Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Poor Muskrats March on Washington

In 2007, I posted this on a blog I used to manage but want to make sure its available for all of posterity to enjoy.

Maybe someday it will happen.

The Poor Muskrat's March on Washington

It was about 34 years ago today, while sitting around in our basement apartment outside River Falls Wisconsin that my room mate Tom "Mad Dog" Nelson and I hatched the idea for a Poor Muskrat's March on Washington. The idea may have had it's genesis in what seemed like a half pound of very high grade herb that Mad Dog and I had been inhaling at warp speed for most of the late afternoon. It and a couple bottles of low grade Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill made us ready to tackle any issue.

Growing up in the north woods of the great state of Wisconsin my family wasn't what you would call one of Bush's "elite." My dad was an artificial inseminator, otherwise known as a "bull cheater." He made enough for us to get by but it wasn't an extravagant existence. I owned about 100 sheep and also 18 Jersey cows. These added to our income. After graduation from High School in May 1969, I decided to attend the University of Wisconsin at River Falls where I majored in Earth Science and Biology for my Bachelors Degree, and later in Biology for my Master's Degree.

When I started college in August 1969, room, board, and tuition for 18 credits cost $401 per quarter or $1203 a year (funny, I pay more than that each month in extortionate rent on a one-bedroom apartment now!). Because the combined income from the dairy cows and sheep helped defray family costs, I needed another source of income.

Ever since I was a little kid I had fantasized about living in northern Canada where I would live off the land and make money by trapping fur bearers for their pelts. In late October 1963 I set my first traps (all 10 of them) during each weekend of the trapping season and wound up the first year catching 5 Muskrats and 1 Mink for which I received a grand total of $6.25! However by the time college came around I knew much more about how to catch fur bearers and had become quite proficient at it. Ultimately I was good enough at it that I caught enough Muskrats, Mink and Raccoon in the fall, and Beaver and Red Fox in winter, that I could pay for all of my room, board and tuition each of four years as an undergraduate. Because of their abundance and relative stupidity (I've often wondered if Muskrats aren't Repugnicans) I caught one hell of a lot of Muskrats.

First quarter of my freshman year in college the University of Wisconsin at River Falls gave me as a roommate a Baptist kid from near Milwaukee named David W. He was 18 years old and had never drank, swore, smoked anything, been out with a girl or stayed out after 10 at night in his entire life. He was also a member of the campus "Young Repugnicans." They put him in a room with me.

Clashed isn't an appropriate word to describe how David and I got along. I spent that first quarter in college working feverishly to drive him from my dorm room. David would wake up every morning at 6:00 am and take a shower. He would return and then stand in front of the mirror popping zits (he had no shortage of them) until 7:00 am when he would grab his books and say "I'm going to go feed my face." (as if I cared?) He would return in the late afternoon and sit at his desk to study. This is a kid from just outside of Milwaukee in the great State of Wisconsin yet the little bastard would listen to or watch nothing but ball games from Minnesota. Name a Minnesota team and David was a fan. He would sit at his desk with two radios playing; one tuned to a Twins game the other to a Gophers game. This was in WISCONSIN for Christs sake - the state where it is a genetically inherited trait to despise everything related to and about Minnesota. One night David walked down to the basement of Johnson Hall to watch Star Trek with all of us and promptly left when he was pelted with a barrage of beer bottles. We didn't want the traitor anywhere near us.

No matter what I did or said nothing would drive David from the room. I'd come home drunk and puke on the floor. David was still there. I once brought home a female "friend" who stayed in my bed all night not four feet from David's head but nothing in the thrashing and moaning for most of the night caused David to want to leave. Nothing moved him from the room. Nothing.

The 1969 trapping season in northern Wisconsin began on Saturday October 25 and I trapped heavily near home that first week. The trapping season in the central zone (where River Falls was located) began on Saturday November 1. I moved all of my traps and equipment to River Falls and trapped a large wetland near Roberts that was crawling with Muskrats. In the first week of the central zone season I caught 150 Muskrats, 1 Mink and 1 Raccoon. I had no place to skin them, stretch them, or hang them up to dry so I did all of that in my dorm room (209 Johnson Hall probably still smells of muskrat skins). You could walk in the front door of Johnson Hall and smell my room on the south wing of 2nd floor. Being used to the smell of Muskrat skins I rather enjoyed the experience but it was the breaking point for David. At the end of the quarter, two weeks later, he quit college, joined the Army and went to Vietnam. His name isn't on the Wall, so I assume he came back.

That first year I caught more than enough critters to pay for all of my tuition and housing and food. The trend was set for the rest of my college career.

By the time my senior year in college came around I was quite fervent in my love for and respect of Muskrats. This may be related to my college nickname of "Muskrat" that an old girl friend Robbie Pitsch (who I missed out on marrying by _ that much) affectionately called me for many years to come. I once gave a senior seminar titled "Muskrat - King of the Fur Bearers". There was virtually nothing about them that I didn't know and couldn't recite.

Which brings us to 34 years ago this week.

In our herb-induced haze, Mad Dog and I started talking about social injustice. This was back when people gave a shit about social injustice. Both being Earth Science and Biology majors we turned the conversation into environmental injustice. As we toked away and drank we slurred the conversation in the direction of how to apply social issues to the environment (isn't it great what herb can do to your thinking?)

In 1968 Washington DC saw the "Poor People's March on Washington." This was back in the days when we had a real President who actually cared about something other than his own net worth. Thousands of people converged on Washington to march on the Capitol demanding justice for the poor people (that would be the non-Republic Party people) of the nation.

Emboldened by that knowledge Mad Dog and I decided that the most important environmental issue we could tackle (other than over population that at the time we were more than willing to contribute to) was wetland protection and trying to stop the draining of wetlands. From the 1950s to the 1970s the United States was destroying an average of 458,000 acres of wetlands every year in this country. Muskrats used to live in those 458,000 acres that had been turned into housing developments or surplus hard red spring wheat. Something had to be done.

After maybe the 8th or 9th passing of the bong, Mad Dog and I decided what we would do was to organize the "Poor Muskrats March on Washington." The concept was simple (had to be, we were stoned out of our gourds) but the implementation might take a bit of coordination.

What we planned was a two pronged approach.

First we were going to rent a Cessna and fly low over the marshes of America calling to arms all of the Muskrats we could find. Once we had 2 million of them in our camp, we were going to bring them all to Washington DC (don't be surprised if what follows sounds like something out of Jerry Rubin's book "Do It").

Once in Washington, Mad Dog was going to organize 1 million Muskrats and have them shut down all transportation systems into and out of Washington DC. All the Potomac River bridges would be blocked. All the rail lines. Everything. Once the city was secured I would take the other 1 million Muskrats and we would march on and then occupy and control the United States Capitol. When it was secure, the Million Muskrat March and I would remain in the Capitol building and not move until Congress passed mandatory legislation banning all forms of wetland loss in the country. Once we could say "mission accomplished" (but from a marsh not the deck of a boat 500 meters off the San Diego beach - and without a sign proclaiming the same) we would never have to worry again about homes for Muskrats because the wetlands would all be protected.

As the night dragged on we accepted the fact that there would probably be a few logistical obstacles that had to be overcome, but in our cannabis-induced euphoria we knew we could handle them.

History, of course, shows that the Poor Muskrats March on Washington has not yet happened. It might have been because of the logistics, or the inability of renting a Cessna, or it could be that when we slept off all that dope and Boone's Farm the next day we lost our direction.

Whatever the reason was then, the idea has never left my mind. To this day, every time I fly into or out of Washington National Airport (never EVER call it Washington Reagan airport) I look down at the bridges and streets of the city and fantasize about what they would have looked like then, or could look like in the near future, with 1 million Muskrats standing on their haunches, incisors bared, right paw clenched in a fist, and a look of "not in my wetland you won't" written across their furry little faces.

The Poor Muskrats March on Washington hasn't occurred - yet. But don't be surprised if some day before I move on to that great Muskrat marsh in the sky, you don't hear about a bunch of militant Muskrats swarming over the city sizing up the bridges leading out of Washington DC. The Captain and Tennille's song "Muskrat Love" playing in the background, and 1 million of them will rise up on their haunches and start chanting "Power to the Muskrats, Power to the Muskrats, Power to the Muskrats, Power to the Muskrats right on."

It could happen.

1 comment:

  1. "Muskrat" has good memories, "Mad Dog" is living in a paradise place in South America, ( Mendoza, Argentina) and happy married with a woman of there, he became part of this land, and his language Spanish. We still are good friends, David.