Nature Bats Last: Animal Defense and Plant Justice
by Jesse Wolf Hardin
“Nature Bats Last,“ as the radical bumper sticker tells us, and in spite of human caused deforestation, soil depletion, deadly pollution and mass plant and animal extinctions, it will indeed be the self adjusting natural world that outlives both the best and the worst of what we rightly or wrongly call civilization. In the long run, in geologic time, the 40,000 or so accumulated years of imbalance will appear as but a brief outbreak from which the planet Earth (with or without continued human participation) quickly recovers. But for those of us fated to be born and die in the midst of hundreds of years of increasing destruction and control, with neither dramatic relief or ultimate resolution, we might be emboldened and gratified by occasional contemporary stories of the natural world getting the last laugh in our own convoluted times.
A few weeks before my writing this, the respected Reuters news agency reported a fox hunter in the region of Grodno, in the country of Belarus being taught an important lesson by a fox fueled with the anima, with nature’s irrepressible will to live. After shooting and wounding the hapless animal, the man apparently decided to save the cost of a second bullet by crushing its skull with the butt of his shotgun, but the fox had other ideas. Advancing and clawing at its tormentor, it somehow managed to trip the trigger with its paw and blast a nasty hole through through the shooter’s own leg before escaping into the woods.
The shooter had no intention of eating or otherwise making use of the animal if he had managed to kill it, making it a clear case of critter karma. Other cases of leveling the field are less gratifying, with the less personally culpable passengers of jet planes paying the dues for the harmful airline industry when they crash as result of quite innocent enough geese being sucked into the killer engines.
Most efficient at affecting a broad return to balance, if not the administration of individual justice, must be the unwitting revenge of the insect world in their transmission of malaria and Lyme’s disease, and most notably the actions of bacteria themselves, increasingly antibiotic resistant, functioning as an agent of nature’s impersonal scales.
If even the most nature loving of us are to feel real satisfaction, however, it must be more personal and poetic recompense, events like the fox and the hunter, or the Arizona miscreant brought low by a vigilante saguaro. While there are innumerable documented stories of animals defending themselves when cornered or hurt, the crushing death of insensitive vandal David Gundman in 1982 may be one of the few verifiable cases of a plant fatally striking back. In 1987 I had the privilege of performing on the same stage as the highly entertaining country humor band The Austin Lounge Lizards, when they played this telltale song:
“His name was David Grundman, a noxious little twerp,
Saw the cactus as the Clanton Gang, himself as Wyatt Earp.
He came out to the desert, they wouldn’t come to town,
In Maricopa County, he vowed to shoot them down.”
Saguaro cactuses are giant reservoirs of desert water, up to 30 feet tall and weighing thousands of pounds. This officially endangered and federally protected species is exceptionally slow growing, taking 100 or more years to reach full stature, and all that time serving as an important source of homes for birds and rodents. Their most defining characteristic – as so often seen in comic books and ads – is the way that two opposing branches can often form, resembling the silhouette of a man when viewed against the reddened glow of Sonoran horizon. It was apparently this feature that inspired Grundman and his friend James Joseph Suchochi to drive to area near Lake Pleasant and begin acting the part of Old West gunslingers, quick drawing and ventilating the dastardly but decidedly unmoving cactus with their trusty revolvers.
“He was slightly disadvantaged by the angle of the sun,
But after all the cactus wasn’t packing any gun
His finger twitched, he made his move, he drew, his gun did bark,
And echoed with the laughter, as his bullets hit their mark.”
The first one Grundman faced off with fairly quickly folded and collapsed, as he and his buddy joked with cocky John Wayne smiles. Their second cactus opponent was reported to be a giant, rising some 26 feet into the air. Positioned a few feet from the trunk and standing in its protective shade, Grundman again called a marked plant out onto the streets of his imagination and commenced to fire round after round into its quavering bulk. It was the weight of irony that an arm of the green behemoth broke off and crushed a surprised Grundman, to the twin dismay and potential education of his friend Suchochi.
“Well, the giant plant did tremble, then came that warning sound,
The mighty arm of justice came hurling toward the ground.
And the gunman staggered background, he whimpered and he cried,
The saguaro crushed him like a bug, and David Grundman died.”
The ultimate victor, of course, is in the end always diverse and tireless life, and the ways that resilient nature endlessly reemerges regardless of human impact, appreciation or witness, the animals that will one day stalk our presumptuous, silenced cities, the plants that will root in the walls of collapsed government buildings, flowering for themselves and any rewilded people who might miraculously be around to celebrate them.
(Forward and RePost this piece freely. More writings by Wolf Hardin can be found on the writings page at www.AnimaCenter.org, with more of his intemperate work appearing in a new book soon. You can download The Austin Lounge Lizards’ song “Saguaro” as well as others by going to Amazon.com or the iTunes store)