Badger Gulch

by William S. Statler

So I was out stomping around on Red Mountain— No, the one in Washington, southeastern Washington— Yep, lots of wineries around there, Red Mountain, it’s one of those official wine applications, like Champagne. Southwest of Red Mountain, all down towards Benton City, it’s grapes and more grapes.

But the mountain itself is just dry, dry, cheat grass and sagebrush and rushin’ thistle— No, it’s a tumbleweed, that’s why they call ’em that. Tumbleweeds everywhere ’round there, even up top of the telephone poles, tumbleweeds— Birds? A lot of quail and chukar, some hawks and ravens— Carry a what?— Now look. Hawks are carnivores. They do not carry tumbleweeds up top of the telephone poles! The tumbleweeds just do that, so they can spread their seeds, okay?

So anyway, I was on Red Mountain— No, it’s not red, I don’t— No, I’ve seen it in the spring, there isn’t any “blaze of glory of spring wildflowers.” There’s the purple phlox, but— What birds? There aren’t any purple birds, what is it with you and birds anyway? Purple birdies carrying tumbleweeds in their tiny beaks. Look, there’s no purple birds, there’s just purple phlox, and it’s no blaze of color, it’s like the hillside got some sort of sick pinkish mold infection, so I don’t know why they call it Red Mountain, they should call it Sick Pinkish Moldy Mountain. You satisfied? Can I tell my story now?—

Fine. So I’m on Red Mountain. Heh, I guess it is red when it catches fire. It does that every few years. Last time, someone told me, it was a squirrel, got itself electrocuted on a transformer on a windy day. Flaming squirrel falls into the dry weeds. Rocky the Frying Squirrel. Lights half the mountain on fire.

They got these other squirrels too, ground squirrels, look like mini prairie dogs. They dig a maze of little tunnels, build nests down there. Only awake for a few months, late winter and early spring, so they can fatten up, then they go down in the tunnels and nestivate. Fast little guys, ground squirrels. They gotta run fast, everyone wants to eat ’em, the hawks, the coyotes. The badgers are the worst, they’ll try to dig ’em out of their tunnels, and they can dig quick. But someone’s gotta eat the squirrels, and next year the burrowing owls use the big badger tunnels to make their own nests. It all fits together.

Well, there were ground squirrels running around everywhere. I’ve never seen so many. I didn’t really think about it when I saw ’em, but, well, I’m getting ahead of myself.

So, I’m up on the ridge, and it is one nice view from up there. I’ve been trudging up this firebreak track on the north side, and that’s a long trudge at my age, and it’s hot and dry and dusty, no wind ’cause the mountain’s blocking it. And I get up to the ridgetop, and ahhhh! a cool breeze at last, and you can see for a hundred miles, Hanford and all the nucular stuff out north, and down the other way all the vineyards, Benton City which looks really picturesque if you don’t get too close, and Mount Adams way off in the west, all snowy white. Wonderful!

Well, I enjoyed that view for a while, and I cooled off, had a snack, got my second wind. And then I decided I’d hike down the back side, and visit a winery or two.

Now, there’s no trail there. Nobody goes up or down that side, it’s real steep everywhere, except some parts it’s even steeper, but it’s kinda hard to see that from the ridgetop. So I started on down, and pretty soon I’m sorta scuttling down the hill on my butt and all fours. You know, every damn plant on that hill wants to send its seeds with you? “Here, take my babies,” JAB, “Here, mine too,” STICK. Ouch.

Okay, so I’m pretty much skidding down the slope on my butt, almost out of control, and then I see ahead of me nothing but air, and I quick grab for the last sagebrush, and— No, I did not have a cellphone, what difference would that make? Didn’t have any spare hands to use it with, I’m on about a eighty-nine-degree slope dangling from a sagebrush! So what happens next is— Well, I’m gonna tell you that, you just stay quiet for a minute, okay?

Well, this little man dressed all in green, in sage green, he’s maybe two feet tall, and he’s standing there next to the sagebrush and he says, “Begorrah! I’m a Sage Leprechaun! Got transported here from Ireland, I did! Would you be wanting to borrow my cellphone now?”—

HA! Gotcha there, didn’t I? Serves you right, you keep interrupting my story like that.

Okay, then, here’s what really happened. The sagebrush broke off, and I went sliding down this steep, steep gully, and I see straight ahead of me this giant rock, what they call one of those erotic granites, got dropped there by an iceberg back in the big floods thousands of years ago, and it’s right in front of me at the end of the gully. No way I’m gonna miss it, nothing I can do about it, hello rock, here I come. And what happened is, I fell right through that rock. Right through it. I crashed in a big pit or a cave, and it looked like I was under the rock, or maybe inside it, I don’t know. And I got the wind knocked out of me, so I couldn’t move for a bit, but there were three badgers sitting there looking at me. Must have seen me coming, and just been waiting there for me to fall through that rock.

Now badgers, y’ever seen one up close?— Well, they’re not soft little cuddly things, badgers. They’ve got these huge, I mean huge, front claws, and their head looks like something you’d use for splitting logs, and this real pugnacious expression. And they’re flat, like, no, not like roadkill but, like a semi truck just ran over them and they didn’t care, they just shook off the dust and walked away. Tough, badgers. You don’t want to be stuck in a hole with one. And there I was with three, and I couldn’t hardly get a breath into me yet, much less stand up.

So they just looked at me for a bit, and then one came up to my leg and started sniffing, and I tried to move away, ’cause I thought he was gonna bite. But he just said “It stinks,” and backed off. And then— Yep, that’s what he said, “It stinks.”— Well, I was pretty sweaty, I probably did stink. And then the second badger says “Too big,” and about this time I’m starting to get the idea what they’re talking about, and I say “Too old! Too stringy! You don’t wanna eat me!” And they’re still looking at me, so I say “There’s a ton of ground squirrels other side of the hill, I’ll show you where they are if you want.”

But the third badger, and he was more badgerier than any of the others, he was the absolute most badgeriest badger I have ever seen, the third badger says to me, “No. We are on strike, we, the badgers of the brain.” And he starts on this long lecture about badgers, and how no one appreciates all the good they do, how vital they are to the ecosystem, keeping the squirrel population down, digging burrows for the burrowing owls, on and on. He was really ticked off about the owls, what with they could dig their own burrows, but instead they get lazy and use the holes dug by good industrious badgers hunting for ground squirrels, and then the owls go eat up all the tasty field mice, so it’s like the badgers’ getting taxed for the privilege of building owl burrows. He was really steamed about that.

Well, he had a lot more to say. I was trying to follow it all, he was speaking in plain English, but it was like in a dream, when someone talks and the words mean something all different than what you’d expect. “Existence exists,” I remember he said that a lot. Well, you can’t argue with a statement like that. So I listened real politely, I mean as polite as you can be when you’re lying in a pit and all bruised and scraped up and you got twenty thousand seeds impaled into you and your bladder is getting really stretched. Finally, and I mean this was hours, finally he comes to a dramatic ending, and I say “Thank you, thank you for explaining the strike of the badgers, I promise I will carry your story to the world of humans. May I please go now?”

So they look at me some more, and then the badgeriest badger gives a grunt, and one of the others turns around and does something I can’t see, and there must have been a trap door or something, next thing I know I’m lying on the ground next to the big rock. And I check my watch, I mean I take a leak first, I don’t care if anyone’s looking, and then I check my watch, and it’s been three hours! Man, I never imagined a badger could talk for three hours. And—

Hello? Hello? Crap.

* * * * *

“He hung up.”

“Well, of course he hung up. Three hours, and you edit it down to one minute! It has no intellectual impact like that! It’s not just about squirrels and owls, it’s about—”

“Now, now, don’t go getting steamed up again, too much musk when you do that, took me two days to air the place out last time. Here, let me pour you another bowl of this fine Lemberger, and later we’ll go dynamite one of your old burrows, what do you say?”


“And for you, my friend? More wine? Or would you prefer Bushmills?”

“Begorrah! Bushmills, now that would be a fine thing, it would! Only a thimbleful, now.”

Copyright © 2005 William S. Statler. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License, which grants limited rights of non-commercial distribution. Please read
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