Saturday, July 14, 2007

Tourists, Paparazzi & Patriots (Yellowstone National Park)

There are people here at Yellowstone from all over the world. Europeans seem to be the best behaved. They always wait for Big Dog to finish videotaping before talking, or walking through the shot. Americans seem to be oblivious to everything other than themselves.

"You must be from Europe!" Big Dog says to one family who wait politely for him to turn the camera off before walking by.
"We are from Austria," they say. When BD admires their sensitivity, they tell us, "Well, if you want to see badly behaved Europeans, you have to go to Europe!"

That's not the case with Asians. They are pretty badly behaved everywhere. At one large, colorful spring, two guys from Korea walk off the boardwalk to get photos of themselves in the "do not enter" area. Big Dog blasts them. Yells at them to get out of there, didn't they read the signs, what are they thinking. They grudgingly oblige.

Japanese people tend to be better behaved in their own country. Too much scrutiny to get too out of hand. But there's even a famous saying in Japan: A man away from home need feel no shame. Once away from their island nation, they can turn into complete assholes.

"They're so nice and polite when they're by themselves, but get them in a group, or even with another Japanese… THEN you have to watch out," I say.

Everyone behaves badly when there is an animal sighting. They'll stop in the middle of the road and take pictures, from their vehicles, ignoring the massive line of cars behind. A small bear cub crossing the road at a parking lot turns tourists into Instant Paparazzi. You'd have thought Elvis had come back to life. If there is a car stopped at the side of the road, you can be sure there's something to be seen. An elk, a deer, a bear or bison.

Of course, I am not immune. It's not often you can be this close to a mother bear and her cub hoarding berries. So close that you can hear the heavy breathing, almost feel their foamy saliva. I am riveted by a giant bison at the side of the road who first lies on its side, then rolls around in the dust. It is huge and beautiful and both Big Dog and I are completely disgusted to hear that some of these amazing creatures are being killed right here in the park! Apparently Montana has a Zero Tolerance policy towards bison -- to protect the cattle ranchers -- and will kill bison even on federal land if it's inside Montana. We hear about this distressing practice from an activist who has a stand near Tower Falls. It totally wigs out Big Dog.

"I don't want to spend any time or money in Montana and I'm going to write to every politician I can think of," vows Big Dog. I love him for standing up for his beliefs. I love that he immediately asks the next ranger he sees if it's true that they are killing bison, arguing that the activists have video when the ranger tells him they're making it up. These animals are descendents of the 23 bison that survived the massacres of the 19th century. It makes me want to cry to think about how close they were to total annihilation and it angers me to think that there are still some (many?) who don't consider them to be one of the Great Natural Treasures of the Americas. A true patriot would do anything to protect his land's treasures, and Big Dog, for all his dissention, is one mighty fine patriot.

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