This piece begins what will be a short series of articles on Nature and Travel. Nature-based travel, such as “eco-travel” or trips based on rafting over raging rapids, of scaling sheer rock faces, are gaining in popularity for active travelers who are bent on challenging Nature as well as themselves. As it has throughout history, how we “commune” with Nature can tell us a lot about our own nature.
The Aussie guy on TV dressed in the beige Boy Scout outfit is being followed through the brush framed in the herky-jerky sights of a handheld video cam. He stops and squats down on his haunches; the camera settles down, too.
He glances back into the lens and whispers in a thick ‘Strine’ accent: “The kouloumoongie loikes t’ cool ‘imself unda th’ leaves of the froobah boosh. So we hafta be vewwwy, vewwwy quoiyet.”
The camera focuses up ahead, following his pointing gesture. We can make out a thick, brown tail of a creature that protrudes from under some large leaves of a low bush. It’s not moving.
The Aussie guy creeps toward the bush, stopping to motion back toward the camera. His upheld palm signals the cameraman to hold his place. Now both the Aussie guy and the—what the hell did he call it, akouloumoongie !?—are in the camera frame. There is only the slight rustle of dead leaved as he moves in closer to the bush.
Then! He pounces on the bush and its sleeping resident, rolling it over in the dust, tail flailing, and claws ripping at the air on what we can more plainly see is a whacking-good-sized lizard of some sort!
With the camera jerking as it is moved in closer, and the furious action, it is difficult to determine just how big the animal is. But clearly it is large enough reptile to erase any notion you might want to leap on such a beast, or for that matter remain in the same postal code with it.
However the Aussie guy wrestles the lizard into a submission hold, pinning it on its back as though the dusty outback were his living room and the lizard were a fluffy cocker spaniel.
“Naw be keerfull,” the winner cautions as an assistant now comes into frame to throw a net over the panting beast, “the kouloumoongi sometimes plies at bein’ deed, but those shahp claws can spring inta action at any moment an’ do some real damage.”
But his delivery and attitude almost convey that he does this sort of thing before breakfast every day, and we see now that his boyish face and tousled blond hair remind us of the urchin in every grade school we once knew: the daredevil who was always catching snakes and frogs and letting them loose in class.
The Aussie guy has become rather famous as The Crocodile Hunter, and I have seen him several times as I surf my television channels fruitlessly searching for something decent to watch. He presents himself as some sort of animal biologist and conservationist, but each time he is pouncing on a crocodile, grabbing a dangerous viper by the tail, or otherwise conducting himself like a fearless naturalist, or a complete jerk, depending on how one regards this sort of entertainment.
Nature shows, which used to show us the great outdoors and its denizens in a comparatively passive mode, have evolved in the direction of extreme games. Several other pseudo-naturalists have joined in the sweepstakes of this form of entertainment, trying to out do each other by poking sharks in the private parts, fondling venomous vipers, or letting spiders crawl all over them. It gives a whole new meaning to the “exploitation of Nature.”
On my childhood television the only persons who messed around with dangerous and exotic animals were Tarzan, who kept his inter-species encounters to trained chimps and elephants, or wrestled guys dressed in ape suits, ands Marlin Perkins of Wild Kingdom, who mostly got crapped-on by birds he was holding, or was once nipped by a weasel. After all, his sponsor was a life insurance company.
But the attraction of the new “nature” program is not Nature; it puts Man, make that Hubristic Man, in front of Nature, flaunting his “fear factor” and his sense of superiority for the amusement of his audience by needlessly provoking and taunts dangerous animals with the equivalent of waiting for a NASCAR pile up. Couch potatoes may be content to just sit there and leap on no more than a plate of nachos; but there are an increasing number of travelers who’s idea of communing with nature is do go out there and kick some giant lizard butt.
I have to confess that, perhaps for other reasons, I would mind seeing that kouloumoongie take a good chomp out of the Aussie guys genitals, or a venomous viper put a fang-full of neurotoxin in his arrogant ass. “Ouch! That weely hurt. Now notice how the neuwowtoxin causes me to lose contwow of my bahdowee functions, like wesperwation. So I only have a few sencons weft to say that you should not try in your own jungo.” [to be continued]
©2004, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 9.15.2004)