Hide and Seek

Dry? Sere? Desiccated?

These impressions might come to mind when viewing this typical winter landscape along Colorado’s Front Range, especially if you happen to live in lush and verdant surroundings year-round.

But since I’m used to this paucichromatic scenery, I was mostly enjoying the fact that no wind was blowing on this last day of December as I lowered myself to the ground to feel the sun on my back and observe the prairie dog village stretching out in front of me. The “dogs” were talking to one another and had, no doubt, alerted their relatives of my presence, prompting many to withdraw into their burrows. “No worries, I mean no harm,” is my usual response to their predictable behavior, but I can’t blame them, because I know for a fact that some two-legged malefactors mean exactly that.

When I noticed a movement among the straw-colored grasses a few hundred yards away, I picked up my binoculars. Followed, very quickly, by my camera. I didn’t think I was looking at a prairie dog, as the creature I beheld showed neither the correct shape, nor size, nor motion. It was galloping across the prairie and its dense, attractively colored pelt was rippling up and down and swinging from side to side. It suddenly dawned on me that I wasn’t the only, or even the main reason the prairie dogs had vanished into their subterranean dens.

My first glimpse of “not a prairie dog”

Zigzagging across the field, giving me good looks

I admit to temporary befuddlement as I hadn’t seen this animal more than a handful of times beforehand. And because I still have a tendency to confuse badgers and wolverines. I needed to remind myself that the latter are large brown animals without facial stripes, and fairly rare in the lower 48, whereas the former are smaller in size, rather gray in color, and do sport facial stripes. They are also more common.

“Do you see me?”

“Don’t I have a handsome face?”

“Why do you keep looking at me?”

Going over this mental checklist confirmed that this wasn’t a wolverine, but a badger. I had been granted glimpses in the past, but never an opportunity to watch one closely for 15-plus minutes. To say I was transfixed is no exaggeration. I’m fairly certain this individual was aware of my presence as our eyes met a few times and it seemed to stop behind shrubs or rocks or amidst the grasses in a possible attempt to conceal itself from my gaze. At other moments, it appeared to be soaking up the warm-for-the-season-sunshine just as I was doing. On a few occasions it sniffed the ground and started to dig, no doubt intending to unearth one of the prairie dogs, but not succeeding.

Back at home, I pulled out my trusted Audubon Field Guide to North American Mammals from the 1990s and learned (or relearned) some facts: Badgers (Taxidea taxus) are members of the Mustelidae family and are related to weasels, wolverines, and skunks. Their range covers approximately the western 2/3 of the U.S. and southern parts of the western Canadian provinces, where they inhabit plains and prairies, farmland, and edges of woods. They are mostly terrestrial, but are nonetheless able to swim and dive. While they don’t hibernate, they might enter a state of torpor during severe winters. This carnivore’s preferred diet is made up of small burrowing mammals, including mice, rats, gophers, ground squirrels—and prairie dogs.

“You seem ok, so I will rest here for a while.”

While the badger’s gorgeous coat and handsome, bestriped face evoke visions of cute and cuddly animals, stuffed or otherwise, its aura bespeaks its fierce and predatory lifestyle. I’m always conflicted when witnessing scenarios in which one being is at risk of losing its life so that another might live. But at least I didn’t have to mourn the loss of a prairie dog on this particular occasion.

“Time to go back home.”

PS: If your mind works in similarly inscrutable and circuitous ways as my husband’s, you might enjoy following this link to a YouTube scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, with which I have been badgered ever since he has known about this encounter.

PPS: Did you know there were (at least) 9 animal names that are also verbs? Read more, courtesy of Merriam Webster (the list is not exhaustive, as fellow blogger Steven Schwartzman pointed out, and maybe you can add your own animal name that functions as a verb).

34 thoughts on “Hide and Seek

  1. “I still have a tendency to confuse badgers and wolverines.” A poll of the American populace would probably reveal that you’re among the 99% who could say the same thing. It’s good of your husband to remember that a badger gets mentioned in that skit by Monty Python (and there’s the name of a serpent). To the nine animal names that also function as verbs you could add buffalo, meaning ‘to outwit, confuse, deceive or intimidate.’ (However the cow that means ‘to outwit, confuse, deceive or intimidate’ is not the same word as the cow that’s an animal.) You can also dog someone’s steps. In the avian world, some people regularly chicken out and duck responsibility.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That ignorance about badgers and wolverines would likely be remedied if we saw the animals more often. I hope I remember the differences this time!

      My husband will find a Monty Python reference to basically every real-life situation, which speaks volumes about him, as well as about the members of that group.

      Thank you for adding a few more animal names that can function as verbs. I hope you don’t mind that I added your name to that reference.

      Like

  2. What a treat to see the badger. And for 15 minutes! I did not realize badgers were predators. I have the same mixed feelings that you do about predators, but that is how they earn their living. Unlike us, they don’t have much choice in the matter. Finally, love your husband’s turn of mind. I’m a big Monty Python fan.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be able to watch the badger for such an extended time, Laurie. I know that it can’t help itself in the choice of its diet, but it still makes me sad.
      Thanks to my husband, I can now recognize references to a number of Monty Python films–and even quote some myself. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I appreciate the ground level shots of the badger. Sometimes the circle of life is on full display in nature. We at Intrigued always appreciate a Monty Python reference.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ah, photographs of real-life badgers! I have never seen one in real life, but I’ll add my lateral thinking to your husband’s Monty Python story, and say that I totally “know’ badgers from a favorite series of books from my childhood about Frances the Badger. I’ll leave a link below.

    https://library.nashville.org/blog/2019/06/all-about-my-favorite-badger-frances

    Sere and paucichromatic? Two new words for me, that I guessed at through context! 😉
    Hope you are well,
    Julie

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing your love for Frances, Julie. I will absolutely have to meet her, and likely can, thanks to our library.
      Don’t you just love to use little-used words? There are so many and we should try not to use the same ones all the time.
      Best,
      Tanja

      Like

  5. I’ve never seen either of these animals, and to be honest, I didn’t think badgers looked at all like this. This looks like a creature from the Africa Velt, or somewhere. I think I’ve confused badgers and weasels. In any event, it’s a cutie, and one that I’d willingly spend time with on a prairie.Your experience confirms something I’ve come to believe. It’s great to search for creatures, but sometimes, if we simply put ourselves in nature and wait, ‘nature’ will come to us.

    Like

  6. What a wonderful opportunity! Just a chance to observe a badger for awhile would be so very special.

    And you got great photographs, too!

    You went for the prairie dogs and ended up with “something completely different”.

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  7. That was a very special encounter. In all our 20+ trips to the US we never saw a living, breathing badger, though sadly we did spot a few pancake (roadkill) specimens. It’s a similar case here, plenty of dead badgers on the road – I saw another one just a couple of days ago – but you have to work really hard to see a badger with its insides not on the outside!

    All power to your husband for his love of the Pythons. I wonder if he, too, has spent his whole life wondering “what have the Romans ever done for us?” 🙂

    Like

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