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River Views

Uroctonus mordax. Courtesy, Natalie McNear via Flickr.

May brought gophers to the surface in dozens of places along the river bottom. When you can’t beat ‘em or get rid of ‘em, make use of ‘em. Gophers are like nature’s own rototillers. A shovel and a couple of buckets helped fill a planting box up by the house.

The last day of the merry month dawned sunny here at the Macdonald Ranch, with the roar of chainsaws emanating from a few hundred feet west, where timber fallers employed by Mendocino Redwood Co. cut second growth trees along the steep slopes of McKay Gulch. Many a Macdonald child received their first fishing lesson in the stream at the bottom of that gulch. A hundred years and six months ago my then four-year-old father walked hand in hand with his 13-year old sister, Rose, into that gulch to chop down his very own Christmas tree, a fir about five feet tall.

As if the sound of chainsaws in the six a.m. hour wasn’t bracing enough, bare feet on the kitchen floor stepped nearly toe to pincer with a scorpion. There are dozens of species of scorpions; ours are forest scorpions, Uroctonus mordax. A uropod is a creature with a tail. Mordax means “to bite,” but, having scraped through several years of French in high school and college, any word with “mord” in it turns my thoughts to death. Rest assured when I see Uroctonus mordax I’m thinking tail-biter-of-death. Most reports indicate the bite of our local forest scorpion is not fatal. It can sting like the dickens, similar, I suppose, to the recent tourist, clad in short sleeves and shorts, who emerged grimacing from a section of trail in Jughandle State Preserve overgrown with nettles.

Entomologists may pretend not to care, but etymologists can’t resist tangents like the connection between mordax and mordant and the root “mort” because mort itself also means a three-year-old salmon, or to some Brits it’s the fat found on ham. Too much of that will kill you prematurely, which brings us to a far lesser known meaning of mort: the note played on a hunting horn to signify that the prey has indeed been dispatched.

Locally, you are most likely to encounter one of those dark brown forest scorpions in the middle of your wood pile. They hide there during the heat of the day. Some may spend an entire winter tucked within the humid, cozy confines of a large stack of firewood. It is always best to use good, thick gloves when carrying wood from a pile that has sat in the same place for any length of time.

Though it’s highly unlikely you’ll encounter them together, the male scorpion is less vibrant in color. Some might say the male is dull. I’ll disdain from gender bashing, but will confess that the scorpion found on the kitchen floor got a bashing of another sort. My Buddhist sympathies extend only so far into the insect world.

By mid-afternoon the timber fallers silenced their chainsaws and two hours later birds chirped and sang for their supper again. No sign of a three-year-old mort or any other salmon in the McKay Gulch stream, not even a trout, scarcely a polliwog. On a rise where the gulch widens as it approaches the Albion rests the remains of a dog cemetery buried three centuries deep. The bones of many a shepherd and border collie decay there, unable to bark away the chainsaws felling trees that stood tall before they were pups.

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