Who bought the road sign?

We’ve all thought it, and so I might as well say it.

If one resides with a group of individuals who apparently are not like-minded enough to perform the ancient ritual of incorporation, whereby their tiny outpost is elevated from “wide spot in the road” to “a town,” or “a city,” or “a confederacy” (though I’m told we frown on that last one), it is extremely hard for me to justify using my brake pedal when passing through it.

You see, in my mind, speed limit and reduce-speed-ahead signs exist for the purpose of protecting civilization. However, the key and debatable word in that theory is “civilization.” Rome is a bastion of civilization. London is a bastion of civilization.  Melvina (Wisconsin), population thirty-ish, seems to fall somewhat short of both those lofty precedents or even the numbers set by, say, a tribe of African pygmies. Four houses, a bar, and a speed limit sign that could be confused with the daily low temperature do not, at least according to most high school textbooks, qualify as a society worthy of record. It might count as a village, an outpost, or a lost tribe of Israel, but an extensive network of roads linking Tully’s Tavern to those four houses cannot be considered the inspiration for Ozymandias.  Consequently, and to come to a point, I rather resent being asked – nay, demanded – to slow down and take in the sites – the sites being three cows, a derelict convenience store, and a rusted out Volkswagen.

In my mind, for a village to motivate a reevaluation of arrival time, it has to give a good reason. And if one is curious as to what exactly a good reason is, they only need to remember the three Ps – police, post office, and parking. Simultaneously, the following are examples of things that will not motivate a reduction in speed, let alone an all-out stop:

1. Bars (Particularly ones the owner had the uncommonly bad sense to build less than six feet from the highway – step out for a smoke, and suddenly there’s a Chevy Tahoe with one ugly hood ornament.)

2. Gift shops (Look! They got the whole town to pose for this postcard!)

3. Scenic overlooks, parks, and historical markers (Question: Why do most individuals stop at any of the aforementioned places? Answer: Emergency restroom stops. Question: What happens when there is no restroom at said location? Answer: The scenic overlook becomes an obscenic overlook.)

Returning to the initial point, what is perhaps oddest about these loosely knit hosts of humanity is not so much that the speed limit is reduced, but rather that it is reduced so much. Near as I can figure, the only reason four houses and a bar need a speed limit under twenty-five miles per hour is to make the place seem larger than it actually is. Logically, it certainly isn’t tied to how many people are in the town, because if they were to host an annual “Play in the Street Days,” odds are good most would survive. Heck, even if they were to stand in the middle of the street, link arms, and play “Red Rover, Red Rover, let the Lincoln Navigator come over,” the townsfolk’s combined girth would probably only allow them to block one lane and maybe a bit of the shoulder.

It should also be noted that there are plenty of reasons the populace should encourage people to pass through as quickly as possible – threat of invasion, for one. I’m fairly certain that, with approximately six phone calls, most people could rustle up sufficient manpower to both capture and occupy any unincorporated hamlet one cares to name. Likewise, a keg of Miller Genuine Draft is within most individuals’ economic means; thus, subduing the populace long enough to put the city to the torch would be a simple operation. But there are two problems with this plan. One, it is based on the average non-boy scout’s ability to start a fire that would immolate something other than themselves, which is iffy at best. Two, it hinges on the average Joe’s ability to not join in a beer party, and personally that is not a bet I want to make while living in Wisconsin.

It seems the only viable solution involves a particularly daring soul and a can of black spray paint – although I dare say individuals are going to get suspicious when the speed limit jumps from fifty-five on the highway to eighty-five in town. But what can one do? It’s easier to turn a three into an eight than a five.

Yep.  They’ll never suspect a thing.

Yep. They’ll never suspect a thing.

The Invisible Man

Has anyone ever written about the slimming powers of camouflage?

No?

That’s good.  It has none.

The other Wal-Mart shoppers never see him coming.

The other Wal-Mart shoppers never see him coming.

It does, or so I’m told, have the ability to drastically reduce the chance one will be gored, trampled, or otherwise molested by a wide assortment of woodland creatures.  This is a definite plus for the weekend warrior crowd who are forever attempting to prove the superiority of the species while cowering in a tree stand.  But to speak of it – it being camouflage – as a fashion statement…  What it states, boldly, is that the beer-gutted wearer has pretty much given up all pretense of attracting a suitable mate.

In short, while the deer may lose the battle, they just might win the war.

While we’re discussing the future, or want of it, for our species, I’ve recently become aware of a locale where the above points on style need to be made – namely the local boat, gun, and RV show.  Making said points via Jumbo-tron, in addition to being ironically appropriate, would probably net the best ROI, but it isn’t my first choice.  Personally, I’d like to print the opening three lines of this piece and nail them to the front door of the convention center, but I’m not sure if either basic literacy or the ability to appreciate an allusion to Martin Luther can be expected in my target audience.  Based on my experiences, I’m thinking not.

If you think this is a history book…you might be a redneck.

If you think this is a history book…you might be a redneck.

Here the question arises as to what precisely I was doing in said environs, given that my first response upon encountering a squirrel, rabbit, or small dog is not, “I could shoot that and eat it,” accompanied by the sound of something ricocheting off a spittoon.  Well…correction – the dog sometimes sends the ol’ train of consciousness down those particular rails, but that’s usually because the dog is crapping in my azaleas and deserves to die.  No, my presence at the venue was tied up in the doings of some event organizer who had negotiated the temporary import of a couple dozen exotic animals.  Yes, you read that right.  Endangered species.  Readily available firearms.  Wisconsinites of dubious sobriety.  And last but not least, beer served right there at the event – serendipity or stupidity?  Only time and the local news would tell.

Yet before inebriation attempted to blend itself with a spontaneous exercise of second amendment rights, I had high hopes of using the fauna as a diversion for my daughter, who is approaching two and self-identifies as a guinea pig.  I saw the proceedings as an opportunity to either let her gape at strange and exotic creatures, hopefully prior to taxidermy, or as a chance to reunite her with her own kind – provided I could discretely pitch her into a pen without her mother noticing.

Hey – anyone else that has had any two-year-old in their care for any length of time has thought exactly the same thing.

Yet to return, after much meandering, to the subject of camouflage and what it will and will not do for its wearer: I’m convinced that if the RVs had been replaced with some sort of indoor forest, all the attendees still would have looked ridiculous – just fractionally less so.  Though camouflage was the unofficial dress code of the day, given the complete dearth of greenery, I found myself questioning if anyone actually understood how the fabric worked.  Or was the go-to assumption that it magically makes you invisible?  One oversized, camo-clad guy, manning some sort of hunting booth on a crowded exhibition floor, was blissfully sitting in a camouflage chair eating popcorn from a large tub.  He was shoving so much in his mouth at once that he had to hold the tub under his chin to catch what wouldn’t fit as it fell back into the tub.  It was hard not to stare – partially because he put off measureable units of gravity, but I’ll try to keep the fat jokes to a minimum…though such is difficult since the fat jokes practically write themselves.

My wife, whose knowledge of hunting starts and ends with Jane Austen novels where men with British accents and uncomfortably tight pants potter around for a couple hours before tea, expressed bemusement that it was a boat, gun, and RV show, as if the third was some sort of non-sequitur.  Despite all evidence to the contrary, she was laboring under the assumption that our woodlands were being depopulated by sinewy men with facial hair best described as “robust” and not those who could have served as stunt doubles for Rover in The Prisoner.

The Great White Hunter

The Great White Hunter

Needless to say, she knows better now.

Duck Hunt

Apparently, the ducks have won.  There are, according to the public radio, fewer people hunting them these days – thirty percent fewer, for the statistically obsessed among us.  And of those thirty percent fewer doing the hunting, the average age is apparently increasing.  If nothing else, that second point is vaguely unsettling.  Ever been trapped behind an Oldsmobile with its left blinker on going thirty when the signage indicates sixty is perfectly permissible?  Now add a shotgun or a flintlock or a surface to air missile or whatever firearm one uses when hunting ducks, and you’ll understand the exact nature of my concern.

The concern of the DNR relative to the dearth of duck downers is that, and I quote, “Hunters tend to be strong advocates for conservation.”  I suppose that’s fair enough.  The closest I’ve ever come to duck hunting involves a light gun and the original Nintendo Entertainment System.

…Alright.  Hands up.  Who spent their childhood trying to shoot that !@#$in’ dog?  Repeatedly.

…Alright. Hands up. Who spent their childhood trying to shoot that !@#$in’ dog? Repeatedly.

As to my attitudes on conservation, here is a subject I feel I can speak on with authority, as I have, in my day, been out of doors once or twice for upwards of twenty minutes at a time.  My observations are as follows:

The primary purpose of nature is to either suck your blood and/or make you itch.  When at all possible, it will perform both of these tasks simultaneously via any of the almost innumerable members of the mosquito family.  However, it is not averse to subcontracting the respective duties to thistles and thorny bushes for the blood sucking and wild parsnip and poison ivy for the itching.  This is why, when going outdoors, the first thing one should remember is not to let any of it get on you.  Assuming one does not have authority to call in a tactical nuclear strike or a few surplus drums of Agent Orange, I recommend a hazmat suit.

The secondary purpose of nature is to give you the willies.  Remember those nature documentaries showing baby deer frolicking or young bunnies hopping innocently through the woods?  Those are the sort of scenes you will not witness.  Instead, you will blunder face first through a trampoline-sized spider web only to end up eye-to-eyes with a trampoline-sized spider.

Zippity-do-AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!

Zippity-do-AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!

If you are feeling particularly adventurous, you might stumble across any number of snakes, which you will be unable to immediately recall whether are venomous or not.  As for adorable members of the mammalian genus, there is only one you have any chance of encountering – its Looney Tune equivalent is Pepé le Pew.

Skunks: Nature’s way of teaching your children that not everything faintly feline-looking merits a, “Here kitty, kitty.”

Skunks: Nature’s way of teaching your children that not everything faintly feline-looking merits a, “Here kitty, kitty.”

As a tertiary goal, nature will make you as uncomfortable as possible for as long as you are in it.  The postal service has long understood this with their whole “neither rain, nor sleet, nor Saturday delivery” pledge.  And, at least here in the Midwest, it is entirely possible for there to be rain, sleet, and a daily high that puts the Sahara to shame within the confines of a single day.  We also have the occasional reenactment of the first fifteen minutes of The Wizard of Oz.  You can click your heels three times.  I’ll be in the basement.

I conclude by reiterating that, while less than an avid hunter, I am proficient with all manner of weaponry – most of it Nerf.  That there is a dip in the amount of ammunition being expended on waterfowl and an increase in the age of those doing the expending…well…may I point out that Nintendo Wii has a gun module?  If you want to blame someone for the lack of hunters, I’d start looking for Mario.  As for what we can do on the conservation front, I have a humble suggestion.  Pave it.  All of it.  It’s the only way to be sure we get all of the spiders.