The Opening Day of Elk Season.

IT WAS DAYLIGHT in the swamp on the opening day of elk season.

It is a day steeped in a tradition that harkens back to an earlier time when people depended on getting an elk for their winter’s meat.

With the European invasion, the Olympic elk were market hunted for their meat, antlers, hides and ivory teeth, or just shot and left to rot by thrill-seeking lowlifes who liked to watch them fall.

In 1905, the Washington State Legislature stopped all elk hunting.

In 1909,President Teddy Roosevelt, one of the greatest elk hunters who ever lived, established Mount Olympus National Monument, a precursor of Olympic National Park, to save the elk.

The government put a bounty on wolves, bears and cougars.

Varmint hunting became respectable.

It was a way many homestead families could survive the Great Depression in the wilderness.

By 1937, the elk had expanded beyond the carrying capacity of many parts of their range.

Elk were starving and loaded with internal parasites.

The Game Commission opened an eight-day season in October and November in Clallam and Jefferson counties for any and all elk.

William (Billy) Welsh a columnist for the Port Angeles Evening News, a forerunner of the Peninsula Daily News, journeyed to the upper Hoh River that October to cover what he called “The Elk War.”

Welch, described the opening-day salvo as 5,280 elk hunters opened fire on previously unhunted elk as a “battle.”

As with any battle, there were casualties.

Before our current emphasis on hunter safety, it was a common practice for groups of hunters to surround an unsuspecting elk herd and open fire.

This meant the hunters were often firing at each other while blazing away at the elk.

One man died in a fusillade of bullets fired at a bull elk.

A boy shot himself in the leg while cleaning his gun.

Three hunters were badly burned when one of the nimrods shot a can of gasoline inside their tent.

Another drowned trying to drive through the flooding Hoh River before the invention of four-wheel drive.

The casualties might have been higher, but a gully-washer dumped 10 inches of rain. The elk hunters were forced to concentrate on just trying to survive.

Welch described the sorry spectacle when thousands of soaking-wet elk hunters tried to drown their sorrows in liquor.

They descended upon Forks, which had run out of whiskey long before the elk season had even started.

All Forks had left was some gin, which was never very popular on the frontier.

In all, an estimated 800 elk, one donkey and a pack horse were killed.

In his book, “The Last Wilderness,” Murray Morgan described a farmer’s cow that was mistaken for an elk and shot.

The farmer propped the cow up against a tree, where it kept getting shot all season long by confused hunters.

As the story goes, after elk season, the farmer melted her down for lead.

This past opening day of elk season was mighty quiet.

I did not hear a single shot fired.

Things have changed. The wolves may be gone, but the cougars and bears are protected by laws against hound hunting.

Their numbers have sky-rocketed.

Meanwhile, the elk have been hunted to near death.

The big herds of 60 or 70 elk are gone — replaced by bunches of a dozen or so with few legal bulls.

I quit and went home before noon.

There were fresh elk tracks in the lawn.

If I had just slept in and stayed home, I might have got an elk.

Oh well, maybe next year.

The Day After the Election.

“THE WHOLE COUNTRY is going to hell in a bucket now that we’ve elected those idiots,” my fancy friend shrieked the day after the election.

“Which idiot is that?” I asked, pretending to care.

There’s nothing like talking politics to ruin a perfectly beautiful fall day spent floating down the river catching salmon.

When you’re hooked up to a big king salmon, you generally don’t care who the president is.

Once the fishing gets slow, people get bored and start bad-mouthing politicians, no matter who they are.

America is a nation of laws.

I don’t make the rules, but I try to follow them.

Similarly, there are rules at the fish camp that allow a free discourse of opposing ideas about the cuisine, the weather and the estimated weight of a fish, while preserving a civilized decorum of relaxation and good taste.

I like to celebrate diversity of opinion as much as the next guy.

We have even let a fly fisherman into the fish camp in the interest of burying the hatchet on the row vs. wade controversy.

Fly fishermen typically wade the river. I row a boat down the river.

Can’t we all get along?

The first rule in any fish camp is, no arguments before breakfast.

Chances are if you wait until after breakfast, you’ll forget what you were arguing about.

Rule No. 2, no bear meat in the chili contest. That should be self-explanatory.

The final and most important rule in any fish camp is no politics.

Start talking politics and you are gone.

Politics has always been a nasty business.

Aristophanes said it best when he summed up what constitutes a popular politician, “a horrible voice, bad breeding and a vulgar manner.”

Since then, the abuse of politicians has become the great American pastime, where we conveniently forget we voted them into office against our own self-interest in the first place and keep them enthroned until they are rich and old.

But if you think we bad-mouth politicians now, it’s nothing compared to the good old days.

George Washington was the father of our country, but he had an enemy list as long as your arm.

Fortunately, these events occurred in a period of our history when journalists had a command of the English language.

James Thomson Callender, a reporter for The Richmond Recorder, called President Washington, “the grand lama of the federal adoration, in immaculate divinity of Mount Vernon.”

Callender described our second president, John Adams, as a “hideous hermaphroditical character which has neither the force nor firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”

He accused Adams of wanting to crown himself king and said “it would have been best to have President Jefferson beheaded five minutes before his inaugural address.”

Journalism has always been a risky business.

Destitute and drunk, Callender was found drowned in 3 feet of water in the James River in Virginia.

Not much has changed since the time of our founding fathers.

We are still using the Electoral College to elect our president.

Journalists still use eye-catching headlines to increase sales. And if we have to exaggerate and speculate to educate, so much the better.

In this age of misinformation, all news is suspect.

Journalists have to face the facts these days that nobody will believe what we write anyway.

Still, at the end of the day, Americans can be proud that we elected the best politicians money can buy.

In these uncertain times, only one thing is certain:

Have some faith — the country will change, but it will survive.

How To Get Lost.

AUTUMN MUST BE my favorite time of year.

There are just so many things to do in this outdoor recreational wonderland that we call home.

You can view the seasonal display of fall leaves.

Watch the majestic migration of millions of birds along our coastline. Or engage in one of the more popular activities, getting lost in the wilderness.

Getting lost in the wilderness is not as easy as it once was since there is so much less wilderness to get lost in these days.

It’s still possible to get lost, but you might have to work at it.

One of the best ways to get lost is to pick mushrooms.

There are so many different varieties of mushrooms available in our forests these days after our heavy rains, but the most popular seems to be the chanterelle.

Chanterelles, with their golden color, meaty caps and fluted stems are easy to identify.

Rich in flavor with an earthy aroma that is difficult to describe, the chanterelle was once famous as a delicacy for the nobility of Europe.

The chanterelle is not only delicious, it’s high in vitamin C and one of the richest sources of vitamin D.

The chanterelle can be sautéed and frozen without losing its flavor.

The pioneer method of preserving the chanterelle by drying them seems to intensify their flavor.

The dried chanterelle can be ground into a sort of flour for making soups and sauces but, of course, you have to pick them first.

To pick the chanterelle you have to get out into the forest and look for them.

You set out through the woods with your eyes on the forest floor, searching for treasure with a wild joy upon your heart strings.

It’s like the Easter egg hunt of your dreams.

In almost no time, you lose your sense of direction — which leads to increasing anxiety and a sudden realization that you are truly lost.

Sometimes, when you are lost, it is good to know how you got there.

You look for your own tracks in hopes of following them back through the woods to something that looks familiar, but there is no sign of a footprint or broken branch.

Everything looks the same.

You look at your compass, but it is useless because you didn’t take a reading before you got lost.

Your phone is useless because it got wet, has a dead battery, or a combination of weather and forest canopy blocks your signal.

You are lost.

Experts say you should never panic when you are lost.

These are the same experts that tell us not to panic when you are attacked by a grizzly bear, the IRS or a telemarketer.

You try not to panic, but face it, no one knows where you went so they will have no idea where to look.

By the time anyone bothers to start the search, you’ll probably be frozen to death or eaten by who knows what.

There are 200-pound cougars, 500-pound bears and 600-pound apes said to roam these woods.

People disappear all the time in the vast wilderness of the Olympic Peninsula without a trace. And you’re not supposed to panic? Good luck with that.

Getting lost is not an ideal form of recreation for everyone, but you can do it if you try.

Just remember to go into the woods alone, don’t tell anyone where you’re going or when you‘re coming back, and don’t bother looking at a compass.

By following these simple rules, you, too, can get lost in the wilderness.

It is the ultimate outdoor adventure.

October Fishing Madness.

IT WAS ANOTHER tough week in the news.

An invasion of desperate anglers spread quickly across the Olympic Peninsula from the Dungeness River, west to the Quileute, then south to the Humptulips and every river in-between.

Tourists have been coming here for salmon ever since July 1790, when the old Spanish Sea Captain Manuel Quimper purchased some 100-pound salmon from the Klallam somewhere off the mouth of the Elwha River.

These 100-pound salmon have probably been extinct for about 100 years or more, but the tourists don’t care. They still come here trying to catch one.

No one in recent history has witnessed such crowded conditions on our waters.

The rivers and the roads leading to them were in a state of gridlock.

Boat launches were plugged with people who obviously did not back up with a boat trailer more than once a year, resulting in a round of pungent witticisms from the crowd as the rush of visitors attempted to fish in the solitude that they, and flocks of their fellow anglers, came here to discover and enjoy.

In the old days, we used to say that, when the rivers got crowded with people, you would have to bring your own rock to stand on if you wanted a place to fish, but no more. Putting a rock in or along the river is probably illegal these days. You may want to check what the current fishing regulations say about moving rocks before possibly incurring a criminal record. You may require an attorney to understand the Washington fishing laws. If you cannot afford an attorney, you probably can’t afford fishing.

Although, financial considerations often go out the window when it comes to fishing these days.

This is not a cane pole, safety pin for a hook and a worm for bait kind of fishing.

Fishing poles are now called rods that can cost many hundreds of dollars.

Fishing lures come in a dizzying variety of types and sizes that cost at least $5 or more.

At some of the more popular fishing holes, the tree limbs are festooned with a festive display of lures that make you wonder if some people are fishing for squirrels.

Fish don’t usually get up in the tree limbs until the water is higher.

People who fish for salmon don’t care how much it costs.

It’s like we say on the river, “One man’s hoarding disorder is another’s tackle collection.”

We figure whoever dies with the biggest tackle box wins.

River boats can cost many thousands of dollars, even though internal-combustion motors are illegal on our rivers.

It doesn’t matter.

Even without a motor, it is possible to pump a small fortune into the hole in the water also known as a boat. A heated pole-holder alone can cost many thousands of dollars.

Still, there are times in the murk of morning fog, beneath the dim shape of the overhanging rain forest, that the magic happens.

The rod goes down. The line peels out.

There is something big on the other end.

It’s moving downstream like it’s going to swim back out to the ocean. We pull the anchor to chase it down and try to pull it in.

Is it a hundred-pound salmon brought back from the brink of extinction? No.

It turns out to be a black plastic garbage sack full of water.

They can put up quite a fight if you snag them just right.

Maybe we didn’t catch a salmon, but we did our small part to clean up the river.

Fish on!

A Star is Born.

IT WAS GOING to be one of those days when anything could happen.

I was embarking on a new reality television career.

My agent said it was a part that would give me more exposure and expand my career into limitless horizons.

There was almost no doubt the money, fame and tax shelters would soon follow. Not to mention the fine-tuned sense of revenge on the Cretans who said I would never make it in show business.

Still, it was humbling just to be offered a chance to be part of a new television series that would revolutionize our modern entertainment experience.

For far too long, watching television has been a harrowing experience of shock and horror.

Our senses have been overwhelmed with screen images filled with violent, senseless examples of a divided culture in a final state of decline, disruption and decadence that reminds one of the fall of the Roman Empire with smartphones — and that’s just the evening news.

The rest of the TV lineup is worse than that.

And here I was being offered a chance to change television as we know it.

It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to introduce to American audiences an educational, inspirational and uplifting viewing experience that would provide a shining beacon to humanity.

Well, forget the fame and fortune. It was enough to help others with a strong story line and a happy ending.

Excited beyond words, I began prepping for the audition.

It was a harrowing experience not unlike what we professional actors call method acting. That’s where the actor attempts to perform a sincere and emotionally expressive performance by fully inhabiting the role of the character.

Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman are all method actors, and I figured anything they could do, I could do better.

Truly inhabiting the character in this new reality show seemed to take forever, but it was necessary to get into the flow of the story.

I began prepping the day before the audition by drinking a gallon or so of a certain beverage.

In the interest of full-disclosure let me just say, I did require drugs to fully get into character, but these were not recreational pharmaceuticals, no.

Just a certain tonic to get my body to perform.

Sometimes you have to do what you have to do to meet the director’s bizarre demands, and if that’s what it takes, we method actors do what we have to do to practice our craft and get the part.

I had a lot riding on my new career.

Failure was not an option because if I blew it, I would have to endure a second audition.

After I was sufficiently prepared, I checked into the luxury suites at the Olympic Medical Center.

This was the secret location for the new reality show, “Colonoscopy with the Stars,” where each week some of the biggest colons in show business will drop by for a video tour of their colons.

Then, a panel of judges, audience members and all the folks at home will match the mystery colons to the stars for cash and prizes.

“Colonoscopy with the Stars” is diagnostic and therapeutic.

It could help you avoid the fate of 50,000 Americans who die from colorectal cancer every year.

I knew I had to get my colonoscopy first before all the other show business weasels horned in on my idea.

At one point, things got very sleepy.

I went away to a happy place and came back again with a pristine colon. And that is how a star is born.

Dogs I Have Known.

OFTEN ALONG ABOUT this time of year I get to thinking about my old hunting dogs.

There was Finn the Irish Wolfhound who liked to chase coyotes.

There was Boone the Basset Hound who liked to chase anything. He even got picked up by the Game Warden for chasing deer. He brought Boone back home because a Basset Hound just isn’t going to chase a deer very far. In fact, Boone wasn’t all that great of an all-around hunting dog anyway. He hated water or even getting his feet wet, and he never retrieved anything he didn’t eat first.

So, if you were planning on a Sunday chicken dinner using a grouse you just shot, you had better get to the bird before Boone did.

Then there was George, a five-dollar terrier-spaniel mutt that was like the Tasmanian Devil on steroids. By the time George retrieved a bird it was tenderized.

So, once again, if you planned on sharing the coveted game bird in a sumptuous repast with family and friends, you had best get to it before George did.

Then there was Bert the Airedale. Bert wasn’t much of a hunting dog, but it didn’t matter.

Whoever thought up the term “heart wrapped in fur” might well have been referring to the Airedale.

Being with Bert in the woods was like having a seeing-eye dog or, more precisely, a smelling-nose dog.

This country is so brushy it’s hard to see anything. And since a human’s nose isn’t near as sharp as a dog’s, they can tell you what they are smelling long before you can get a whiff. Bert could anyway.

You could tell what Bert was smelling by the way he growled.

He had a different growl for cougar or bear. Another growl for deer and elk, and yet another quiet growl if there were other humans about.

With Bert by your side, you could tell what was in the vicinity long before you saw it.

Maybe I don’t have a dog now because it’s just too hard to lose them.

You can sugarcoat it any way you want and figure that humans generally live longer than dogs, so we can have a lot of them in our lives, but that does us no darned good when we lose another one like Maisy.

She was just another chocolate lab in a fish camp when I met her.

I knew something was terribly wrong with her.

Labrador retrievers usually bark at you just as a sort of introduction and as a way to get you to throw them a stick or a ball — not Maisy.

She was curled up on her bed looking at the floor.

Was she sick? Did she eat a spawned-out salmon? That can make some dogs very sick, but no, Maisy had just spoken to her humans, the girls back home, on the telephone.

After the call she collapsed on her pet pillow in a fit of despair.

And why not? Here she was stranded hundreds of miles from home in a fish camp full of humans smelling like fish instead of ducks and geese.

Maisy hated fish and fishing. She wanted to go hunting.

I’ll never forget the look she gave us one afternoon as we were reeling in fish after fish.

Maisy sulked in the back of the boat. A huge flock of geese flew over.

She looked at the geese and looked at us with an expression of pure disgust.

Now she is gone to that great flyway in the sky, and we will all miss her.

A Modest Fish Proposal.

THANK YOU FOR reading this.

Sometimes it seems if you didn’t read this, no one would. But you do. You ask questions like, what can be done to restore the Olympic Peninsula’s legendary salmon runs?

As previously mentioned, in the last 20 years we have spent over a billion dollars on salmon restoration in Washington state.

Restoration efforts typically include but are not limited to buying property from willing sellers, spraying herbicides on invasive weeds and building log jams, with no corresponding increase in fish populations.

Meanwhile, the orca are starving for a lack of salmon and our watersheds are starving for the most important element in the temperate rainforest ecosystem, the carcasses of spawned-out salmon. Our salmon have been managed like a garden that is continually harvested but seldom planted.

Maybe if we look back in history, we could learn a thing or two about how the old-timers helped the salmon.

It was known that Native Americans planted salmon eggs in the gravel of streams with no salmon.

This method is currently being used in Maine by the Penobscot Indian Nation to restore Atlantic Salmon.

Sounds pretty simple.

Why can’t we plant salmon eggs in dead creeks here on the Olympic Peninsula? Someone already did.

Missy Barlow, grand-daughter of John Huelsdonk, the Iron Man of the Hoh, was a natural historian with a lifetime of knowledge gained from homesteading at Oil City, at the mouth of the Hoh River.

She was an artist whose work reflected her love of children, cats and the Hoh River country.

Missy had her own method of salmon restoration that might sound familiar to some.

While raising her children on the banks of the Hoh River, she started a 4-H project with some local students.

They hatched salmon and steelhead eggs in Fossil Creek, a small tributary of the lower Hoh River.

“We wanted good fisheries science,” Barlow said in an interview before she passed.

Science is something Missy Barlow would know something about, having a degree in botany from the University of Washington. But she had more than science to guide her restoration efforts.

It was a something that would be considered a rare commodity in our modern world, common sense.

It was this home-grown instinct of responsible stewardship of the land that told her that if there weren’t any salmon in the creek, you put salmon in the creek.

It was as simple as that.

Barlow bought salmon from the Hoh Tribal fishermen.

The 4-H’ers mixed the eggs and milt from the fish in a bucket, let it stand for an hour, then set the eggs into baskets with a slow stream of water running through them.

In a couple of months, the eggs were “eyed out,” that is, almost starting to look like fish.

When their egg sacks were absorbed, the 4-H’ers took the baby fish out to local streams and released them.

The baby 4-H fish acted just like the wild fish. They were wild fish, spawned from fish that swam up the Hoh River.

The baby fish were imprinted to survive a life in the wild.

Shoals of salmon and steelhead returned to the creeks where they had been hatched.

I told Missy that would never work these days.

With no helicopters, excavators or consultants to hire or herbicides to spray, planting fish eggs in creeks wouldn’t cost enough money for the government to even bother with.

Remote-site incubators are a low-budget, low-tech solution that could bring our salmon back — but the fish are worth more as an endangered species, so we won’t even try it.

The Camas Are Blooming.

The Camas Are Blooming

Captain Willian Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition said it best when he first described a prairie of flowering camas on June 10th 1806 as, “a perfect resemblance of lakes of clear water.” Unfortunately, when the Corps of Discovery first tried eating this popular local dish when it was offered by their Nez Perce friends, it took some getting used to. Captain Lewis was very grateful until after supper when he was, “filled so full of wind, that we were scarcely able to breath all night.” The debilitating effects of a new diet of dried fish and camas stopped the expedition in its tracks with a perfect storm of vomiting, diarrhea and flatulence.

This small member of the lily family with a blue hyacinth shaped flower and an edible bulb about the size of a small onion, used to be the most important carbohydrate throughout the Pacific Northwest. Camas was one of an estimated 80 species of plants used for food, fiber and medicines that grew on prairies maintained by the Native American practice of burning the land every three to five years. The fires spurred the growth of useful plants, killed the weeds and kept the trees from taking over the land.

Native American legends say the camas was a gift of “The Great Changer.” This was a mythical hero to many tribes of the Northwest who believed the Changer brought balance to the world by using his power to transform people, animals and landscapes into what we see today. These transformers or changers were called Docuebatl, Kumsnootl and Kwati, (Q’waati) by various tribes. They turned wolves into the Quileute people. Caused the trees to spring up out of the ground and spread camas throughout the region where it has been growing ever since.

Camas was mostly dug in September and October when the bulbs could be preserved the longest. A hundred pounds of camas might be steamed in a stone oven resulting in a gelatinous mass that was pressed into cakes that could be sliced like bread and said to taste not unlike the sweet potato.

In 1999 a highway construction project near Sequim unearthed the remains of a stone camas oven that was used to cook the bulbs 6,000 years ago, indicating camas has been here almost as long as the people.

In May of 1792 Captain George Vancouver sailed his ship Discovery into the Strait of Juan de Fuca where he was so impressed with the beauty of the Sequim Prairie, he named the area “Dungeness” after his home in England.

In 1841 the American explorer Charles Wilkes described the camas prairies as, “All seeming in the utmost order as if man had been ever watchful of its beauty and cultivation.” That is because these gardens had been cultivated for thousands of years.

These indigenous gardens occurred all over the Pacific Northwest. The level, well drained fertile lands were also free of trees which made them very attractive to the invading hordes of European farmers.

The 1500-acre Sequim Prairie was first homesteaded in 1866. The land was considered “unimproved.” The Indian crops were considered weeds and brush. Farmers raised wheat and hogs. The hogs made short work of the camas bulbs.

This pattern of settlement moved to the west end of the Olympic Peninsula where ethnologist Jay Powell documented 9 camas prairies in the Quileute country. Of these only one retains the camas. Located south of Forks along Highway 101. Our one remaining camas prairie can be found in the spring blooming a blue carpet of flowers, “a perfect resemblance of lakes of clear water.”    

Quarantine Chronicles Memorial Day

THAT WAS THE best Memorial Day ever. We may be under a coronavirus lockdown, but all it really took was a little can’t-do attitude to pull it off. Actually, it began on Friday night, when I started things off by not getting ready for the big three-day weekend camping and fishing trip I had been looking forward to all year.

In planning a big trip like this, you may want to start with the basics — food, shelter and clothing. Food is very important on your camping trip because, chances are, it will be raining so hard, you’ll want to spend most of your time eating.

We spend about a third of our lives sleeping, so you want to make sure you have a comfortable bed on any wilderness outing.

Next, you’ll want to pay particularly close attention to your clothing choices. Think rain — lots. Plan on taking rain coats, rain pants and rubber boots, and you can’t go far from wrong. By the time I didn’t get everything packed, I wasn’t sure it would fit in the truck.

That brought up yet another nightmare, getting the truck ready. The last time I got the oil changed, the mechanic said it was making some funny noises. Some folks just need to learn to mind their own business. A real mechanic knows how to deal with scary noises coming out from under the hood.

Turn up the radio. Problem solved.

Next, I concentrated on not getting my fishing gear ready. That was a challenge. It had been so long since I’d been fishing, my tackle box had started to grow things. Before I knew it, the big Memorial Day weekend arrived.

Saturday, I went to a cozy little breakfast place I often enjoyed before not going fishing, called “the kitchen.” After a five-star dining experience of lumpy oatmeal and sour milk, it was time to relax and not read the fishing regulations. Usually upon reading our fishing laws, also known as the Fish Cop Employment Security Act, I’m ready to bust a gasket. By not reading the fishing laws, my blood pressure dropped down to pre-pandemic levels.

The weekend was going pretty smoothly by then. For lunch, I enjoyed a sumptuous repast at an intimate little grotto called “the backyard,” where the peanut butter and jam sandwich surpassed all expectations. After lunch there was plenty of time to enjoy my other hobbies, such as feeling sorry for myself, wallowing in self-pity and cursing my luck in general.

With nothing else to do, I started looking through old pictures. I found some of my old man. He was in the Navy in World War II, stationed on Guam. The Japanese invaded Guam the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, wiping out the American garrison of U.S. Marines, Navy and the Guam Militia. Then they subjected the islanders to 31 months of forced labor, starvation, torture and concentration camps.

That was until July 21, 1944, when the U.S. Marines and Army divisions landed on Guam for a brutal three-week battle during which the Japanese put up a fanatical defense, killing 1,800 Americans. The last Japanese soldier did not surrender until 1972. All for an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that was only 32 miles long.

Suddenly, I felt pretty silly feeling sorry for myself for being stuck at home in a country where you are usually free to do pretty much whatever you want. That’s because of my old man and millions of his fellow service men and women.

Remembering that made it the best Memorial Day ever.

Quarantine Chronicles: The Herd.

IT WAS DAYLIGHT in the swamp. I was already late for a very important date. Breakfast with the ladies. They consider breakfast the most important meal of the day. I would have called them with a list of excuses for being late, but they were smarter than most humans. They didn’t carry phones or care about yakking on them all day. They wouldn’t care if the truck had a dead battery, a leaky radiator and the low tire. They just figured a man is either as good as his word or he’s not.

The fact remained that I was late, and there was going to be trouble.  Sure enough, the herd was starring daggers at me when I backed into the barn to load hay. They started an insistent mooing to register a complaint about breakfast being delayed.

Which was entirely understandable. Some tend to get a little ornery at feeding time. When I got the truck loaded with hay, the mooing stopped. The ominous silence meant they were maneuvering around the back of the barn to get into position to rush the gate as soon as I opened it.

We both knew the drill. They’re not too hard to figure out because cows are just like people. Even though there was enough food for everyone to eat their fill, they were going to panic, stampede and fight over it. I had to get the hay off the truck before that happened and I got squished. Getting caught between a cow and their hay could be painful, if not fatal.

That must be why the rancher’s parting words of advice were, “don’t let them kill you.”

I didn’t.

With breakfast served, the herd calmed down and ate for a few hours. They got a drink and lay down to chew their cud. Watching cows fight over hay is not unlike watching humans battle over toilet paper. There’s plenty for everyone, but they like to fight over it. This is an illustration of the herd mentality in humans.

Experts tell us our primitive brains go into panic mode in threatening situations, causing us to freak out, stampede and hoard things we don’t need, no matter what the cost. That can give us an illusory sense of control in an out-of-control world. It can cause the rest of the herd to panic and stampede into grocery stores and gun stores and buy things they don’t need because everyone else is doing it.

Last weekend was a perfect example. After buying as many groceries as they could possibly hoard, the herd decided it was the perfect time to go on a vacation. Everyone went out to their favorite recreational area to enjoy the sunshine because everyone else was doing it. Never mind warnings from doctors to stay home.

Instead, the herd panicked and stampeded, possibly spreading the Coronavirus farther, but who knows, since tests for it are scarce. The herd ignored disaster-preparedness experts who are telling us to have two weeks of supplies on hand. Instead, when alarmed, the herd panicked and stocked up on disinfectant wipes, which were flushed down the toilet to clog the sewers.

The herd ignores doctors, disaster-relief experts and plumbers. The herd listens to scammers and TV preachers. Some day, the human herd needs to develop an alternative to the automatic panic and stampede response. Until then, it seems people may not be as dumb as cows, but they sure aren’t any smarter.