Tuesday, September 21, 2010


THE LATE MARLON PERKINS, once director of the St Louis zoo, visited my next door neighbor a couple of times while I was growing up. Mr. Perkins directorship was not his claim to fame; rather, it was his association with Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. Every week, we children of the sixties would rivet ourselves to our black and white TV sets, engrossed in natural tales of life and death in the Wild Kingdom. Almost to the point of comedic-ness, each quarter hour segment would end with a safari-suited Marlon Perkins intoning something like: “The Brewers Blackbird has only his combined ability for rapid flight and dive-bombing predators like Ford Falcons with poop to help him survive in the Wild Kingdom. As people, we can’t fly off into the air for protection, so we need protection from Mutual of Omaha.”

Hap Andrews, an independent agent, lived just down the street. By the time I was twelve, my folks had me covered for five grand.

I mention Marlon Perkins and the Wild Kingdom because one thing we never saw was a predator actually taking prey, crushing the smaller in the jaws of the larger and then rending its lifeless form into bloody chunks of breakfast. Too graphic for television’s then sensibilities.

THE WILD KINGDOM came to mind six weeks back while I was exploring the Manzanar Japanese Relocation Center in the Owens Valley. Afoot, I’d taken to walking through sand and greasewood and one hundred degree heat exploring the far reaches of the enclave; places not visited by those touring in air conditioned Nissans and Toyotas and Hondas – all imports from Japan. Ironic, ain’t it?

Returning at mid-day the mile-and-a-half from the cemetery near the old Victory Garden, a small storm of dust catches my eye. It moves rapidly into my vision from left to right, the source of which was obscured by sage and mesquite. My attention arrested, I note a tinier dust devil racing in front of the larger one. Amidst it, a panicked squeak. Repeated. Squeak. Squeak. Squeaksqueak!

The larger draws closer to the smaller and, in moments, the dust explodes with a tiny, shrill shriek.

BACK HOME there are two dogs. Jax, the senior Aussie mix, enjoyed a storybook life until Edward, the junior, a Lab mix, brought this paradise to a reality-based halt. In the back yard, Jax may claim the red rubber ball or the Nyla-bone or the Kong, but the persistence of the interloper always leads to fisticuffs and, ultimately, the little black lab trots away with his smiling mouth clutching whatever the prize was. Jax eyes Edward ruefully as Edward looks over his shoulder, victorious, as if to say, “Look what I have.”

Such is life in the Wild Kingdom, I always say, running my fingers deep into Jaxie’s thick shoulder fur.

IN MOMENTS, trotting out of the dust cloud, a dusky-grey coyote, no bigger than Edward, proud and tall, clutches the hapless gerbil or squirrel or bunny in his iron-like jaws. He trots light and victorious, looking over his shoulder. The predator spots me and freezes.  He eyes me in much the same manner as our Lab eyes our crestfallen Aussie - tauntingly - as if to say: “Look what I have.”

Such is life, I think, followed by: I must find out what happened to that little life policy.

© 2010
Church of the Open Road Press

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