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The Shipwreck Rose: Wild Kingdom

Wed, 06/19/2024 - 12:08

Does anyone remember the Honey Badger? The Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger, one of social media’s top viral stars of the year 2011?

The Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger was a sensation on YouTube 13 years ago; now, he has 103 million views, 47,000 comments and counting. The video features authentic National Geographic wildlife footage overdubbed with a very fervent narration by a man named Randall. The Honey Badger, Randall tells us, is the most fearless animal in all of the animal kingdom. “It really doesn’t give a sh#@,” Randall says. We see the Honey Badger chasing a jackal, climbing into a hive of East African lowland honeybees, and frightening birds. We see the Honey Badger eating a cobra. “Ew,” says Randall. “Honey Badger don’t care,” Randall says. “Honey Badger doesn’t give a sh#@.” Thirteen years later, I still quote Randall frequently.

I imagine the Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger of 2011 as a knight errant, wandering the landscape in his battle gear, swinging his sword and spoiling for a fight, an epic animal antihero forgotten by history.

Who shall we nominate for the emblematic animal sensation of summer 2024?

In hot contention this summer is that sea otter out in California who steals surfboards.

The Surfboard Stealing Sea Otter resonates around here, I think we could all agree.

Surfboard Stealing Sea Otter sounds adorable and sweet, but she’s actually snarling and territorial. Vicious, even, biting longboards and threatening human riders, who are forced to abandon their rides and paddle off in their wetsuits. Someone with an iPhone is always handy-by to capture her antics.

Surfboard Stealing Sea Otter, according to reporting in The New York Times, is 6 years old; she was born in captivity, tagged with a number, and released into the wild before being filmed last summer hijacking boards in the waves at Santa Cruz. “Local officials call the animal Otter 841,” reports The Times. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service tried to re-trap Surfboard Stealing Sea Otter last summer but failed. 

Like the Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger, Surfboard Stealing Sea Otter’s most compelling personality trait is fearlessness, a total disregard for other creatures’ feelings, pure aggression. Surfboard Stealing Sea Otter is a spiritual gangster. She reminds me of those yoga people we all know who say “namaste” in the sad, breathy voice of the sickbed, like they are too sensitive for this wicked world, while actually they aren’t nice at all and would steal your boyfriend, your parking spot, and your Navaho-silver turquoise bracelet in a heartbeat if they could do it without anyone finding out.

I do like Surf Stealing Sea Otter for the animal of summer 2024, the animal of the zeitgeist, but we also have Wrongway Flamingo in contention.

Wrongway Flamingo, as documented first here in The Star — in news reports that have become as viral as news reports get here at The East Hampton Star — was first spotted flying west in the sky over Landing Lane in Springs by a pair of very startled birders who detected the pink hue and unmistakable long legs even at 300 feet. Next, Wrongway Flamingo was photographed standing on his knitting-needle legs in Georgica Pond, East Hampton. You can’t misidentify a flamingo. It was a flamingo, an American flamingo. “The fact that in this age of digital information and apps, that the bird was found and first reported by a local newspaper is remarkable,” said a professor and avid birder quoted in The Star’s breaking news story. Wrongway Flamingo’s most compelling personality trait is over-doing-it-ness. He’s an over-doer. “This flamingo just wanted to go a little further than the other ones did,” the professor said.

Also, of course, the environmental symbolism is almost too rich: The ecological mix-up, the eco-flip-flop, in this zeitgeist moment when climate calamity has finally become so overwhelmingly obvious that we can no longer cover our eyes and ears and la-la-la pretend it isn’t happening. A tall, pink, symbolic tropical bird in Great Gatsby-ville. Take the hint, people!

Did you see the Julia Roberts apocalypse movie on Netflix this winter, “Leave the World Behind”? Wrongway Flamingo is very “Leave the World Behind.” Someone with a capital “S” tried and failed to get the message across by sending herds of white-tailed deer meandering down Newtown Lane past Gucci and Versace, and then Someone with a capital “S” got exasperated and realized we needed an even more blatant message from Above. We’re doomed. That’s the message. Tropical creatures are flying north to eat bait outside the picture windows of Steven Spielberg and Antony Blinken, our secretary of state.

I’ve read that red foxes have been turning up regularly in urban settings in England — in London, in Bristol. (This explains why foxes keep showing up, almost a cliché, on the quality British television shows I watch on BritBox in the evening when I’m eating mint-chip Klondike Bars and worrying about the impending autocratic takeover of our democracy, like when a fox shadowed the “hot priest” in “Fleabag.”) Larry the Cat made headlines in Britain when he chased a red fox from the prime minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street, London, not long ago.

I had something of a viral moment myself on social media in 2023, with Bagel Squirrel. What happened was that I left the house on my morning stroll to the post office and came upon an eastern gray squirrel up in the branches of a maple tree holding a bagel in his tiny paws and chewing. I don’t know who is depositing bagels into the shrubbery for wildlife to nosh on, but that’s another issue. I managed to get a photograph and put that photograph on Facebook and got lots of likes. Manhattan has Pizza Rat and East Hampton has Bagel Squirrel.

But the jury is still out on the animal of summer 2024. My daughter and I did get to see a genuine bald eagle in flight a few weeks ago, and we did follow the bald eagle at a distance in the car — as we thought our worried thoughts about America and the eagle turned and turned in the widening gyre and some rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouched towards Bethlehem to be born — but that was up in New Hampshire, so it hardly counts.

I think if forced to choose the emblematic creature of the moment, I would, like Ben Franklin, nominate the turkey. Surely you have seen the troops of turkeys? Do you have battalions of turkeys in your own backyard, browsing between the rhododendrons and the barbecue grill? The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation released 75 wild turkeys into the woods of Suffolk County back in the early 1990s and now estimates that “as many as 6,000 of them are roaming the area,” gobbling and foraging and fanning their tail feathers in courtship displays here in suburban Long Island, and to that 6,000 figure I reply “ha, ha, ha.” The message of the wild turkeys is that everything is completely out of whack, out of balance. And ludicrous. Everything is farcical. Perhaps the turkey does seem more apropos than the eagle, after all.

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