While visiting Santa Fe recently, I read an interesting story in The New Mexican, the oldest newspaper west of the Mississippi. Some visiting Tibetan monks had been asked to bless the prairie dogs in Frenchy's Field, a large city park.
A colony of 50—100 prairie dogs lives in Frenchy's Field. An organization called People for Native Ecosystems looks out for their welfare, opposing negligent trenching activity at the park, and stopping incautious grading at a film shoot site.
(The film is Beer for My Horses, starring Willie Nelson, Toby Keith, and Ted Nugent. This spring, when told there were prairie dogs hibernating at the grading site, the film crew stopped grading and moved the equipment, expressing the hope that the “poor little fellows” would be okay. I feel sure Willie Nelson wouldn't knowingly hurt a prairie dog. And if Ted Nugent were to go after prairie dogs, his hostility would probably take a form more personal than reckless grading.)
Melinda Ewell of People for Native Ecosystems issued a press release saying that when the monks blessed them two years earlier, the prairie dogs reacted by “coming to the surface, moving closer to the monks and adding their voices to the chanting and prayers.”
Ah yes. Adding their voices.
It happens that prairie dogs have a variety of specific calls that some people call language. They have distinct calls, or “words,” for “coyote,” “deer,” “red-tailed hawk,” “tall human in yellow shirt,” “short human in green shirt,” and, I suspect, “it's the biologist from Northern Arizona University again.” So I imagine that during the blessing two years ago the prairie dogs may have had quite specific things to add in their adorable little voices. Such as: “OMG! What is that noise? Who are those guys? What's going on? Look out! Monks! Monks to the north! Monks to the south! Monks peering down the burrow! Monks everywhere! Hide the kids!”
Two days later the paper covered the more recent blessing, running a photo of monks in snazzy golden yellow robes treading among golden yellow flowers. (The story had to compete with one about a plea for manure donations, but that had no photo.) Reporter Sarah Welliver did not question Ewell's description of the prairie dogs participating in the chanting, but observed, “This year, they were quiet during the ceremony.”
Yes, I think they stayed deep underground, so their subterranean chirping was inaudible.
“It's those Jehovah's Witnesses again – pretend we're not home.”
“I think they know we're here. And I don't think Jehovah's Witnesses wear orange.”
“Whatever. If I have to hear that verse about the little conies in the rocks again, I'll bite somebody. And then they'll say we're rabid.”
“That's from the Bible; that's Christians. I think these guys are Buddhists.”
“No, no, no. Buddhists. Mom, you should listen to these guys. They're vegetarians like us. They might have a message of peace for all beings.”
“Like for owls and coyotes? I don't think so. You're not putting your nose above ground until they are gone. And I don't want to see you reading their literature, either.”
However, if this dialog took place, it was unreported, and the ceremony took place without disturbance.
On the way out of town I saw a prairie dog standing near the side of Highway 25, looking toward the passing traffic. Probably thinking about hitching a ride out of town, seeking freedom from religious persecution.
[photograph by Chin tin tin, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0)