They Shoot Squeaks, Don’t They?

Dorris, California

Population: 1,000    Elevation: 4,200 feet

Average Annual Rainfall: 13 inches

Claim to Fame: Tallest Flagpole West of the Mississippi

Best Place to Be in Dorris: Hospitality Inn & Dinner House

Jeff Burcher, owner of Hospitality Inn & Dinner House calls his place “a diamond in the rough.” An apt description. Dorris is a tiny town, with modest homes, curbless streets and unpaved driveways, their potholes filled with water from recent rain. I see more stray cats than I have in years. Today, a dull gray covers the sky, making sunshine seem like just an idea. This is a flat, usually arid land, with vast alfalfa fields all around. The hay’s in the barns now, but groups of serious looking men gather around farm machinery at the edge of the fields, preparing for planting, I assume.

The Inn was once a hospital. During my tour, Jeff points out what was had been the delivery room, a ten-bed ward, the waiting room. There are light fixtures made from the wooden wheels of old wheelchairs. Porcelain bedpans have been transformed into planters. I’m enthralled with the renovation, the cozy, old-fashioned décor, the photos of Jeff’s family, the comfort of this lovely home. But I can also imagine how it housed sick people; my mind recreates the ward, nurses in starched white uniforms and those awful hats, patients wheeled by on gurneys, babies born as fathers pace the waiting room.

The Dinner House, a block from the Inn, is a boisterous place. Conversation and laughter escape from the back dining room. Half a dozen guests sit at the bar. The bar opens into the kitchen and Jeff is cooking with one of his sons. I’m greeted warmly, and am reminded of how easy it is to leave the solitude of home and find company. I take a seat in the front room, enjoy a glass of Chilean wine, and tell myself that I did have a purpose for making this trip, other than a reprieve from my much too empty house.

Jeff, Mr. Hospitality himself, joins me. We talk about his grandchildren, his work for the Forest Service, but I steer the conversation to Oregon 7. He tells me a friend took a photo of a paw print she believed was Journey’s, when Journey first made the trek to California late December. When I ask what the prevailing attitude about wolves is here in Dorris, he explains that there are a lot of cougar and coyote around and they kill a hefty number of livestock as well as game–mule deer, antelope. If wolves were to repopulate these parts, he says, the cougar or coyote would have to go, people would never tolerate that many predators.

Jeff introduces me to Bull, whose impressive size no doubt earned him his nickname. Jeff jumps up to go cook and Bull sits down. Soft spoken, he tells me he’s the only Indian in town, at least the only one who gets out much. I’m glad to hear that Bull has no problem with Journey coming to California. He glances at the bar, and says that most people don’t feel this way. And if there were more wolves, it would be a bigger problem, he adds. People are “educated” to have problems with wolves, and he doesn’t foresee this changing.

The backroom is getting rowdy. Two-dozen men and a couple of women from the Mendoza Winery are in town, Jeff explained earlier, on their yearly “squeak” hunting venture. I should know to never be surprised by what humans will do for fun, but I am. Seems the “squeaks” are ground squirrels that eat the growing alfalfa and draw badgers who dig holes that are treacherous for farm equipment. Since Mendoza owns some of these fields, their people travel to Dorris and take it upon themselves to rid the world of as many ground squirrels as possible in one weekend. Raptors flock to the scene, I’m told, and feast on the dead rodents. I try to find this particular field, mostly to see the raptors, yet I’m also curious about the hunters, but I get lost and have to turn around. That’s all right, my imagination is probably the best way to view this sight anyway.

Eternally, it seems, we’re at odds with nature, wanting to subdue and control it, make it convenient for human purposes. I toy with the idea that perhaps I’m just naive. This is how it is. Hunting, trapping, the clearing of land, destruction of habitat, is the reality. How can we fight it, any of it? But if I’m naive because I believe we must stand against this destruction, I’m in excellent company, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, those who fight for wolves in Oregon, Idaho and elsewhere. And what if we don’t fight, what of the authentic, natural world would remain?  Maybe the squeaks, there are plenty of them, but most likely, not the wolves.

4 thoughts on “They Shoot Squeaks, Don’t They?

  1. Its funny that the older I get and the more I read books, particularly what my friends call ‘idiosyncratic’ stuff, (I got divorced once on the back of ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’) then I go out and talk to
    (if I have to, I’m turning misanthropic!) a divide seems to have opened
    up. It was always there, but I was too scared to show it and declare it, but I always felt different, at odds. It’s part of what
    Sir Ken Robinson (see his video’s at TED TALKS and his book, ‘The Element’) calls ‘finding your tribe’. It sometimes feels hard to understand how and why people have ‘moved away’ from nature and our natural world inasmuch as their intimacy with it is non existent. I too am guilty, if guilty is the right word, of being remote from it, this drift away from nature started long ago and has been perpetuated by degree with each generation. Its understandable that we, since the Industrial Revolution, have had this desire, impulse to want to lift up our well being, but since I first read ‘Only one Earth’, many years ago, something has always nagged away at me. I’m not sure what it is, except perhaps that now I think that nature throws up people who believe and understand in a certain way, their thought processes are such that nature requires a kind of balance. Though I am not sure balance in the Gaia sense is correct, nature moves on, adjusts and will pay us no more attention than the dinosaurs, who despite their reign, largely perished. I think you could say its following your heart and saying what needs to be said and follow that long line of DNA in order to bring about change and enlightenment. Of course politics will get in the way, I heard a radio conversation between two eminent scholars last week, who thought that collectively we will not change, only when a huge cataclysmic event happens. There is an article on this disconnection by a great writer, Robert Macfarlane, here within these series of essays (One on Barry Lopez to), its under this link,

    and the Lopez one is in this collection of thought provoking essays.
    The great Joseph Campbell I remember, used this phrase when asked about Man’s current (this was in 1987) ‘confrontation’ with his environment,

    .”Man vs. God, God vs. Man. God vs. Nature, Nature vs. God. Very strange religion.” D.T. Suzuki lecturing about Christianity.


  2. As always, I love your blend of personal and political…
    I saw a great short at the Ashland Independent Film Festival called “Boy.” About a certain rite of passage. To me (although I suppose it is interpretive) it shows how some boys/men are brought up to harden their hearts in order to kill living things. I won’t say more, but try to see it.


  3. Thank you both for your comments. Marla I woke up thinking about “Boy” and how rights of passage, especially with trophy hunting, perpetuate the ongoing destruction of wildlife. Perhaps part of our efforts to try to end the killing of wolves should examine this, and find a way to offer an alternative to teaching children to kill.


  4. Hi Becky,
    There is a fascinating book, (yes I know another one!) called ‘From Boys to Men’ by Bret Stephenson, who lives in Lake Tahoe. He has been working with gangs and teenage boys for 20 years (He was a shoplifter himself as a teenager) and uses Joseph Campbell’s ‘Hero’s Journey’ to try to help adolescent kids through their own troubles. It harks back to many Native American and other societies studies which learned how to ‘temper’ that difficult time in life for boys, which can feel so overwhelming and when we are so open to influences, good and bad. ( I know I was) Bret has brought it forward to fit with today’s society of course, there are rituals which would now breach ‘Health and Safety’! Interestingly we both watched the film ‘Freedom Writers’ around the same time and he said that the teacher featured, Erin Gruwell, actually carried out much that Campbell had said, almost by instinct it seems.
    You may or may not find that Mark Rowlands has much to say on explanations for our wayward behaviour too.
    I remember as a young kid, 9 or 10 years maybe, playing in the garden, surrounding ants with hot water and watching what happens. No one taught me this. Was it evil? Was I just curious? Can I be held responsible? Well I did it, so yes, but the law may not hold children of that age culpable. Did I grow out of it? I hope so, but I fear that as an advanced ape, we have an inbuilt need to dominate which has to be curbed. A book called ‘Born Liars’ points out that it seems that our brains grew larger because in order to socialise in large numbers, we had to be able to deceive each other, to dominate. This happens now in our Industrial Society, and its brought us much good, but much trouble too. I fear we are ‘credulous animals’, easily led at times, ‘Milgrams’ experiments goes a long way to showing this I believe. All sounds rather gloomy! But if we understand what we are, then perhaps we can move forward and I guess that is enlightenment.


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