[fosc] Three Salamanderers

Mjrauz at aol.com Mjrauz at aol.com
Thu May 11 13:03:40 PDT 2006

Three Salamanderers

It was working so well, the bucket brigade, several 5 gallon plastic buckets 
used to scoop up woody mulch and haul it down the trail as you walked your 
dog. Seemed innocent if a bit naïve, sooner or late most things get thrown into 
the creek.   Already several buckets went missing. I loaded one and walked down 
the trail until I reached a bald spot and scattered my load. A side trail 
caught my eye and I parked my bucket and I wandered down to the leafy green dell. 
The “winter of the long drink’ was over and the bake was on. The strong 
sunlight beamed into a new clearing where the creek had jumped out of its bed and 
scoured a new gravel bank. This sunny growing grounds was recently planted by 
Oakland high school students in an restoration effort, part class- part social 
event, to covered a streamside, deweeded of Cape and German ivy. As I checked 
on the plantings under the weeds, I heard I was not alone. 

The trio of boy's, black, brown and white, Oakland’s youth were on the 
salamander prowl. Since they were yelling and running, I could move upon them in 
their distraction to see what they were up to. Here were the culprits engaged in 
a little hunting with a white plastic bucket. Flipping over the logs we had 
carefully placed in the restoration area, the kids were scooping up the exposed 
salamanders and putting them in their bucket.   

“Hey what' going here?” 

“We're catching salamanders, snakes and lizards,” said one of the kids with 
unbridled enthusiasm. 

“Let me see,” I said. In their 5 gallon bucket was one arboreal and one 
slender salamander, damp skin on dry plastic-not good. I tried to tell the kids 
about this, but could see I wasn’t making any headway.

“Let’s put them back,” I tried to reason with the kids. And they pretended 
to, so I finally took their bucket and dumped the amphibians out of harm’s way. 
The kid in black cap cocked with attitude shot back:

"You own these?" 

Touché. He got me, "Well, no not really, I just made them feel at home here.”
Yes, I meant to say, I was responsible for them, but I was a poor authority 
figure. I oughta kick them outta here, I argued to myself. But I wasn’t in 
charge of this public project, the salamanders weren't mine, I was outnumbered and 
couldn't take their bucket away. There were more buckets on the other side of 
the creek. 

I mumbled “hey what were you kids doing away from school anyway?” and left 
them to their pillage. After all I had just been spouting off the day before 
how this generation does not had direct access to nature like all the past ones. 
How kids these days have to pass through security to go to school, and here 
were three boys doing what we did as kids along our local riverbank. Here they 
had a natural experience like the ones I lamented lost, and maybe these 
amphibians would have to be sacrificed to the greater good. I realized salamanders 
are the poor man’s lizards. The slow catchable kind, and the boys were doing 
what boys do... what I did. How many salamanders died at my hands, how many 
sunfish, tadpoles, I was especially deadly to frogs. 

But now I was the restorer, placing the logs just so, creating attractive 
nuisances to lured them to their death. Voilå, it worked and salamanders 
materialized in our wettest of winters. And I was privileged to witness the plunder, 
and remember that entrancing red cave salamander I caught so many years ago. As 
I walked away, I glanced over my shoulder and the three amigos went right 
back to the log I stopped them at. And while I’m not the best with kids, I 
realized maybe this is their childhood natural experience they’ll remember, (when 
that mean man yelled at us!) and I shouldn't get in their way any more, and 
sorry salamanders, next time I’ll make a safer place for you too.

Mark Rauzon
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