By LEON YOUNGLOOD
Winter is finally oozing out of Briar Circle, and by and large, most residents are happy to see it go. In spite of the mess it left behind, it was beautiful a few days ago—especially at night, with a few inches of snow on the ground and a bright moon above us.
I was one of several out in the moonlight admiring the quiet beauty. The snow glowed softly, reflecting the available light. The cabin reflected the light from the moon and snow so that even colors could be faintly identified, all immersed in blue-gray hues.
I don’t know about anywhere else; but our little area in the mountains was a picture-perfect postcard you could walk through. Inspired by some of the youngsters, a few of us older, wiser, generally more sensible folks were outside with them in the middle of the night, admiring the majestic stillness.
In a day or two, the melting snow would provide enough mud to suit even the most rapacious appetite for the stuff. For the moment, however, the snow, the moonlight, the resonating stillness—it was Eden in winter.
It would not last long.
We would treasure this special time while we could.
We were on my family’s land, on the trails and then down by the pond. The snow was right up to the water’s edge, and thin sheets of ice covered the surface from there, to a few feet from the shoreline. The still water reflected the moon and starlight.
A fire was contemplated, but that would have ruined the moment. We were happy, we were cheerful and invigorated, and warming refreshments could be had at any time in the cabin. For now, though, we were content to celebrate the magical atmosphere that would become only a precious memory all too soon.
Gazing over the pond, occasional local resident Gary admired the beautiful nocturnal scene and said, “Are you worried about the lionfish invasion?”
This disruption was akin to passing gas at a prayer meeting.
“The what?’ several of the assembled asked simultaneously and incredulously.
“Lionfish. They’re a non-native species. They’re harming the native wildlife and habitats, and they’re multiplying by the trillions. They need to be eradicated.” Gary said this seriously, but without any sort of panicky emotion. He spoke with a “matter of fact” attitude, like a doctor telling a patient he has a terminal disease but maybe there’s something that can be done. He continued: “Lionfish have a painful sting. They’re prolific and have voracious appetites. A hundred mature lionfish can eat over six-thousand native fish in one day!”
“Are they here?” somebody asked. “In this pond?”
“I don’t know, but probably.”
“And they sting?”
“Yes. They’re very poisonous.”
At this point, I wished I smoked a pipe. Unlike cheap cigarettes and vulgar cigars, pipes lend an air of authority and tobacco to serious discussions. As it was, all I could do was imagine I lit a pipe and took a dignified puff as I said, “Gee, Gary! What can we do?”
But I expected the response I received. Gary had an audience. He gave a pleading warning to “preserve the wilderness.” How? Don’t hunt, don’t hike, don’t drive, don’t plant, don’t build, don’t have pets, don’t let in “outsiders,” and other “don’ts” impractical or impossible to “do,” and bordering on absurdity.
Gary worried about environmental devils and demons that aren’t actually there. He exaggerated and even lied in his efforts to convert others to his way of thinking. He drew a chalk line he wants all people to tip-toe upon with Pharisaical devotion.
Gary, you see, is a fanatic.
When he stopped long enough for breath, I interjected, “Gary, there are serious issues with introduced species. Eastern red cedar, zebra mussels, hydrilla, white perch—and we all know about the wild hog problem around here. I agree that there is reason to be concerned about animals and plants that are non-native. But now, lionfish. In this little pond?”
“Is it possible you’re not aware that lionfish is a salt water species? And a tropical species, too. They’re a problem off the Gulf Coast and on the Atlantic side down around Florida, but, Gary, they can’t survive in any Oklahoma waters. At least not any that I know of. Would you like to retract any of your statements?”
Details aren’t necessary, but Gary left. We resumed our admiration of the snowy paradise in the Ouachitas. There’s a moral here, somewhere. If you see it, please let me know.