Thursday, February 05, 2009


The national media is turning a political dispute between Ashley Judd and Sarah Palin into a high tech cat fight. I saw a split screen of the two on NBC this morning, both looking fetching, inviting viewers to imagine them rolling around in the grass (or snow) attempting to scratch each other’s eyes out. The fight is an esoteric one, one that will amuse those in the 25th century studying our history, Should Alaskan wolves be allowed to be shot from helicopters ?


Imagine if this argument had been between Ted Stevens and Barbara Boxer. The story would not have made the papers. But here we have star power. Palin is pretty hot for a Governor, and Judd goes her one further by being pretty hot even for a movie star. The fact that no one really understands the issue they are arguing about does not matter, as long as they keep hissing and spitting at each other.


I don’t know enough about hunting wolves from a helicopter in Alaska to have an opinion on this. I certainly see both sides of the argument, I just don’t know the facts. It does seem rather unsportsman like to hover over wolves, possibly blasting the Flight of the  Valkyryies out of speakers, picking off mama wolves and their cubs with scoped rifles. On the other hand, if predators need to be thinned to keep the moose and caribou from being  killed off, for all I know, this is the only effective way to do it.


The real question for me is, who would do it ? Ever been in a helicopter ? No, I don’t mean one of those neat clean Bell Helicopters for a jaunt to the airport or one of those new fancy ones that take you down into Maui volcanoes. I mean a real working helicopter, flown by a grizzled pilot, pieces of the chopper falling off now and then as you hover too high above the ground. Well let me tell you, it is a terrifying experience.


I had a ranch case one time down in Val Verde County. The ranch owner, a fellow by the name of Travis Snake Rio Grande was suing my client the Farm Credit Bank of Texas over some theory involving the land they had sold him, which, by the way, went straight up and down, being  not good enough for him to raise pure bred Santa Gertrudis Cattle, which he felt , if he only could have done so, he would have made a bazillion dollars. Mr. Rio Grande was a real piece of work. He and his wife (who had recently divorced her first husband, a professor at Rutgers) lived in a hunting cabin on this big spread, 150 miles from no where. The lawyers had to go down to view the various problems Travis was having, one of which required aerial views and videos of the views. The client had hired some Vietnam vet who looked as crazy as any man I have ever seen to fly one lucky lawyer around the ranch to do the filming. The senior partner on the case decided that I was just the man for that job.


It was freezing cold that day, so I thought that at least I would be warm. As it turned out the helicopter did have heat of sorts. It had a pipe which blasted hot air directly into my back. This turned out to be useless to us, except for turning my back bright red, so we shut off the heat and took off. Let me say that I don’t like helicopters. My brother likes helicopters. He and his friend Luke used to watch some helicopter show every afternoon at my house when they were about five years old. The show was called the Whirly Birds and had two characters ,whom they were always pretending to be, by the name of Chuck and P.T. Moore. At least that’s what Clay and Luke called them. I never knew if Chuck did not have a last name or was just a brother to P.T. Both of the guys wore aviator sunglasses just like my dad had brought back from the Second World War. One Christmas my brother received a giant white military helicopter as well as a small blue civilian  helicopter which flew around the room attached to a rod. All of this bored me to tears since I had gotten the “Fighting Lady” battleship for Christmas which had workable depth chargers.


Back to my flight, the conversation I had with my pilot went like this as we first went up, I swear that this is the exact conversation.


Wade: How long you been flying ?


Pilot: Since the Army, I was a pilot in Nam.


Wade: How long were you over there ?


Pilot: Seven months.


Wade: That seems like a short tour.


Pilot: After the third time you are shot down they have to send you home.



They can also send you home for a Section 8. As if this was not worry enough I soon received a call on my Walkie Talkie.


Ben: Wade, tell that pilot to get away from those cows.


Wade: We can’t I’m filming them


Ben: Wade, get out of there, Travis says that if you don’t stop spooking his cows he is going to shoot you down.


One thing I forgot to mention, Travis Rio Grande had a lot of weapons in his cabin, and boxes and boxes of surplus ammunition that he said that you could get from the Chinese. He apparently carried his rifle with him (some damn military looking thing)  everywhere  he went and had taken it out with him that morning, explaining that wildcats could get us and we needed protection. He had also casually mentioned to me that I had better not spook his cows, that he was going to be watching.


I doubt that Travis would have shot us, but the guy I was with had made a habit of being shot down and I did not want to hang around and find out. Besides, when you are dealing with an armed man who lives in isolation with enough ammo to hold off an invasion, a man who has legally had his name changed to Travis Snake Rio Grande, you tend to take the more conservative approach to these kinds of situations. My pilot peeled off and we did not come near a cow for the rest of the trip.


I actually kissed the ground when I got back from that ride. I vowed that I would never go up in another helicopter again, and I have kept that promise. That is why it seems to me that only the vey fool hardy would hunt wolves from helicopters. Maybe we should allow them to do it. Maybe the predators we would be thinning are the ones with the guns up in the sky. People with minds like that just foul up the genetic pool, even in Alaska.


Blogger Jannie Funster said...

I have not been in a helicopter, no.

Did you see the recent documentary about the couple who lived with wolves for 2 years? When one of the females died the wolves mourned for months, jeez, it's bringing tears to my eyes remembering it now. They are just as lovig and family oriented as any species. I sure am glad to hear lots of them are surving somewhere beacause they've certainly been almost killed off here on the continent.

I say get them in a wolf relocation program. Or domesticate the caribou / moose. We all gotta eat.

1:49 PM  

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