Sunday, November 29, 2009


That good and talented Doctor of American Literature, Professor Linda Westervelt of the University of Houston waxes poetic and calls it Diamonds and Rubies – the headlights and tail lights of traffic going to and from somewhere on some major roadway. This last Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, for me it was Interstate 45, the primary artery between Dallas and Houston, Texas. The traffic was wall to wall - a solid ribbon of cars for those 247 miles from far north Dallas to downtown Houston where these two great cities were seemingly swapping populations. From afar it looked like a solid mass, a slithering serpent, a train winding its inexorable way: an organized coherent, sentient self to and from two of the major cities of our country. Well, it wasn’t.

A closer look inside the belly of that serpent reveals that there were, responsible and not so responsible drivers - sober and drunk/impaired, frenetic and anxious folks driving too close, too fast or too slow, lane changing to the point of danger, lots of craziness - meaning that you had to be extra vigilant in order to assure your arrival – even survival.

There were surprisingly few visible police though the occasional red and blue flashing lights only revealed the remnants of several auto accidents along the way. I did see some familiar Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) vehicles monitoring the roadway. Nice to know that we were being watched (The Eyes of Texas) though even with the threat of stiffer fines a less visible law enforcement was the cue for some folks to drive even more irresponsibly. The biggest initial hurdle was just getting out of Dallas and the Central Expressway corridor which lived up to it name as one of the largest parking lots in North Texas…

In 2008 we were told that our Thanksgiving tradition of traveling over hill and dale to grandmother’s house would take a major hit - there would be less of us on the road. Well, we know that due to the economy, air traffic was down (still is) with folks choosing to pay utility bills, mortgages and put food on the table and stay at home. By 2009 with more stable gas prices we appear to have opted for cross city, cross state or cross country dashes by automobile. For example, a fellow worker left Dallas on Thursday morning for New Orleans to be with Family – a 523 mile, eight hour trip – leaving at four in the morning and arriving around noon. That is a special Family… Motivation aside, it would have been a wonder if our roads could have accommodated any more vehicles.

According to the American Automobile association (AAA) more people traveled this year than last – with some 38.4 million Americans trekking at least 50 miles from home for the Thanksgiving weekend with the average distance being an impressive 815 miles. In our widespread Texas that computes to a 7.5% increase over last year.

While travel by air is diminishing some of that is due to rightsizing and decreased capacity witness some of the horrific delays recently encountered by the airlines. Along with the automobile, travel by train, boat and bus is expected to increase and may be yet another harbinger that the worse is behind us.

No doubt that basics will remain the priority and that travel is now seen as a luxury item. Even with that it would appear that most folks are trying to find way to be with Family and Friends for Thanksgiving. Whether you are American, Canadian, Scottish, Russian, Chinese, German, et al these cultures place a high premium on the celebration of Family so this evolution back to the nuclear hearth is not surprising. The pendulum does swing back and forth with even the anticipation of the sights and sounds of the holidays stirring mostly pleasant feelings in all of us.

I wonder if the current economic situation might prompt a continuing priority to embrace Family and Friends. Seems that this is all about reconnecting, building positive relationships and a return to basic positive core values and where we (should) have been all along. The trip to Houston was great and the opportunity to share the holidays with Family and Friends was especially enriching, enjoyable and meaningful even as an active spectator in Houston’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. For us here in Texas travel is an integral part of everyday life. Whether it costs more or less, I am always going to find a way to be with Family and Friends during the holidays.

Let’s all go out and create some meaningful holiday memories. I am going to at least wish Brother John best wishes on a significant rite of passage. Anybody up for helping serve a meal at a homeless shelter or visiting a senior center? Yes, they’re Family too.

Diamonds and Rubies, Aye,

Ned Buxton

Friday, November 20, 2009


Some knowing that I studied anthropology and specifically Mesoamerican cultures including the Maya under Tom Koehler at Ole Miss have asked for my opinion on, “This whole 2012 thing.” Well, its all about fear and money… Some people would have you believe that they have some academic or divinely inspired insight - that they are anointed entities that are privy to that ultimate experience – our collective passing and the end of the world. We need note that Armageddon fanatics have been predicting the end of the world for all of recorded history and however enthusiastic and persuasive, they’ve all been wrong. My recent review of twenty plus end of the world scenarios was another, further insight into Man’s gullibility. For the record, the calendar pictured above is not Mayan, rather Aztec an adaptation of the Mayan version. I just like it and for me the Mayan stelae are not as attractive… Sorry.

I have watched with both amusement and disgust all the nonsense/idiocy and hullabaloo about the year 2012 which brings me back to all the bogus Y2K hype. Aside from some movie producer/directors, writers, mystics, tea leaf readers, Cultists, Nostradamus wannabes (he never mentioned 2012), conspiracy alarmists, New Age astrologers and entrepreneurs, seemingly legitimate religious fundamentalists (no, the Bible doesn’t mention 2012 either), literalists of all shape and form and others that can’t seem to fit into mainstream culture, most of us seem to have it right. No, the earth isn’t going to be destroyed, there isn’t going to be some metaphysical transformation or the attainment of an earth shattering higher consciousness and those newspapers that remain will still be written at the seventh grade level.

What’s really disturbing, however, is that this hysteria does have some folks very agitated and frightened – even to the point of considering suicide reminiscent of a Jim Jones choreographed rapture (don’t drink the Kool-Aid). Be assured that this scenario is all western inspired and has nothing to do with the Maya, their culture and amazing calendrical system. Indeed, many contemporary Maya to include Guatemalan Maya Elder/Priest Apolinario Chile Pixtun have expressed dismay with the hocus pocus of 2012 and the inappropriate reaction by many, mostly in western communities.

Google “2012 End of the World” and look at the mush that’s available on the Internet. Read some of the blogs, threads and the countless folks that have bought into the hysteria. Cornell University’s, Ann Martin, who runs the “Curious? Ask an Astronomer” website, has reported communication from fourth graders declaring that they are too young to die and Mothers grieving that they will not be able to see their kids grow up. NASA authorities report numerous similar stories. Gees!

So, who’s allowing these people to buy into this scenario? Well, the Christian Fundamentalist “rapture driven” prophecy seems to fit very nicely with the movie’s theme. Seems some in this realm might also be taking advantage of this free PR to prepare the “Faithful” for the opening of the sixth seal and the ultimate Rapture. It would also appear that the producers of the movie 2012 or any one of the gamesters, writers or other folks in the secondary market (wanna buy a t-shirt?) stand to gain economically from stirring the pot. Yes, once again it’s all about money.

Some folks make a good point and say leave it be reflecting that this is just another Darwinian exercise which will purge the really stupid and gullible from our society - a “naturally self-correcting system.” Sounds like a plan…

Lending even further ridicule to this issue was the recent story featured in the Dallas, Texas version of the on line newspaper, which revealed that Balloon Boy hoaxer Richard Heen of Colorado believes that the world is going to end in 2012 and allegedly perpetuated the balloon stunt in order to raise monies to build an underground shelter to protect his Family from the onslaught of a number of 2012 disasters including, “an exploding sun”. Now if true that’s a good definition of ignorant optimism or a futile attempt to justify his actions. He probably should have saved his balloon as the “predicted” tsunamis would probably render his underground shelter somewhat suspect. Of course, if the sun were to go super nova (it’s predicted to do so in around 4-5 billion years) then nothing would help.

I saw one Internet headline declaring that biblical scholars are now wondering, “Is 2012 is really the end of the world?” The psychology of even posing that question is an old sensationalistic trick and attempt to introduce curiosity and credibility into the debate. Interesting that a so called Christian is posing a question based on supposed non Christian belief system. Heck, even the History Channel in a recent show pondered, “Is 2012 the year the cosmic clock finally winds down to zero days? Shame on them. To be fair there are as many or more sites on the Internet debunking the 2012 myth. Good for them…

By anyone’s count (long or short) there are now over 200 books capitalizing on this hysteria including, The World Cataclysm in 2012, Apocalypse 2012, 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, The Maya Factor: Path Beyond Technology and How to Survive 2012, among many others.

If you really want to make sense of what is mostly nonsense I can recommend a few folks that include Joel Achenback, staff writer with The Washington Post who has nailed this whole issue with his offering which he repeated in his Personal blog. I heartily recommend his post entitled, How to Survive 2012.

Achenback has identified and sourced other credible folks that include Astronomer Edward Krupp of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles who debunked 2012 in the November issue of Sky & Telescope magazine and David Morrison, senior scientist for NASA's Astrobiology Institute and the objective science based author of a NASA online feature called Ask an Astrobiologist.

Allow me to also include Associate Professor Kathryn Reese-Taylor of the University of Calgary's Archeology Department who teaches archaeology and is the author of several articles on the pre-Hispanic Maya and co-author of Landscape And Power In Ancient Mesoamerica. Reese-Taylor is a voice of reason who has warned of the misinterpretation of Mayan culture and reinforces that the Maya never predicted the end of the world indicating that there are Mayan references to well beyond 2012, including one to the year 4772 AD.

Dr. David Stuart a Maya scholar and Professor of Mesoamerican Art and Writing at the University of Texas at Austin confirms that 2012 is, "a special anniversary of creation," and further states that, "The Maya never said the world is going to end, they never said anything bad would happen necessarily, they're just recording this future anniversary on Tortuguero Monument Six."

From what I hear the movie appears to be a visual masterpiece (I haven’t seen it) it has been panned as less than mediocre by many critics who laud the eye catching special affects but cringed when any dialogue took place… Seems we can’t have one and the other. Many critics criticized the movie reflecting that its ultimate end didn’t come soon enough. I do not intend to see it…

Sony Pictures spent millions (and will probably make that back and then some) on their pre release hype that included the description of the fictitious Institute for Human Continuity (IHC). The HIC was featured on a 2012 teaser website where we learned it was founded in 1978 and charged with the perpetuation of human life after 2012. HIC created seven free floating space stations, numerous lunar colonies as well as subterranean cities. Not having seen the flick we can assume the development of spaceships (arks?) to transport folks to the space stations and the earth’s moon. Color me a romantic but this somewhat reminds me of Noah’s Ark (what no lions and tigers, Oh my?) and maybe more appropriately the often imitated and iconic Battlestar Galactica where space ships ferry Humans to safe havens on other hospitable planets. Whatever….

Tom Deliso of offered the following observation prior to the Y2K debacle. It certainly sums up my perspective on this whole issue.

“It is no secret that humanity has been a slave to fear and the lower passions. What makes those fears and passions even harder to overcome is the fact that, over the centuries, humanity has been brainwashed by various doom and gloom predictions, made by people that just wanted to make a name for themselves at any cost. These very smart predictors went about and played upon humanity's innate flaw for creating havoc and distress and feeding the frenzy year by year, in the hopes of gaining some kind of recognition, power, or control.”

He was right then and now.

Bottom line: the hype of 2012 (movie or otherwise) is all poppycock and “disaster porn.” Don’t sell your house and/or give away your possessions; don’t do in your spouse, children and pets. You will still be around on December 22, 2012 ready to go to work and pay taxes and engage all the great to mundane activities and tasks that make life what it is…. just another turn of the page. Please remember that the Maya were smart but not to the degree that that they could even predict or prevent their own demise over a thousand years ago. They were done in by their own hand and had little control over or appreciation for their environment.

And if you feel that there’s a sense of déjà vu here, it’s probably because so many have predicted this event so many times before. I guess that in 5 billion years when the sun finally does go super nova whatever is left of humanity will stand up and utter, “Aha!”

In keeping with probable Maya intentions, let’s use 2012 as yet another excuse for the positive celebration of life – the achievement of another significant milestone in the Human calendar and the opportunity to salute our ancestors and encouragement & inspiration for future generations.

And, hey, Happy Baktun 13 and, yes, I used to have a cat named Quetzalcoatl.


Ned Buxton

Saturday, November 14, 2009


“I am taking part of my lunch hour to write you a letter. My telephone has been busy all morning, telling me of the increasing demoralization of business and industry and the crumbling of all commodity and security values to absurd levels. Unemployment is growing rather than diminishing and manufacturing plants of every character are facing either drastic curtailment or shutdown. All these matters raise very serious problems affecting the economic structure of our country and the world and with them must necessarily come problems which have grave consequences upon the social fabric. There are now relatively few rich men left and that select and limited group find the value of their accumulations shrinking daily and the prospect of tremendous income and inheritance taxes imminent.

I tell you these things first, as a matter of general business information and second, so that you may consider them as factors in the working out of your own program of life and philosophy.

Civilization has previously gone though major depressions both ancient and modern. We had four or five hundred years of depression in the Dark Ages, after the fall of Rome and since the advent of the modern industrial age, immediately following the Napoleonic Wars, we have had two or three periods of deflation probably as bad as anything we have gone through thus far. Nevertheless, it may be a long time before we return to the standards of the Golden Age, the decade which followed the World War. The men with the best training, serious purpose, dependable character and a capacity for hard work will have the best time in our lifetime, at least.

You must realize and I believe you do, that you have passed out of the college boy phase and atmosphere and are no long justified in regarding yourself as a playboy. I am of course, disappointed that you are not to have the experience in Labrador, with its combination of service and contact with that “primitive life” which prevails on the vast majority of the Earth’s surface.

If will be a misfortune if you do not have some definite experience with that kind of manual labor by which most men live. You will not understand your fellow man or be able to lead them unless you have a sympathetic viewpoint based on experience. I spent at least three summers working on your great grandfather’s farm, between the ages of fifteen and eighteen and I am glad that I did. A hayfield is a good test of mental and physical guts on a pleasant August afternoon…likewise, the potato patch and the long rows of corn where the weeds flourish. Wrestling with a tumbled-down stone wall involves a resistance fully as stiff as anything you can get out of the young gentleman from Tufts. All your ancestors have wholeheartedly contacted the handles of both a hoe and a shovel.

Mr. Wyman (Walter S. Wyman, then President of New England Industries) who is recognized as the outstanding business man in the state of Maine, tells me that when his son was graduated from Harvard, he got a job with a road gang and swung a pick for six months, when he was promoted to foreman of the gang, wholly without any assistance or influence from his Father. I think that pleased Mr. Wyman more than anything his son has done subsequently.

Mr. Wyman has a very large farm at Winthrop, Maine. He employs about thirty men. He told me that if you wanted a job on this farm, he would be glad to give it to you. I don’t know of any other job available. It is possible that I could ask some textile friend to give you some apprentice job in a textile mill, but I don’t think you would find it as agreeable as outdoor work - or as beneficial. Bobby Goddard is going to work for a month in one of our mills in Maine in the city of Lewiston and while I believe you should be anxious to have some similar experiences later, I would not recommend it for this summer, unless all other possibilities fail. If you wish to spend one month of the summer at military camp, I certainly have no objection but I think you will agree with me that the time has gone by for playing the young gentleman of leisure in any fashionable watering place until you can do so on your own.”

When I first read this letter a couple of weeks ago I realized that it could have been written with a few tweaks here and there and in a more contemporary style to represent reaction and analysis of the most recent downturn in the US and world economies. In fact, this letter was written on May 4, 1932 when the United States was in the midst of an even greater financial crisis precipitated in part by overheated, overvalued markets, the subsequent Great Crash of 1929 and the policies (some say wrongheaded) of the Hoover and Roosevelt administrations. Yes, there’s a lot of controversy about those policies… Whatever your perspective, the United States and the World were in desperate straits in 1932.

The taxes the author of this letter was referring to were the huge tax increases precipitated by the Revenue Act of 1932 which raised income tax on the highest incomes from 25% to 63%, doubled estate taxes and, likewise, raised corporate taxes by almost 15%. Believe it or not this act even included a "check tax" that placed a 2-cent tax (over 30 cents in today's dollars) on all bank checks. Many feel that ill advised fiscal policies like this stifled investment and helped to further deepen the depression with most conceding that this was a herculean bipartisan effort.

Whatever the origins, it caused a continued panic among the most wealthy in this country and what was left of their money wasn’t looking for opportunity, rather preservation. History confirms that the S&P 500 bottomed in mid-1932 and then like the phoenix soared nearly 75% in the next three months though basically went sideways thereafter for almost a decade. We know now with our capacity to look backwards that the Great Depression did not technically end until 1941 and the start of World War II giving further credence to the fears and counsel of the writer of this letter.

In keeping with that most popular Bing Crosby 1932 song of the year, Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?, 24.9% (12M+ unemployed) of US workers in a labor force of 51,250,000 (total population of 91,810,000), put that scenario in a much darker context given our recent and seemingly more mundane excursion to just above 10% where 15.7 million (M) are unemployed out of a total US labor force of around 154M (US population - 308M). Still impressive numbers but it all points out that we have been here before and will surely be there again.

The writer wasn’t as enthused as an ill-advised Hoover who communicated to businessmen in 1932 his confidence and assurances that the depression wouldn’t last and that, "Prosperity is just around the corner." Hardly anyone believed him and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1932 landslide presidential victory (472 to 59 electoral votes) confirms that most voters felt that Hoover’s approach was, “too little too late".

The author of the letter was my Grandfather, Colonel G. Edward Buxton, Jr, and the recipient was one Coburn Allen Buxton Sr., his son and my Father who was then a student at Babson Institute in Wellesley Hills, MA, near Boston. Yes, Colonel Buxton was the same Man who offered his sage (as he put it “Dutch Uncle”) advice and counsel to one Sergeant Alvin York prior to his heroics. His words then and those above are timeless and hopefully not wasted as they apply equally to the current generation of young men and women. Colonel Buxton put his Brown/Harvard learning and work experience on the line, always worked hard and walked the walk.

By the way, the reference to the stiff resistance of the young gentlemen from Tufts alludes to my Father’s participation on the Babson Varsity soccer team (aye, The Beavers). Tufts College (now University and home to the remains of Barnum’s Jumbo the Elephant) was then, as now, a traditional and formidable adversary in athletics.

Though his business reputation had been honed and polished as a journalist and newspaperman with the Providence Journal, the textile industry beckoned and Buxton assumed senior management responsibilities (VP and Treasurer 1920-26, President 1926-1935) with the new B. B. & R. Knight Co. which at one time with 22 mills, was the largest producer of cotton products in the world. With headquarters in New York City, they owned many textile plants and brands in New England to include Dan River and the still famous Fruit of The Loom labels, among others.

Colonel Buxton, even as a national depression loomed, was elected President of the National Association of Cotton Manufacturers on October 28, 1927. He assured and prepared the 500 delegates of that body’s annual convention, thusly.

“Today finds us working and planning to meet changing conditions. To the utmost of our abilities, we are adapting our equipment and organizations making them more flexible; endeavoring to create better methods of merchandizing; getting in closer touch with our markets; recognizing the consumers demand for individuality and personality and style and beauty in color and outline and weave and standards of quality. Such changes come about very gradually, no matter how great the energy behind them.”

Of course, the Great Depression followed and prompted the steep fall of cotton prices that further rippled into a general industrial malaise that contributed to reduced consumer spending and confidence in the economy. Sound familiar? The special significance of Buxton’s contribution during this period was that he cajoled, educated and then successfully managed/guided Knight and other companies with a minimum loss of facilities and the preservation and maintenance of thousands of jobs. Buxton’s focus was always the preservation and integrity of American industry and the status of each and every worker. He understood that the individual worker was the backbone of our economy. His effort was courageous and heroic and he was rewarded with continuing and ever increasing management responsibilities.

From 1932 to 1939 while still president and later Chairman of the Board of B. B. & R. Knight Co, Buxton was elected president of a group of five Maine textile plants to include Androscoggin Mills, Bates Manufacturing Company, Edward Manufacturing Company, Hill Manufacturing Company and York Manufacturing Company, all owned by New England Industries and affiliated with the New England Public Service Company. His Friendship with Walter S. Wyman, President of New England Industries pompted the “Maine” remarks in his above letter.

Buxton successfully guided Knight and those Maine mills through the maelstrom. Following the end of that assignment in Maine, the Lewiston, ME Journal reflected that, “Colonel Buxton had come to Lewiston in the depths of the depression, in trying days and times that have left their mark indelibly. Colonel Buxton’s efforts were heroic in keeping the mill wheels turning and in promotion of their products. He was genuinely interested in the civic problems in the cities where the mills were located and understood the meaning of good will.”

Would that we had more astute Colonel Buxtons who could actively counsel and advise us to keep our attention on our narrow but necessary path. Given all the current distractions, maybe we should require at least one year of mending stone walls and manually tending the fields in the hands-on Amish style? The activities which require contact with the handles of both hoe and shovel (no harrows, please!) are builders of integrity for the young men and women who will ultimately lead our country. Engaging the “primitive life” will allow for the best training and definition of serious purpose – where they can develop a dependable character and a capacity for hard work. Aye, those who successfully find and “negotiate that course will have the best time in our lifetime, at least.”

All too often folks in the 21st century want to transition from classroom to boardroom with no real training or seasoning – that incredibly naïve immediate gratification thing. Earn your degree, have a plan and then follow it. Yea, this is basic stuff. Your degree may open doors, but from there the real work starts. Earn the attention and respect of your fellow workers many from different cultures by mastering your tasks (however mundane), achieving your goals and work objectives by contributing and performing at the highest level. Be a great communicator, facilitator and build consensus for your tasks and perspectives. Understand that all jobs are important and significant to a healthy organization. The chairmen of my last two major employers started working in their respective companies as a mail clerk and retail representative. Example set.

So, Ladies and Gentleman of the future, plan well and note that the advice offered herein is still valid. It may very well be that given the current conditions all of us, young and old, will ultimately head for the fields with hoe and shovel in hand. And Me? I think I'll head for Labrador.


Ned Buxton

Sunday, November 8, 2009


The tragic and untimely death of the beautiful and talented Canadian folk musician Taylor Mitchell, 19, of Toronto reminds us once again that we are but fragile and transient visitors on this planet. Taylor was engaging an innocent daytime foray, hiking solo along on the Skyline Trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia, Canada when she in a so called “unprecedented and a totally isolated incident” was inexplicably mauled by two coyotes. Canadian Conservation Officers and Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) hunted and put down two of the animals and killed a third large male who appeared human habituated and was demonstrating aggressive behaviors.

In a previous Might of Right post Critters In Our Midst (3/21/09) we noted the marked resurgence and expansion of many native species including the bobcat that have been slowly reclaiming their former territories and all to the chagrin of the human beings that now live in those areas. The mass slaughter almost to extinction of native fauna that was the mantra of a less sensitive (“brutal and heartless”) population a century ago has now turned to a more tolerant society, yea, even sponsorship of native species that has allowed the bobcat, bear, mountain lion, wolf, raptors and others to regain at least part of their former range. It has artificially allowed the wily and opportunistic coyote to expand well out of its traditional range. And that ironically puts them in direct conflict, competition if you will, with many of those more highly educated, tolerant and “civilized” members of Homo sapiens that seemingly, instinctively allowed for that rebirth.

The other day a young female red tailed hawk slap dab in the middle of densely populated far north Dallas took a gray squirrel out of the oak tree in the front yard, dispatched it on the lush St. Augustine lawn and after an interval of about ten minutes flew off with squirrel (expired) in tow all to the horror of the other squirrels in the tree (especially one) and the chagrin of a fancy Lady in a flowery shirt and white pedal pushers walking two small white poodles down the sidewalk. The point is that nature in all its primal state is being engaged all around us. Like it or not the dance of life and death and the balance of nature is integral to all lives including our own. We are all connected, an integral part of that choreography and the wildlife cited heretofore are our neighbors. Perhaps we/they need to be closer still…

Residents of other north Texas communities like Plano and Frisco who have been complaining about the local wildlife to local animal control authorities have been dismayed with their response: a hands-off, part of the landscape approach. Collin County, Texas authorities have been trying to educate residents on how to assume more responsibility for their children and pets. It seems, and rightfully so, that the message is all about coexisting with the native wildlife. That same approach appears to be the mantra throughout the United States with the assumption that wildlife was here well before we moved in and, yes, they have a right to remain here.

I remember several years ago in Huntersville, North Carolina where the Catawba Valley Scottish Society’s herd of West Highland cattle (those hairy coos) at the historic Rural Hill Farm was thought to be in danger by bands of marauding coyotes that had taken down scores of Angus calves on a neighboring, much larger farm. We all prepared to engage the enemy with some of the more stalwart male, testosterone-infused members unpacking our rifles and readying ourselves for a vigilante coyote tour of our 265 acres. That call never came. It seems that the “ladies” in the herd have an incredibly strong protective maternal instinct and armed with those very impressive horns used them against several coyote interlopers whose carcasses were proof of the cattle’s ability to protect themselves. There were no worries after that.

Maybe, just maybe, the restoration of the balance of nature might be the answer to control populations of those very few hybrid, human food-conditioned, maybe diseased but definitely Human-habituated and opportunistic canines and other predator populations that can present a danger to Man.

The use of guarding animals like livestock guarding dogs (LGD) is an ancient practice in existence for millennia (2,500 to 9,000+ years) in Europe and Asia (and now the US and Canada) where they protected sheep and other types of livestock. We have also seen donkeys and llamas used effectively as guarding animals. So, while LGD and other guard animals may help protect hearth and home to include pets and children in mostly suburban/farmland/ranch situations, we obviously can’t take our very large LGD or donkeys or llamas with us while we go hiking. In fact if you take a dog on the trail with you it might even attract attention and be perceived as a threat by wolves, coyotes or bears. The majority of national parks do not allow dogs on any hiking, walking or backcountry trails.

We could allow for the reintroduction and recovery of other canid populations like the Gray Wolf that places the coyote at the top of their hit list and would substantially reduce coyote populations like they have in Yellowstone (by 50%) and Grand Teton (33%).

Reintroduction of the Red wolf in Tennessee wasn’t successful but fared much better in northeastern North Carolina. Hybridization with Coyotes, however, appears to be the primary threat to the Red Wolf’s survival with (not so ironically) hybridization the main factor in the Red Wolf's initial demise in the wild. Some folks think this makes an even greater case for a more widespread reintroduction of the Gray Wolf though some might offer that we are just trading one “problem” for another.

We can probably take other precautions while on the trail that would allow our survival in case of a confrontation. Those options might include carrying a weapon like a gun (pistol or rifle) and Congress has been lately debating that issue. In reality they probably wouldn’t help if stowed in your pack and weapons in national parks and wildlife areas except by those authorities licensed to carry them would probably only get you in major trouble. How about a stun gun? They appear to be legal in most US states (with limitations) though they are illegal in Canada especially Parks Canada where Taylor Mitchell was attacked. They appear to also be illegal in US National Parks.

Some Friends have suggested the use of wasp spray with its concentrated, long range spray as a defense against a predator, human or bear/coyote/wolf/dog though the thought that this might provoke them all the more entered my mind. also reflected that wasp spray is probably illegal as a defensive (or otherwise) weapon. The label on at least one product states that “It is a violation of Federal law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling.” Bottom line: It’s not legal for other than its intended use – killing wasps. Apparently these insect sprays use pyrethrins which apparently pose a greater danger to humans than initially thought. Now this generally assumes use against a human being and not a dog, coyote, bear, etc. Check with your attorney and proceed with caution.

Another option is either Bear or Dog Pepper Spray (not the old Mace) which does come in models that offer long and accurate concentrated sprays that appear to be the equal or better than wasp spray (up to 40 feet). That said, US Federal law prohibits the carrying, possession or use any form of bear spray, pepper spray, mace or any other irritant gas spray in US National Parks? We have seen this law overridden by superintendents such as Grand Teton National Park Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott who has encouraged its use as a non lethal self defense alternative. Apparently when pepper spray is marketed as a wild animal repellent, then the possession and use thereof is legal when locally approved.

In Canada bear sprays are regulated by Health Canada and their Pest Control Products Act. Health Canada has requested that a seemingly uncooperative Canadian Customs consider bear spray as a pesticide (not a weapon) and ignore the $10 exception limit. Apparently Canadian Customs has acquiesced. So, pepper spray marketed as a bear deterrent by the manufacturer and so declared will pass through Customs though it would appear far more hassle free to just buy the product in Canada.

If you are going to use Pepper Spray make sure that you carry it so you can quickly retrieve it. Pepper spray buried deep in your pack does little good when a predator is attacking you. Hang it on your pack or your belt and when you are approaching an area that could present danger, have it ready to use.

Some folks have recommended the use of strobe lights and siren/electronic noise devices (Ah Wilderness!) which have been somewhat successful and probably does nothing more than startle the predator. But, that’s OK if it gives you time to make good your escape.

Well, after all that I guess that the ideal scenario is to avoid placing ourselves in jeopardy and the necessity to employ a defense whether it be pepper (bear/dog) spray, stun guns, wasp spray, etc. I suppose that’s the tail wagging the coyote for that would mean cloistering ourselves in our homes and not engaging life. No matter what we do short of exterminating these animals will prevent their ultimate and continuing recovery and expansion. The coyote is an evolutionary work in progress and I have asked myself whether they could have progressed to this degree had the Gray Wolf survived. I don’t think so.

It would appear that many species (natural or reintroduced) will continue to habituate themselves to Man and these incidents will likely continue and even escalate in frequency. A cursory review of the Internet shows Coyote–Human incidents and interactions underreported and certainly on the rise (more later).

Our unfortunate reality is that while we have been sleeping, the rules have changed. We can no longer escape and strike out into the wilderness to cleanse ourselves - to regain our sanity - to soothe our souls from the monotony and tedium of our everyday work worlds without taking such heroic precautions that it potentially demeans the intent of that effort. Heck we can’t even walk, run or bike on city or suburban trails without a higher vigilance and making provisions for self defense in our violent and many times desperate society. If one of our heretofore mentioned canids doesn’t present a threat, then perhaps a fellow Homo sapiens might. The age of innocence is gone forever.

We can’t count on the Wilderness as an idyllic Thoreau-inspired haven. Our Wilderness areas are now highly managed and are just barely surviving the encroachment of Man. In fact, the ultimate recovery of the wilderness may very well be the harbinger of our own ultimate demise. Anybody for an afternoon of hunting and gathering? The anthropologist in me says that something’s gotta give and that something is probably us. My early responsible experiences in the wilderness are no longer reality, instead the memories of a bygone past – and not a pleasant entertainment – rather, a startling reality that should scare the hell out of all of us. We need to restore some balance…

Taylor was an environmentalist, “passionate about animals” and she strode into a popular Canadian national park with youthful exuberance and misplaced confidence in and naïveté of that environment. We mourn her passing and pray that her death will mark the adoption of more mature perspectives about our native wildlife and our environment as a whole. Taylor Mitchell’s Mother, Emily, when she was made aware of the intent to kill the coyotes involved in her daughter’s killing commented, “'Please don't, this is their space.' She wouldn't have wanted their demise, especially as a result of her own.” She continued, "We take a calculated risk when spending time in nature's fold -- it's the wildlife's terrain."

While true, I don’t completely share this incredibly generous and compassionate plea. Those coyotes appeared to be well beyond the pale and should have been put down as they would have likely repeated those behaviors (see Dr. Geist below). When a species like coyotes lose their fear and wariness of Man and become conditioned to our presence that generally spells trouble for them and us.

I also still wonder if this is really, “their space” and just another human manipulated aberration and species outside their native range in the same class as the Russian boar in the southeastern United States, the zebra mussel in the Great Lakes, the gray squirrel in Europe and the starlings in New York. For those of you out there that denounced the killing of the coyotes, just remember they blatantly and without provocation attacked Taylor while other hikers were nearby. We don’t need to be Kum By Ya stupid when a situation is clearly out of control.

This attack appears to be part of a classic, predictable, deliberate targeting process used by wolves and coyotes and we all need to be aware of this habituation-exploration model. The Might of Right directs your attention to Dr. Val Geist, retired wildlife biologist and Ph.D. Professor Emeritus of Environmental Science at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada who has identified seven classic stages
leading up to attacks on people by wolves and coyotes. Dr. Geist had determined via interviews with hikers and Cape Breton National Park staff that the coyotes of Cape Breton National Park were already in the latter phases of this process with the end stage being attacks on Humans. So, I ask, were warnings posted and hikers carefully educated on the dangers? I don’t know the answer but pray that all cautions be taken from this point on whether it be on Cape Breton Island or in Frisco, Texas.

Frankly, we created this problem and that becomes apparent when we realize that recovery and reintroduction are quite different than expansion. In the mid 1800’s the range of the coyote was primarily limited to the American West and Northwest including open prairies and grasslands, sagebrush lands and brushy mountains As we have noted, the larger and more powerful Gray Wolves primarily occupied the forests and kept coyote populations well in check.

The highly adaptable and enterprising coyote, however, has evolved in the Americas by taking full advantage of human activities and that especially includes the substantial reduction of Gray Wolf populations to expand their range throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and Central America. They are now found in all their traditional haunts as well as forests, deserts, islands (including Cape Breton Island and Newfoundland), agricultural areas, and most urban environments. They have mated with dogs and gray/red wolves and may eventually upset that DNA applecart. On Cape Breton with its limited prey populations the coyote has already put the Canada lynx, rock vole and Gaspé shrew in jeopardy.

The presence of coyotes on Cape Breton Island was but the harbinger of their continued migration that now includes Newfoundland and Labrador. Seems that the coyote arrived there in the mid nineteen-eighties from Cape Breton by crossing the Gulf of St. Lawrence on the winter ice pack. We suspect that the coyote will do well in Newfoundland (no Gray Wolves) while Labrador may be the northern most migration possible as they will most certainly run into a healthy Gray Wolf population and the southern most migration of polar bears.

It appears that we have three options here. The total extermination of the coyote or any predator species that poses a risk to man, the present coexistence/management scenario or an apathetic comme ci, comme ça stroll where we let it all go and trip the light fantastic back to our primal past….and let an altered nature take its course. Of course, that will probably happen whether we consider it an option or not. Whatever option we engage, an increased vigilance (no
“Sunnydale Syndromes” please) and understanding of our environment is absolutely necessary.

I do concede and agree that the wilderness and the rest of our planet belong to all forms of life. While Taylor’s passing may prompt us to responsibly recalculate our environmental paradigms and understand the ultimate consequences of our presence on this planet, I am reminded of two Friends who successfully traversed a long stretch of the Appalachian Trail and made calculated provisions for their safety and protection against predators – human and canid. It was nickel plated.

The next time I hit the trail I might opt for a Cromack and my (imaginary) pet Gray Scottish Wolf Badb Catha of Ackergill to wit,
A far croonin' is pullin' me away As tak I wi' my cromack an wolffis to the road.

Rest in peace, Taylor Mitchell and God Bless You.


Ned Buxton