Saturday, July 4, 2009

True Amphibian Crime Part Two: The Transbay Newt Shuffle

Now that I'm looking at this, I want it on a T-shirt.

Okay, this happened about eighteen years ago. I'm pretty sure crimes were committed, but I'm not au fait as to the laws in question. My late brother Duncan was the provocateur; a then-friend of my brother's and now a close friend of mine, whose nom du caper will be The Hon. Richard Talleywhacker, acted as wheelman. As for my own role...

This was before the missus and I embarked on our herptile fixation -- and the events that follow, I now realize, were the thin end of that wedge. On impulse, I'd picked up a fishtank at a yard sale and set it up with an undergravel filter.

Now instead of stocking it with fish, I had gotten a jar full of pondwater and sediment and poured it into the tank and let it stew for a year or so. There were all kinds of tiny animals in there, water beetles and daphnia and so on and so forth. There was a healthy crop of algea. While there weren't any big spectacular animals, it was still fascinating to put your face close to the glass and watch all the different little creatures going about their business.

So one fine day Duncan tells me I'm going hiking with him and The Hon. Richard Talleywhacker. Mr. Talleywhacker drives us out to Tilden park and we set out hiking around the hills. And that's where I came face to face with temptation.

Tilden has a population of California newts. They are adorable little guys, chunky dark red pups with orange bellies. They lay their eggs underwater in clusters of jelly attached to plant stems.Well, we ran across some seasonal ponds that were drying out, and where the water had receded we found hundreds of egg clusters drying in the sun.

I knew it wasn't kosher to swipe animals from a park like this, but when I bemoaned the fact that all those eggs were going to die, Duncan nagged at me until I gave in. I had some plastic bags in my knapsack; we gathered fifteen or twenty egg clusters and took them home, where I put them in my aquarium.

At first I wasn't sure they were going to hatch -- but they didn't rot. And then one day I went upstairs and the tank was swarming with infinitisimal larval newts. They lived happily off the fauna in the tank for quite a while.

But then quite literally overnight, a select few of the newts grew to two or three times the size of the others -- and there were a lot fewer of the others. Now I have nothing against cannibalism in principal but enforcing it via confinement and starvation seemed a bit unsavory to me. The theme music from Born Free blowing through the open space between my ears, I called Duncan and told him it was time to let the newts go.

"There's no point in letting them go in Tilden," Duncan said. "There's already newts there. Let's take 'em to Golden Gate Park."

Now let me make one thing clear. The geeks who unleashed the salamanders mentioned in The Origin Of Cyclops, the idiots who decided to import all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare to the US, the jackoffs responsible for bringing Australian black swans to New Zealand -- that is some heinous shit. Disrupting an environment with alien species is fundamentally noxious.

But San Francisco -- and Golden Gate Park in particular -- isn't a natural environment. If it were, it would be dunes and bunch grass, dry as a bone. But Golden Gate Park is a moist green wonderland with year-round ponds, filled with alien plants and animals. Giving a California native an extra habitat didn't seem like a sin.

It still doesn't.

So The Hon. Richard Talleywhacker and his car were called upon to transport Duncan, myself, and an uncountable number of larval newts to San Francisco. We did the dirty deed in broad daylight. No one dared challange us, assuming anyone noticed we were doing anything. Two ponds were stocked.

I've always wondered what happened after that... but every so often I do a search on California Nets Golden Gate Park. And once, a few years back, I found a one-paragraph story on a news site saying that the California Newts had returned to Golden Gate Park. No more information than that. Since I'm pretty sure that there weren't any newts living in San Francisco before...

I wonder. I wonder...


robp said...

Well, if you did commit a crime, you had the song Born Free run through your head, which certainly seems punishment enough.

Glendon Mellow said...

I agree, get that image on a t-shirt.

Sean Craven said...

Rob, you would not believe the torture I experience as a result of the crap music I have running through my head.

And Glendon: As soon as I'm done with Swill, I'm setting up a Redbubble site. It's time to start attempting to make money!

Glendon Mellow said...

Anything I can do to help, just let me know!

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