Rocky Mountain National Park

We’ve driven by Rocky Mountain National Park so many times in our lives that we really have no valid excuses as to why we haven’t visited before. On our trip home this spring, we decided to finally take the plunge and visit the park. Most of the hotels in Estes Park were either full or didn’t allow pets, so we stayed a bit further away in Loveland for the night.

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Let’s talk about rabies

Hydrophobia. Fear of water. Thousands of years after the first cases of rabies were recognized as a disease and characterized by this one fatal symptom in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, we are still fighting to eradicate it. Just last December, the World Heath Organization (WHO) authored an initiative with its animal counterpart to end human rabies cases by 2030.

Yes, that’s right. Rabies is still around, even in the United States. In Texas alone last year, 949 animals tested positive for rabies, many of them pets. Around the world, 55,000 people die of rabies each year, almost half of them children. That is over 55,000 lives cut short because of a disease easily preventable by vaccination. Unfortunately, the amount of infrastructure and the availability of medical care, including those crucial vaccinations, is markedly different between developing countries and developed countries like the United States.

There is one other key difference: the type of rabies that dogs commonly carry has actually been eradicated here, though dogs remain the main reservoir in other countries, including China, India, Africa, and most of South America. Instead, dependent on where you live in the US, you may find cases carried in bats, foxes, skunks, raccoons, and coyotes. And if you or your dog gets bitten by one of these critters, both of you could become infected and potentially even transmit the fatal disease to others.

A few weeks ago, I visited central Texas for a family shindig, and we had the opportunity to visit one of the caves in the area. During our tour, we were able to see these little guys:

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Once known as the eastern pipistrelle, they are now more commonly known as the tri-colored bat. They are often solitary or in small groups at the edges of caves and agricultural areas of the eastern US, though much remains unknown about their daily habits.

During our tour of the caves, our guide informed the group that these bats are too small to bite and do not carry rabies. The key here is that these bats are the size of small mice. Would you believe someone if they told you that mice don’t bite? Of course not! Like mice, bats don’t often bite, but even the smallest of them will if threatened.

As to their ability to carry and transmit rabies, many ‘cryptic’ cases of human and pet rabies, where the original infected bite wasn’t identified, are not only attributable to bats, but to this species specifically. As a matter of fact, the tri-colored bat is one of the most common causes of human cases of cryptic rabies, and is a known vector, or carrier, of rabies in Texas specifically. In addition, Travis County in central Texas is one of the hot spots for positive rabies cases due to the density of bats living there. Though the risks of receiving an infected bat bite or scratch on a short cave tour are low, they do exist.

When I brought up my concerns after the tour, they were dismissed off-hand. There were kids in that tour and in other tours that will receive this information, and that is unacceptable. Even in the US, children are more likely than adults to receive exposures to rabid bats through touching them, picking them up, handling them bare-handed. And all it takes is one parent to believe this inaccurate information, to not get the treatment necessary after their child has been exposed, to have a child die because someone thought the bat was too small to bite them, and besides, they don’t carry rabies anyway. Right?

Wrong. Let’s talk about rabies. Let’s talk about the real risks, not downplay them so people aren’t cautious when they encounter wildlife or strange animals, or so they pay the ticket price for entrance into your attraction.

If you do encounter a strange animal, whether it’s wild or domestic, please don’t approach it. If it bites or scratches you, make sure to clean out any injuries, no matter how small, and get treatment from your doctor. Even when rabies isn’t a primary concern, other infections may be depending on the nature of the injury.

Yes, being outside with the diverse array of wildlife we have around us is wonderful, even beautiful at times. Please don’t forget, though, that nature’s beauty often comes with thorns.

The OSU Botanic Garden

The Other Half and I have our favorite places to visit throughout the seasons, but the one place where the difference between summer and winter seems greatest is the university-owned Botanic Gardens. During the winter, bleak wood tones highlight the obvious labels which surround the ever-present compost piles.

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Memories of the Cache La Poudre River

I have to admit, my family has a history in Fort Collins, Colorado. My great grandparents and great-uncle are buried there, my father spent several years there as a child, and my grandfather’s ashes were spread there after he died, almost a year and a half ago now.

When my grandfather died, I was quite unhappy. There was a distance between us I had sought unsuccessfully to remove in the years since I’ve met the Other Half; we only lived a few hours apart, but it could have been lifetimes. We couldn’t hold a conversation on the phone, we never seemed to be able to connect over anything as we grew up. Our only common link was my father; short of that, we knew each other as well as any two strangers on the street.

I hadn’t really come to terms with his death until I reached Fort Collins. A walk along the Cache La Poudre where he was laid to his final rest helped me clear my head and remember some of the memories I have of my grandfather when I was young.

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My most profound memory of him was when we were at my grandfather’s house setting off pop bottle rockets into a cornfield. My uncle, my dad, and my grandpa would adjust the height of our make-shift launchpads so that my siblings and I got just the perfect arc on them. Something about lighting the punks at nightfall while the fireflies danced around us has just stuck with me.

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I learned about gardening first from my grandfather. He used to grow rhubarb just so he could boil the leaves to keep the ants away from his other plants. I remember he had a veritable library of plant books, and I still have the one he gifted to me.

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And you know, my best memory of my grandfather isn’t actually of my grandfather. It’s the sight of my dad with the biggest, goofiest grin on his face because his dad called to see how he was doing. And you know, anyone that can make my dad smile and be happy has to be okay by me.