Scorpions & snakes

Just back from a peaceful and rejuvenating sojourn in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a place I’d never been, I’ve begun to fret about this mojo that has suggested itself in my life countless times in the past.

Usually it takes the form of “coincidences” of little or no consequence — someone speaking a word on radio or TV precisely as I’m writing the same word in a crossword puzzle; wondering what happened to some obscure character actor, then finding him in two movies at the same time on different channels; that sort of thing.

In the Smokies, it seemed to be running on high, expecially after finding a harmless millipede in bed one night. I muttered something about how a scorpion would be an entirely different story. Next morning — there’s a scorpion scuttling across the cabin floor. (I smote it and kept it, having wanted one since, on a family visit to Arizona at age 9 or 10, I purposefully wandered off into the desert, little sis in tow, kicking over rocks to find one. Found none. Ass-whooping ensued.)

The mountain views, from bottom to top, were unsettlingly beautiful. The trout streams winding around them were cold, pristine and — as with all trout water — as pretty as nature gets. The fish were not as impressed with us. After nudging my dry fly with its snout, one backed off then leapt neatly up and over the fly. It was a humiliating “up y’alls.”

We carefully avoided all unnecessary contact with nearby Gatlinburg and its theme park honoring country music’s most bounteous warbler, Dollywood. It was plain that one successful marketing ploy on the Gatlinburg strip would be to erect yet another billboard and proclaim, “Our crap’s better — and cheaper! — than their crap.” Even during an afternoon visit to the Cherokee reservation just over the North Carolina line, I found many “Indian handicrafts” were just that — made in India.

But the mountain park was a sanctuary, with no sign of the commercialism that drives everything today, except for cold drinks, T-shirts and postcards sold in the few visitor centers there.

Home, too soon, and the mojo turns mean. One of the first news stories I heard was about a low-profile rewriting of rules and laws governing our national parks, with no input from Congress or the public, but apparently plenty from the off-road recreational vehicle lobby. The author of this sneaky rewrite is Paul Hoffman, deputy assistant secretary of the Department of Interior for fish, wildlife and parks.

If you’d like a kick in your nature-loving slats, check out and its report on the current chicanery. The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, a watchdog group of park service veterans, will fill you in. You’ll find, among many other outrages, that the new rules would allow virtually unrestricted use of ATVs, Jet Skis, snowmobiles and other noisy polluters in the parks, and many more flights in Smoky Mountains airspace; major music concerts (CNPSR cites Britney Spears at Shiloh National Military Park as a possibility) would be permitted on parks land; rangers would be required to kill bears in Yellowstone if they damage private property, no matter how moronic the camper or hiker and his actions. Hoffman’s draft also eliminates all references to “evolution” and “evolutionary processes” from current rules.

Rather than preserve and protect the parks in the public interest, “These draft policies shatter that precedent in favor of smash-and-grab politics,” the CNPSR says.

But listen, maybe a few Dollywood billboards and “As Seen on TV” franchises would brighten up Old Smoky. Whatcha think?

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