Carlsbad Bugs                                                                  Reflection 858 words
Howard R Music 

My wife, daughter and I took a trip out to New Mexico to visit the caverns at the
national park in Carlsbad. I had taken a motorcycle ride there 30-years ago and found it an                              enjoyable experience and assumed the family would like it as well.

New Mexico has extreme variations of landscape. A cool 80-degree temperature on a
mountain top lush with thick undergrowth and huge pine trees can be a twenty-minute
drive from a barren, sun scorched desert.

The caverns themselves, are almost chilly, with dripping water and clear pools among
the unbelievably beautiful and intricate formations and, are located, in stark contrast,
under rugged, sun-bleached hills, covered in rock, cactus and other thorny plants. The family                                  loved it and I, too, was impressed. I doubt I could ever lose my awe of the
New Mexico countryside.

One of the attractions of the caverns are the migratory bats that sleep the days away in
the maze of underground passageways. They exit by the hundreds-of-thousands to
feed on insects at night. Early settlers discovered the caves after seeing the bats in
flight that were so numerous they appeared as smoke in the distance. The bats have
been using the caves a long time. Their droppings (guano) were once mined for
fertilizer. A huge iron bucket was used to lift the bat-dung out of the cavern by a
primitive gasoline winch. Early tourists gained entry in the caves by riding in the guano
bucket which is now on display at the park. I can only assume they washed it out first.

At the entryway used by the bats is a pavilion built of stone where tourists can sit and
wait for the flying mammals to make their appearance at dusk. A ranger with a
microphone came out to provide information about the bats and the park. She
immediately warned everyone they needed to be quiet so as not to disturb the bats and
that other rangers were watching the crowd ready to issue citations to those who broke
the rules.

My first reaction was; great, another power-hungry bureaucrat on a big-brother trip. As
mentioned I had been to the caverns 30-years before and there were no threats by officials
or any unruly patrons for that matter. To be fair though, Iʼve noticed as Iʼve gotten older
that civility in public discourse is fast becoming an outdated concept. No doubt the
ranger, or her peers, have had to deal with loud, obnoxious visitors with little or no
regard for their fellow tourists. So, I took the threats as just another sign of the times.

The ranger went on to explain the bats were beneficial to farmers because their primary
food were insects that fed on crops. If I remember correctly she stated our airborne
friends consumed roughly 40-tons of bugs a night, which, is the exact legal weight of a
loaded 18-wheel rock truck. Impressive to say the least.

Later, during the lecture, she mentioned the audience was not allowed to slap annoying
insects because they were federally protected, and reminded us of the ever watching
rangers with the citation books, which tended to give a whole new meaning to the term

We were back on the big-brother trip again.

I couldnʼt believe it.

The crowd glanced at one another. Iʼm sure, like me, each one thinking; did she really
say that? And have we just entered the Twilight Zone?

Was this an actual law? Or some rule thought up by a career bureaucrat who, bored
with playing computer games at his work station eight-hours a day, decided this was a
great way to get a promotion?

Perhaps it was a rider inserted into a save the whales bill that no one read. A fairly
common practice with federal legislation. Is it possible that saving gnats and horse-flies
was actually discussed in open committee and submitted to the senate and house floors
for debate and public vote? What was it called? The Preservation Initiative To Save the
Icky, Creepy, Crawly Thingy Act of 2009?

How far will this go? Imagine a cop dragging a distraught man away who pleads, “But
Iʼm allergic to bee stings! I mightʼve died if it stung me!”

“I donʼt write the law, I just enforce it!” the cop growls. “By the way,” the officer
continues. “Are you allergic to tasers?”

Will park rangers soon start inspecting windshields for dead bugs? Assessing fines for
each splat? Will a tourist with a smashed dragonfly on his headlight be arrested for hit
and run? Perhaps bikers will no longer smile so as to hide insects embedded in their

As it turned out no one was cited or arrested at the bat cave entrance pavilion. New
Mexico was in drought condition and there were few bugs to molest. Even the bat show
was a bust, since their favorite food was scarce, so were they.

Iʼve given up trying to make sense of the federal bug protection experience. I suggest
you do so as well. Itʼll drive you batty.

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