comes for a visit, and someone with a thick Bronx accent yells “Hey, I’m walkin’ here!” after she abruptly stops to take a selfie in front of the restaurant from Seinfeld. Then she would’ve known better.

(Or a quick Google search. That probably would’ve done the trick, too.)

Anyway, the point I’m getting at is that while the premise of this Sesame Street bit seems innocuous, who knows what seeds it’s already planted in the heads of tiny city-born tots who might try to hug a grizzly bear in Alaska a decade from now. Because according to a beloved children’s program, befriending wild animals and inviting them over for pizza and a sleepover is just a normal part of experiencing the Great Outdoors.

So, in a feeble attempt to counter the damage already done — and with that air of smug self-righteousness you’ve come to expect on Squirrel Thoughts — I’m offering some tips for any potential tourists who still might not know any better:

  1. DO NOT TOUCH THE WILDLIFE.
  2. DO NOT FEED THE WILDLIFE.
  3. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO BEFRIEND THE WILDLIFE. NO MATTER HOW CUTE AND FLUFFY IT LOOKS. YOU ARE NOT MOTHERFUCKING SNOW WHITE. THE ANIMALS DO NOT WANT TO BE YOUR FRIENDS. THEY WILL MAUL YOU AT THE DROP OF A HAT. OR CHEETO. ESPECIALLY A CHEETO.
  4. ENJOY THE MAJESTIC CREATION THAT IS NATURE FROM A SAFE VIEWING DISTANCE.

I apologize for the stilted Internet yelling, but it’s the only chance I have at drowning out the children’s media behemoth that is Sesame Street.

Also, if you prefer information from legitimate resources, here are few:

Four reasons not to feed wildlife

Wildlife safety in Glacier National Park

Yellowstone visitors place bison calf in SUV; newborn euthanized

(FOR THE RECORD: I realize that other states, even on the East Coast, have wildlife, and that not everyone who visits from those locales are completely oblivous about how to interact with wild animals. I also realize that many of the tourists who commit these transgressions are from other countries, and who knows what kind of access they have to Sesame Street. In turn, I hope anyone offended by this — including but not limited to Elmo, Big Bird, Cookie Monster and, especially, Snuffy — realizes that it’s all in good fun. Unless you have tried to caress a mountain goat. Then you should read that shit a few more times.)

 

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Things I will and will not miss about Great Falls

It is officially official: Zach landed a job at the firm he interned at in law school, so we will be moving back to our beloved Missoula in just a few months! (And possibly sooner for me, depending on my job prospects.)

I have been in love with Missoula since I started college there at the University of Montana more than 10 years ago. To me, it’s easily Montana’s best city. It embodies a perfect balance of progressive idealism and rugged individualism, and it’s never too far from your front door to the great outdoors, with a perfect view, to boot.

For most people who live here, this view is only a short drive and moderate hike away.

For most people who live here, this view is only a short drive and moderate hike away.

Though I’m excited that we are lucky enough to settle down in a place we genuinely love, I will also be sad to leave behind the life we’ve built in Great Falls. This town gets a bad rap; it’s definitely not the destination of choice for the younger set. It has a lot of potential, but many folks here may need an attitude adjustment before it can turn that corner.

There are a several aspects of Great Falls I will miss, and many I definitely won’t.

Things I will not miss about Great Falls

The obsession with chain restaurants. I have never seen an entire community get as excited as people here do when news breaks about a new chain restaurant coming to town. Seriously. When Buffalo Wild Wings announced its plan to open a restaurant in Great Falls, people lost it. Lost. It. It was by far  by FAR  the most-read story on our website for several days, and approximately 8 million people liked and shared the news on social media. Four gazillion people will probably go on its opening day, defying all mathematical probabilities in a town of 60,000 people.

However, this is not the best chain restaurant-related news Great Fallsians could receive. Nope. That would only happen if the Holy Grail of chain restaurants announced its impending arrival to town. That’s right: Olive Garden.

OK, Great Fallsians. Have you ever actually been to an Olive Garden? I know those people in their commercials look like they’re having a ton of fun while enjoying an authentic Italian meal  like they truly enjoy spending time with their families and don’t all secretly want to punch each other in the throats  but they are actors. Paid actors.

When real people like you and me go to Olive Garden, this is what happens: We get a shit ton of buttered and salted styrofoam disguised as breadsticks and a lump of chicken covered with Cheese Product that was still frozen until 5 minutes before it hit your plate. Meanwhile, your parents ask you for the millionth time when you’re going to get a boyfriend/girlfriend, when you’re going to get married to said boyfriend/girlfriend, when you’re going to reproduce a human child with said husband/wife instead of just schlepping around that damn dog/cat/gerbil with you everywhere you go, and then you snap back  “STOP ASKING SO MANY QUESTIONS!” Then everyone eats in silence for the rest of the meal, interrupted only with the occasional “Can you please pass me some more styrofoam breadsticks?”

Is that the kind of dining experience you’re hoping for at Olive Garden? I wouldn’t wish that scenario on my worst enemy (OK, I probably would. I’m vindictive sometimes.) Great Fallsians, please know that I mean this from the bottom of my squirrelly heart: You deserve better.

Also: You are never getting an Olive Garden. This is not a bad thing.

Missoula has its fair share of chain restaurants and big box stores, but it’s also a community that oozes support for local eateries and shops. When we want to go out to eat in Great Falls, it’s often a struggle to think of the limited options (my pescetarianism doesn’t help with that). In Missoula, we have the opposite problem: It can be hard to narrow down the choices, and when you choose one, you can’t help but wonder what you’re missing out on at another.

The drivers. As I’ve mentioned before, the drivers in Great Falls are not the most courteous. In addition to the fact that many couldn’t care less about whether they run down a little old lady walking across the street, there seems to be some sort of game going on in which drivers score points for how many red lights they can run, how many miles per hour over the speed limit they can go, and how many times they can turn or change lanes without signaling. Maybe I’m just jealous because no one ever invited me to play.

Obviously, this is a problem in just about any place. No one ever goes to a city and says “Wow, there are some really good drivers here!” In fact, I’ve previously written about how awful I think Missoula drivers are, so I’m not going to see much improvement on that front. But even if they are apparently physically prohibited from using a blinker, they will at least stop to let me run across the street.

The weather. Good God, the weather here is heinous. I know  it’s heinous in a lot of places, particularly in Montana. But Great Falls weather is the worst. Especially the wind. Always with that damn wind in Great Falls. You kind of stop noticing it after a while, but it’s always there, slowly wearing on you.

Of course, it’s especially terrible in the winter, when the chill of said wind makes the temperatures feel 15 to 25 degrees colder than they already are, resulting in conditions as low as 40 degrees BELOW zero. Do you know what it’s like to not be able to feel your face? Like, it’s so cold that you straight-up cannot confirm whether your face is still attached to your head? I do, because that’s what the wind does to you during the winter in Great Falls.

It’s probably the worst in the spring though. The temperature has finally started to creep above freezing, the sun is shining, and you glance out the window, expecting a lovely day. Then you walk outside and nearly get blown back in by a 40 mph gust of wind. And don’t even think of trying to have hair in Great Falls. It will probably just end up looking like this all the time:

Great Falls: Not a great place to have hair.

Great Falls: Not a great place to have hair.

And did you know it’s possible to suffer an injury caused by wind? Folks, it is. One time, I was leaving a store on a particularly windy day, and I opened my car door and was putting my purse down in the passenger seat before getting in. All of a sudden, a ginormous wind gust blew my door shut on me, knocking me over and causing me to hit my shin on the exposed car frame. I probably could have died, but I’m really brave so I made it.

The scar on my skin may fade, but will my soul ever truly heal?

 

Things I will miss about Great Falls

Sunshine in the winter. For all the shit I just talked about Great Falls’ weather, there is one thing I will miss about it: The sun, especially in the winter. Even when it’s the aforementioned 35 below zero, or during less extreme temperature drops, the sun is typically shining. Not so much during a Missoula winter. It may not get as cold, and it’s definitely not as windy, but daaaaamn, Missoula can get a girl down in the winter. It’s cloudy most of the time, and inversions often creep into the valley and stick around for days, sometimes weeks. It’s depressing as hell. It’s what made me believe that Seasonal Affective Disorder is real and not just a condition invented by pharmaceutical companies to sell drugs. If I ever OD on Vitamin D supplements, Missoula inversions are probably to blame. But the tradeoff — the fact that Missoula tends to see spring green sooner and fall foliage longer  is worth it.

The River’s Edge Trail. Great Falls has this amazing trail that meanders for miles and miles and miles and miles (seriously, it’s like 35 miles total) along the mighty Missouri River:

Photo by Larry Beckner, Great Falls Tribune

Photo by Larry Beckner, Great Falls Tribune

It’s absolutely perfect for avid runners like me. You can get in a lot of miles just on that trail, and I’m lucky enough to live just a few blocks away from accessing it (with only one pedestrian danger zone to cross to get there).

Now, the one downside of this trail is that in the summer, there’s a decent chance you could encounter the Prince of Darkness himself on it: Mr. Snake. And I’m not just talking about your garden-variety gardner snake (though those are around and freak me out, too). We’re talking the vilest of the vile here: The Rattlesnake. The ones that will gouge your leg in a venomous rage without a second thought, then call in his evil serpent brethren to drag you into their lair to finish you off.

Luckily, the snakes only slither around the eastern-most portions of the trail, so I can avoid their deathly embrace by turning around before I encroach on their territory. And, of course, I always keep my trusty Snake Rock with me, just in case.

My friends and co-workers. You’ve probably heard a saying along the lines of: “A place is only as good as the people you know in it. It’s the people that make the place.” That never rang true until I lived in Great Falls.

I don’t know that you will ever find a group of colleagues who have a better, and perhaps more twisted, sense of humor than those working together in a newsroom. Especially at a newspaper, which, let’s face it, is part of an industry that’s seen better days. We laugh as we recount the ridiculous comments and phone calls we get from people accusing us of instigating a conspiracy to implement Obamacare for Goats or asking that we run a correction because they believe Montana’s borders are wrong and we’re actually part of Canada (the second one actually happened). We have to laugh, through the good times and the bad, if only to keep ourselves from curling up into little balls and crying.

We also have a great group of friends here outside our work lives, and only partly because all the young people in Great Falls immediately discover they must band together if they want to survive. It’s tough to make friends after you set out into the real world, when you don’t necessarily have the comfort and convenience of instantly bonding with people you share the same class/team/dorm/
sorority/college newspaper office with. But with our friends in Great Falls, we hit the jackpot.

(Shhhh, secret time: I’m subtlety bombarding them all with subliminal messages convincing them to move to Missoula, too.)

That “je ne sais quoi.” For all the things I clearly will not miss, there is something about Great Falls, something I still can’t quite put my finger on after four years of living here, that has made me like it, despite feeling like I shouldn’t. To borrow a term from a fancy French owl, Great Falls just has a certain “je ne sais quoi” for me.

Perhaps it’s the people I’ve known here. Or maybe all that sunshine. I don’t know what it is, exactly  only that I’ll miss it when I’m gone.

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