Scientists are currently examining the squirrel to see if it died of the disease or of other causes. Park officials are using insecticides on squirrel burrows to kill off any fleas, which is how the disease spreads from one animal to another. The Twisted Arrow, Broken Blade and Pima Loops of the Table Mountain campgrounds are closed until further notice, although hiking is still permitted.
The plague killed about a third of Europe’s population in the 14th century but is not nearly as active these days. Only four people have contracted the disease in Los Angeles County since 1984. This map from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows each case of the plague in the United States since 1970. About 80% were of the bubonic variety and most cases were not fatal, since antibiotic treatment is usually successful. In related news, researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Germany are developing an easy test to detect the plague in its early stages.
As you can see, there are two main clusters. New Mexico gets about half of all the human infections in the U.S. In the 1980s, the worst plague decade, it had slightly more than a hundred cases. Worldwide, most plague cases are in south central Africa and east Asia. People tend to get it while engaged in outdoor activities.
In Kentucky, you can get a porcupine hickory-smoked for five bucks. A squirrel or a frog will set you back just $2.50. I had no idea that one could kill an animal and then bring it to a place that would smoke it for a fee until I road-tripped to Kentucky last week with my family.
I travel because I’m curious by nature and I like to know how people live in other parts of the country and the world. But America is huge and it’s easy to get lulled into the notion that you have to leave the country in order to experience another culture. Within an hour of arriving in Kentucky last week, I was reminded of how very wrong that assumption is.
Owensboro is only 360 miles due south from my home in suburban Chicago, but the people who live there inhabit a very different world than the one I live in. In Evanston, my adopted hometown, people with extensive record collections and cars made in Scandinavia pay $4 for fancy cups of coffee and $3 for croissants at the weekly farmers market and shell out big bucks for organic treats at either of two Whole Foods locations that are only a half- mile apart along Evanston’s Chicago Avenue.
In Owensboro, people who get their groceries at Wal-Mart and drive pickup trucks can hurl a dead animal onto their trucks and bring it over to the Old Hickory BBQ restaurant, where the good people who run the place have been hickory-smoking meats since 1918. I know we were in a very different place from listening to the rush hour traffic report on the radio: the only traffic tie-up involved a deer carcass.
Old Hickory BBQ was our first stop in the state after spending much of the day driving south from Chicago and it was a perfect introduction to one of America’s most distinctive, and for my taste, interesting states. Coming from Chicago, where you have to clear out your 401k to get a sandwich in some places, everything on the menu appeared to be ridiculously cheap- sandwiches were around $4 and platters including two sides were about $8. The place was moderately full but if it were transported to Chicago with the same prices, there would be a 9-hour wait to get in.
Kentucky’s BBQ specialty is mutton but I was most interested in the burgoo, a stew native to the region that is usually mutton-based. I went up to the take out counter, where many of the BBQ specialties are on display, and Jordan, one of the kitchen staffers, gave me a taste and offered to show me the restaurant smokehouse after our meal (see video below).
I loved the burgoo and everything else I tried and was elated when the bill came. $22 for our family of four, or less than we sometimes spend at McDonald’s. And as soon as I stepped into the smokehouse, I was overcome by the glorious smell of smoking meat. Jordan yanked open one of the smoke chambers and gave us a little tour of the meats people had brought in for 24 hour smoke sessions.
“Here are some pork butts,” he said. “Over there we’ve got some deer hind quarters.”
He said that he’d seen people bring in just about every type of animal you could imagine: squirrel, possum, porcupine, raccoons, frogs, and goats among others. And he confirmed my suspicion that Owensboro wasn’t much of a hotbed for vegetarians. I’m not a hunter and I tend to limit my meat intake but I would have loved to have strung up a hammock in the smokehouse and just enjoyed the seductive smell of grilled meats for hours.
The following night, while staying in a cheap motel in Beaver Dam, forty minutes southeast of Owensboro, and I got another taste of the hunting culture. The hotel’s free breakfast starts at 4:45 A.M. to accommodate the hunters, who filled the place to capacity on the first Saturday night of the deer-hunting season. It turns out that Kentucky has a huge deer population and hunters converge on the state from far and wide. We heard them chattering excitedly in the hotel corridor at 4:15 A.M.
Despite the sleep interruption, we didn’t emerge for breakfast around 9 A.M and the breakfast room was empty until a camouflaged foursome came in and began filling up on biscuits and gravy.
“Seems like you guys are the only hunters who slept in,” I said to a bleary eyed young man with a hunters knife hanging in a long sheath from his belt.
“Oh no,” he replied. “We were down here right at 4:45. We went out hunting and we’re back for our second breakfast now.”
“Did you get any deer?” I asked.
“I saw one,” he said. “But she was too young. I just couldn’t do it.”
The young man explained that deer hunters, like photographers, need to be out at dusk and dawn to stalk their prey. I asked him a whole host of dumb questions that anyone who grew up in Kentucky would already know the answer to, but then was able to show off a little of my own newfound knowledge as well.
“You know,” I said. “There’s a place in Owensboro that’ll smoke a porcupine for just five bucks.”
In Bennington, Vermont, a gray squirrel has been terrorizing locals with his own brand of march madness. Perhaps harboring a vendetta against humans or possibly mad from rabies, the squirrel has attacked at least three separate people. The attacks have been described as an unprovoked flurry of scratching and biting.
The “Beast of Benington” attacked one resident, Kevin McDonald, while he was innocently shoveling snow in his front yard. According to the Bennington Banner, the squirrel jumped McDonald from behind, scratching at his back until being thrown off. The persistent squirrel came back for two rounds before McDonald retreated to his home and the squirrel disappeared into a nearby tree.
The next day, he saw his neighbor battling the same rodent with a metal pole and a blanket.The local Game Warden has visited with several of the squirrel assault victims and reported that a woman that was bitten on the back of her neck will undergo a series of rabies vaccinations.
If your travels take you to Bennington, beware this hostile creature.
Earlier today, pilots aboard an American Airlines flight traveling from Tokyo to Dallas heard unusual noises coming from the wires above the cockpit. According to John Hotard, AA’s spokesman, “You do not want a varmint up in the wiring areas and what-have-you on an airplane. You don’t want anything up there.” Unsure what kind of varmint might be up in the what-have-you, the pilots decided to stop in Honolulu to investigate.
The varmint turned out to be an eastern gray squirrel. Neither AA nor the Agriculture Department can explain how the squirrel accessed the plane, though I’m suspicious it might have something to do with TSA’s less than watchful eye.
In the end, the human passengers were provided hotel rooms and rebooked on other flights. The squirrel enjoyed a far less pleasant Hawaii visit, however. Fearing it may have been carrying rabies, authorities had the rodent killed.