The Spool of Destiny
The Usual
In Print


Miniature Horses, Giant Rodents, and the Scale of Things in General:
Way back at the dawn of time, perhaps some thirty years ago, I found myself travelling west in the Volkswagen bus of my old pal Keith, accompanied by said Keith as well as our lawyer, Ray. He wasn't really our lawyer, at least not in the sense that we had in any way retained his professional services, but it could easily have come to that. It adds, at any rate, a certain disreputable panache of the Hunter S. Thompson variety to our story and I'll tell you at the same time that Ray was, and presumably still is to some extent, a fine and outstanding fellow, a distinguished Virginia lawyer in the finest New England tradition, with a remarkable willingness to accept unquestioningly the peculiar and incongruous turns our journeys often took. Never mind all that, though.

Somewhere in Michigan, and don't ask me how we got to Michigan already or where we had been before, there came that sudden, urgent need to stop alongside a vacant stretch of road for a short while, and seeing no living creatures other than a few horses in the distance, we took our leave to rest by this vast pasture with its endless white fences and one handsome and convenient beech tree. It was a pleasant day, cool and sunny with a blue sky through which just the right number of clouds were passing, and as the horses had placed themselves most photogenically about the field, I decided to take a picture. It was then, upon more focused inspection, that it became apparent that the laws of perspective were being most egregiously flaunted.
The horses which had appeared to be far across the field were actually just a few yards away, and considerably smaller than one might reasonably expect horses to be. A quick consultation with our lawyer revealed that he knew little of value as regards local statutes or the physics thereof, so we consulted the horses who, though equally ignorant, quickly revealed, despite themselves, that they were without a doubt Miniature Horses.

I began to wonder just how far away that distant barn really was. I put up my hand and measured the barn between my thumb and index finger. It was about half an inch tall. I turned and similarly gauged Keith, who was standing over towards the other end of the bus playing 'Sailor's Hornpipe' on a tin whistle. Assuming the barn to be of standard dimensions and closer than it appeared, that meant that Keith was almost 26 feet tall! For the next stretch of driving, I insisted on taking the wheel while Keith laid down with his feet sticking out the back of the van.

Objects In Mirror Are Stranger Than They Appear:
A little ways down the road we did come to a sign announcing that this was indeed a miniature horse farm. Disappointingly, the buildings were of a normal size; the horses were the only miniature aspect of this farm. We soon began to pass many other farms which bore signs pertaining to various agricultural research projects under the auspices of the University of Michigan. We can only guess at what other agri-optical pranks they have up their sleeve!

In passing I'll mention that our purpose in passing through Michigan, or perhaps it was Wisconsin by now, was to visit an old school chum of Keith's who turned out to be a dangerous felon of some sort and was not taking visitors at that time. Nothing else you need to know happened until we got to South Dakota, where a visit to the world famous Wall Drug Store revealed that there were creatures stranger than miniature horses to be found in this world. I refer specifically to the Jackalope, an antlered rabbit whose existance is verified only by the taxidermist who so kindly prepared it for our edification. lepus absurdicus There were other finely stuffed examples of the local wildlife as well, but none have achieved the star status of the Jackalope.

South Dakota, alternately known as "The Coyote State" and "The Sunshine State", is one of my favorite places to visit. Their Badlands are the baddest, their Black Hills the blackest. On a subsequent visit to that state with a lovely young woman who I later married, I acquired, at a small souvenir shop in the Black Hills, a tiny plastic buffalo in a tiny wooden crate suitable for mailing and inscribed with the message "I got this tiny buffalo in South Dakota." I still have that boxed baby buffalo somewhere among my many boxes of priceless junk, and if I can dig it up anytime soon, I'll add a picture of it here. By the way, if you are one of the first five people kind enough to visit and read this far, send me an email with your comments (and address) and I will send you by regular post a special trinket from one of the boxes (probably a rock, but you never know).

Anyway, on that particular trip to South Dakota, as we entered Custer State Park (in the beautiful Black Hills, home to Mt.Rushmore as well as the fabulous Needles, Pigtail Bridges, wild burros, and many other features) we were warned by the ranger of an escaped convict - a murderer - who was thought to be in the area. We passed through occasional roadblocks in the park where police inquired if we were harboring any murderers, but I could truthfully report that I had only a tiny buffalo, and he was well secured. We spent a fearful and restless night in an empty campground. At some point during the night, some creatures (coyotes, I suspect) ran right over our sleeping bags and breathed damply in our faces. Awaking from a confused dream, I shouted "Kangaroos!" as I jumped from the sleeping bag. Leaving the park the next day we got a flat tire and spent the rest of the day in the waiting room of a Rapid City tire store.

Speaking of kangaroos, I've always been a big fan of zoos. I know there are many who consider them barbaric, inhumane institutions, but most zoos have made great strides in animal hospitality in the past decade, doing their best to recreate the native habitats of their residents. This is certainly more than you can say for most hotels. A visit to the zoo brings people into contact with animals they might never otherwise think about, and in many cases this awareness inspires concern for the general welfare of our planet and its many diverse inhabitants. The capybara for example, (hydrochoerus capybara), a tailless, generally aquatic South American rodent is a creature that most of us would never encounter in the ordinary run of things. While their innermost thoughts remain a mystery to us, a visit to a well-equipped (that is to say, capybara-equipped) zoo will reveal a fascinating glimpse into the day-to-day affairs of this most enormous of rodents. In my younger days I took great pride in just knowing that capybaras existed - it was one of those special little bits of knowledge that I hoarded away for that rare occasion when the subject might come up in idle conversation, and I could dazzle my audience by relating some arcane bit of cabybariana. Now, though, it seems everyone knows about capybaras. They are routinely mentioned in situation comedies and all the popular press. At a cocktail party I attended the other night, I overheard a bit of conversation in which capybaras figured prominently, though illogically. Suffice it to say that for me the thrill is gone, but I am pleased nonetheless at this empirical evidence that zoos are indeed doing their job.

The thing about the capybara, though, is that a full grown one is about the size of an overturned refrigerator, but if you stand some distance away and view it between your thumb and index finger, it looks just like a guinea pig. And I daresay it would fit right in with those tiny heads on Mount Rushmore.


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