Doughnuts by the fire

Long post.

Last night I received this text from Rae: "Uh oh. Big wildfire and my bear habitat is burning..." My thoughts, in this order, were: 1) Her asthma, triggered by airborne irritants, is just as bad as it was when she was little. She has to take all of her meds. Now.; 2) How far away is the fire and how fast is it approaching?; 3) The gas card I sent has not yet arrived via Priority Mail, so odds are there's not enough gas in the tank to get her as far away as she might need to get; and, finally, 4) Poor bears!

I haven't heard from Rae today, which I believe is a good thing, except she said she'd text when she got the gas card. The Ray May Fire (!) is, at the time of this posting, 70% contained. We've got a gigantic fire raging here in the Great Dismal Swamp, which straddles North Carolina and Virginia. I'm north of the border. We'd had a couple of clear days, but as I write this, the wind is shifting, and I can smell the smoke again, and apparently the smoke is evil. Here are some of Rae's (emailed) comments on the GDS fire:

ahh!! i didn't realize the dismal swamp was PEAT SWAMP!!! Peat is a type of soil that has more carbon than any other kind of soil, plant, anything. When peat swamps burn accidentally or are burned on purpose (to clear for agriculture), more soil carbon is released into the atmosphere than is really imaginable. It's so so so so SO bad and is actually the leading cause of climate change globally. :(

She’s disappointed that no Nevada bears took the bait last week. Look how big the trap is! Carl and Jon and Rae loaded the traps with honey-soaked doughnuts. The bag of doughnuts (or, alternatively, raw meat) hangs from the roof way back in the trap. The bear ambles into the trap and pulls on the bag of food. That triggers the gate at the entrance, which then slides shut. The plan is to trap the black bears long enough to place GPS collars on as many as possible so the ecologists can track their movement. (The bears’ longitude and latitude are downloaded hourly from the collars.) While the bears are tranquilized, the scientists take a DNA sample, too. I would appreciate it if a bear or two would oblige these good people so Rae will learn how to do this stuff. Safely.

The team left some traps in the immediate Lake Tahoe area, which is thick with tourists and summer residents right now. People call the scientists to alert them that a bear has been trapped. I keep trying to envision, say, the Lake Tahoe Welcome Center parking lot with a bear trap in it. (Is that what she’s talking about?) Rae and Carl go out every morning to check the traps set in remote areas in the Eastern Sierra. The parts that aren’t burning.

There are less than 300 black bears in Nevada, all in the Lake Tahoe Basin area, and close to 30,000 living throughout the California wilderness (and, in some cases, dangerously close to people). The Tahoe area has a couple thousand black bears. They roam back and forth, looking for good habitats. The jaguars of Texas and Mexico are supposed to do the same thing, but there’s that highly inconvenient La Migra fence in their way. Jon left Rae and Carl in Nevada last week to work the jaguar problem: how to allow jaguars to move around the border region in their natural pattern without interfering with immigration. Jaguars are one of the few migrating species along the border. If they aren’t able to move around, there’s a good chance they’ll go extinct. 

Shall we lighten up?

In the run-up to the post-trap bear research adventure (fingers crossed for post-trap bear research adventure), there’s always good old US culture world:

1. Rae said Carl and Jon’s road trip to an outfitter–a big store for serious outdoors people–in Reno was like “traveling to Bloomingdale’s” for her. She’s glad she didn’t bring anything cute to wear; “People haven’t heard of fashion.” She’s even been wearing a sweatshirt, which is significant adaptation for a woman who was wearing Louboutins this time last year. I’m hoping for a photo of Rae in the cap Jon and Carl gave her. The cap says, “I Am Bear Aware.” (The fellas rejected her NYC law firm-branded hat. “Can’t have that,” they said.)

2. When Rae was tracking lions in Tanzania with the African Wildlife Foundation and the African People and Wildlife Fund two summers ago she had water buffalo for dinner one night and pasta (left by an Italian researcher) the next. Last week at Carl’s she had meat loaf (she thinks maybe for the first time) made with elk and served with hot sauce. Elk gravy being hard to come by?

3. She tells me she went to water aerobics at the Carson City community pool. We agree that water aerobics is a great workout, and we go together when we can. Rae asks me why the demographic is always people “your age and female.” I posit that young folk peek in at the classes, decide it’s for old women (= scary feeble), and pass, so they never know.

4. “There are zero black people. It’s just me. That gets annoying.” Everybody in Minden knows her whereabouts. “Was that you I saw jogging yesterday…?” But there were lots of black people at the outfitter in Reno. “Even women.”

5. It’s beautiful there. There’s snow on the mountain peaks. She’s happy to be in the wilderness, breathing what was, before the fire, gorgeously clean air. She says the men “are really masculine.” Manly men. Gaston from Beauty and the Beast.

6. On Saturday night Rae really wanted to go out. She tuned in to the one radio station that sometimes plays pop. “I wanted to put on heels, get a drink, and dance.”

Call your mother when you're in the wilderness. Plenty to discuss! [Note: Just got the text. The gas card arrived!]