I keep reading about the takeover at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge as if it were an article in the satirical magazine known as The Onion.
Satire: A genre of literature in which follies, abuses, and short comings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, corporations, government or society itself into improvement.
Every time I read about #Y’allQaeda. Or hear these anti-government militants have posted to Facebook requesting donations of money and snacks be sent to them via the U.S. Postal System. Then, when I read about one member of the militia drinking away the donations in a hotel room. Or another getting arrested for driving a stolen government vehicle into town to buy snacks. And Ammon Bundy protesting the government but turning to the Feds for a loan to rescue his failing business. I look for the source.
A feature of satire is strong irony or sarcasm, but parody, burlesque, exaggeration, juxtaposition, comparison, analogy, and double entendre are all frequently used in satirical speech and irony.
When I read an opinion piece by Birders With Big Cameras letting Ammon Bundy’s group know, “We’re watching you.” When I read about a bunch of protesting grannies with raised wooden spoons in their fists. I look for a byline.
Satire: Always makes me think of Mark Twain. Have you ever read A Dog’s Tale?
Lo, every source, every byline covering the Malheur takeover turns out to be credible. The New York Times. Oregon Public Broadcasting. NBC. CNN. The Oregonian. The Guardian. Field and Stream. Outside.
Then, there’s the name of the leader of the takeover: Ammon Bundy. It’s strangely similar to the protagonist in the long-running TV sitcom Married…with Children. Al Bundy, the show’s protagonist, is less than brilliant, always scheming, and always failing.
But the situation at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is no joke, and I can’t help but wonder if the goings on there are a parody of what we—all of us—are doing to the natural world as a whole? To Mother Nature? To Earth itself?
One of the latest things I’ve read about the situation is concern over what may be happening to the cultural resources at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. According to the Washington Post, “More than 4,000 tribal artifacts are housed and cared for on the property, including spears and stone tools, some dating nearly 10,000 years.”
I’ll add my concern to the pot: What about the wildlife?
There are three national wildlife refuges within 30 minutes of where I live. I made visits to two of them this last week. Thursday, after my weekly bird survey at Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge, I walked into the office of our refuge biologist. Outside her door on a whiteboard, someone had written, “We Heart Malheur.”
I thought about another article I’d read. This one by a professor and ecologist at the University of Southern California, in which the author said, “I stand with Linda Sue Beck.”
Beck is the biologist at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, and Bundy and his crew were occupying her office, her desk, her career. Rifling its contents. Ridiculing her work. Disrespecting her very being.
I cannot imagine how I would feel if someone were doing the same to the office and work and reputation and integrity of Kim Uyehara at Hanalei Wildlife Refuge. No. Actually, I do know how I’d feel. I’d be mad. Angry. Pissed off. Because I know how hard Kim and the many other biologists I’ve stood alongside in taro fields or on islets in the middle of the Pacific Ocean work. I know how much they care. I’ve heard their voices crack and witnessed their eyes water when an animal dies under their watch.
I stood outside Kim’s office carrying a sick bird, one I had found alongside a taro patch, because a taro farmer had shown it to me. The man had walked a good ways to find me across the valley and escort me back to the Hawaiian moorhen, a bird native to Hawai‘i and protected by the Endangered Species Act. I was touched by the man’s concern.
The moorhen, with a frontal shield the color of the bright red licks of flame in a hot fire, is called ‘alae ‘ula in the Hawaiian culture. From it, the demi-god Maui is known to have learned the secret of fire.
Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge is one of the last (generally) safe havens for five of Hawai‘i’s endangered native wetland birds. It’s also one of the state’s most productive taro-producing lands. A symbiotic relationship allows the government, private individuals, and wildlife to co-exist: The refuge provides the land to taro farmers for a nominal amount, the farmers work it—growing and selling their taro—and all the while, the birds find the nutrients they need to survive. Not that it’s perfect.
The people of Hawai‘i are known to protest. The SuperFerry. The use of chemicals in agriculture. Genetically-modified crops. The building of another telescope atop Mauna Kea. Taro farmers, too, will raise their voices when they don’t agree with the way the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge is being managed.
But I’ve yet to worry that someone would turn up in protest carrying a sniper rifle.
Yesterday, I read about a 79-year-old retired schoolteacher-cum-bird watcher showing up at Malheur to check on the burrowing owls. Yes, I thought, someone else concerned about the wildlife. But the man’s approach was blocked by one of Bundy’s armed men, described by the birder as a “red-faced pudgy man with a big gun.” One thing led to another and before you know it, the old coot—a grandfather of four named Saunders—had teased out a long-forgotten wrestling move—a leg take-down—from deep within his muscle memory and tossed the militant to the ground.
“I don’t swear much at all but I told him to screw right off and that made him really angry. He started yelling right into my face — his breath was…well, pee you…it smelled like beer and maybe salami sausages or something.”
Gawd, I loved it. First, there were the wooden-spoon-toting grannies. Now, this.
When my husband got home from work that afternoon, I read the article to him. What a hoot.
About when I got to the part of an FBI agent on scene saying, “We’re hoping this is an isolated incident and we’re asking the elderly not to knock any more militants on their ass,” something started to sound strange to me.
First, the dialogue in the article was just too perfect. In fact, there was too much of it. More short story, less news story. Second, there was the FBI agent’s use of “ass.” Not that I know a lot of FBI agents. Maybe one. (Although I may know more, but I just don’t know it.) But I cannot imagine they’d go on record in that manner using the word, “ass.”
So, I looked for the source. It was a publication unfamiliar to me, The Lapine, by a journalist unfamiliar to me, Robin Steele. So, I did a little Internet research and discovered The Lapine is basically the Canadian version of The Onion.
See. The whole business at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is just too ripe for satire.
By the way, it’s not that The Onion hasn’t covered the occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. They did. And they put together this concise, 12-point guide titled, What You Need To Know About The Oregon Militia Standoff?
I’m still concerned about the wildlife at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.