To Kill a Badger
Something stood out in the pasture a half-mile away. It was moving, but not traveling; alive, but strangely stationary. A quick look through the spotting scope revealed two buzzards attending to the wake of some recently passed wildlife neighbor. I loaded the dogs and drove over for a look.
The drought is taking its toll. Along the way, we passed the withered carcass of a young sharptail, not eaten as when taken by a predator, but simply spread across the trail, wings outstretched, as if in warning to go no further. Each quill was still attached and undisturbed, but carrion beetles had done their work and left it an empty piñata of feathers. Not soon after, a nearly grown magpie that had been old enough to fly, but not knowledgeable enough to survive, stared sightlessly as we drove past.
Last week I fished four meadowlarks out of the horse tank in one morning. There are ramps and a floating plank just so they can make their way out if they don't panic, but the heat and the drought got to them and they drown. I began to hear an Alfred Hitchcock sound track play through my mind.
There was plenty for the buzzards to eat and I anticipated they’d found another coyote-killed fawn. No twins in my area this year, and many a solitary doe. The small antelope herd has managed to bring only one fawn through alive among the ten of them. The coyotes have prospered, but the heat and lack of cover have made for easy hunting.
Upon our arrival, the black birds lifted off, pointed down with their wingtips showing us the way. Their supper was not the young venison I had imagined, but instead a retired momma badger. I was taken aback. There was no blood on her teeth or tears in her flesh other than the one the buzzards had been making. She showed no signs of having succumb to a fight. When rarely I stumble upon the remains of a badger, I expect signs of a battle. Its what badgers do best.
There is a part of me that loves a good fight. It is a sliver of my childhood from a time several generations ago when the fighting spirit of a man was vital to the success of a nation. I also love a woman who is filled with that same trait, was raised by a female warrior, and I have a daughter who wades in whenever challenged.
I coach a debate team where I actively recruit young people of both genders who have that glint in their eyes that we affectionately call “salty.” There is a massive difference between surly and rude and the joyful soul who also just happens to enjoy mixing it up.
If you are planning on doing battle with a badger, you’d better pack a lunch. I’ve raised two dogs who backed down badgers in defense of their homes. They never drew blood. Walking up to a fight and showing more desire and intensity than a badger is rare. More than half of life’s troubles will cross the street to avoid you if you give the impression you’ve come prepared. Both of those Airedales had that attitude in spades. I readily admit to mostly crossing the road to avoid conflict and surrounding myself with warrior women.
Closer inspection revealed that the badger had claws twice the normal length and teeth that were worn and blunt. Some injury or age had deteriorated the muscles that powered her digging for food and the natural wear or her claws. Life and the drought had caught up to her. In the end, there was no one there to fight, no street to cross.
Other species are struggling too.
Lack of moisture and pasture regrowth have pushed the bucks to gather together earlier than normal. There is only one lush stand of alfalfa in the valley and they have been coming from over a mile of prairie each night to eat. Drought years can be good for antler growth and racks are tall.The heat and drought are also impacting the fisheries.
Son Lane reports from Brookings that trophy fish above the slot limits are being returned as required by law, but they are unable to tolerate the shock of the warm temperatures and many are dying upon release. Trophy fish that would make more than a meal or would shine on some fisherman’s wall are being found belly up along the banks.
Across the state, CRP fields that normally provide shelter for wildlife have been cut and bailed to help distressed ranchers. This weather is going to require a fighting spirit to get through. The badger might be a good role model for us all.