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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

1 October 2012

Plague and hyperbole

23rd September 2012

Today Maureen diced with death. She fed bits of Oreo to a chipmunk when we stopped to take in the views on one of the high mountain passes. A lady passing by issued this dire warning: “you want to be careful, chipmunks carry bubonic plague.”

Yes, that’s right. Rats, chipmunks, gophers and many rodents can carry the fleas that carry plague. So can cats and dogs. But the chances of a random chipmunk at the top of a mountain in Wyoming happening to have infected fleas is really vanishingly remote. If you’re going to deny yourself the fun of having a chipmunk clamber on your lap to nibble an Oreo based on such a ludicrously small risk, you really ought to walk back home and lock yourself indoors because your chance of dying in an unavoidable accident on any given car journey is far higher.

On with the show.

Our hostess last night recommended that we visit the Devil’s Tower: “it is the most amazing thing you’ll ever see, you will never forget it.” Then again, when we arrived at the hotel she told us that our meal at the restaurant would be “without doubt your best meal this vacation,” so we were already wary of hyperbole. For the record, The Occidental does a decent steak dinner.

Anyway, the Devil’s Tower might not have been the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen, but it was certainly arresting. A huge plug of igneous rock thrusting up among the trees, scored with vertical gashes as though a giant bear had been using it as a scratching post. Indeed, that’s the essence of the local Indian legends about the place which pre-date the modern and obviously Christian name. Interesting that in Australia, Canada, India, even Wales they are replacing the colonial names of important sights with their original local names, but not in America that I’ve seen. To be honest I’m with the Americans on this one: place names change over time and history, as new peoples become the dominant culture in an area. Trying to roll them back seems to me a fairly weak sort of apology for decades or centuries of colonial overbearing.

I digress. We also spent ages photographing the cute antics of the tribe of prairie dogs living just off the roadside below the Devil’s Tower. The rest of our day was the remainder of the drive into the Black Hills of South Dakota, where we are staying in a genuine B&B; i.e. a typical American house with three rooms set aside for guests. It’s nice.

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