Found in Thermopolis, WY.
Insects are a peculiar bunch. Most call them bugs. Almost a same connotation as a plant given the name a weed. Bugs, critters, creepy-crawlies.
I do not give them these pejoratives though.
I have had too many odd experiences with them.
Not just in the manner in which they move or the way in which a creature so tiny can accomplish something so grand.
I have had personal experience with them of a profound kind. I have had at least three encounters that I can remember of with a dragonfly sitting on a clothes lines. Those dragonflies were of such an inquisitive character that those dragonflies let me physically touch their wings. Imagine yourself in existence whereby a being 100000* your weight comes up to you.
Truly think of this encounter.
If fear was not in the immediate response I hope I never have to encounter you. You’re a sociopath.
But, fear was not on its purview. Perhaps that dragonfly has something we do not. Understanding of intentions.
I am a curious being not particularly afraid of death (either inflicting, being surrounded by or incurring), and on one occasion I thought well what if I just bundled up this little thing. The Darwin Dragonfly awards goes to this Dodo Dragonfly crossed my mind. And as soon as I thought that the dragonfly fluttered away never to be seen from again.
Us humans think we are the smartest creatures on this planet. Perhaps all we are is the only one endowed with enough hubris to believe that. But that is another story for another time.
This story is about a butterfly. This butterfly to be exact.
I was driving along a highway to Fossil Butte National Park and I was getting very tired of driving. I needed a rest. I had been driving for four hours straight. So I pulled over, did a little stretching, ate whatever I had left over from the breakfast and was applying some body lotion to rejuvenate when I felt a bug land on the back of my neck.
I immediately assumed it was one of those wasps I saw nearby. Swat, dead, ah relief I thought for a split second. Until I looked down and there this butterfly was.
“Ah no, not this colorful butterfly. I didn’t mean to kill you bud.” the thought roamed in my head. But Cie La Vie I thought. At least this one will be a memorable souvenir cheaper than the others I have accumulated.
I picked it up off the ground, and was about to set it in my empty cardboard coffee cup filled with change when I saw its eyes move. Wait, is this thing still alive?
OK, so this butterfly is still alive. Must have just hobbled the thing. I guess I’ll give it some water. So I put this alive souvenir with another live souvenir in the back of my car. And as soon as I set it there I saw it cling back to life.
I poured some water into the container, cranked up Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, rolled down the windows and away I go again.
I get to Fossil Butte Park, stop, take plenty of pictures and when I return to my car I see this on the dashboard.
I was not sure what to make of this. Should I set him free or should this butterfly be my travel companion?
Well, my personal preference is to travel alone.
So I picked the butterfly up by its wing and there I set him on the concrete parking lot. You saw it already. It was the first pic.
But, I liked that butterfly. I will remember him or her for a while.
When Wayne Hage Jr. stepped in to the 9th Federal Circuit courtroom on April 13, he didn’t expect anything out of the ordinary.
He had grown accustomed to the courts ruling on the side of the federal government in the decades-long tug-of-war between his family and U.S. land management agencies over forage and water rights.
But something different happened that day. The three judges, Richard Tallman, William A. Fletcher and Andrew Kleinfeld had done their homework. They had read about a ruling two years ago that outlined the Hage family’s right to utilize over 130 water sources on federal land that his family had ranched for decades. They were displeased that the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service officials had told Hage that they would not allow him to cross federal land in order to use his water, after the court two years prior had said he could dig a ditch to access his water, as long as he didn’t graze government land without a permit.
The judges, who introduced the hearing by saying they didn’t know how to pronounce Mr. Hage’s name, were soon encouraging him to file a suit against the government.
The court had ruled in 2016 that the Hage family cannot use incidental forage rights while utilizing their proven water rights. In other words, they are not allowed to let their cattle graze BLM or USFS forage that happens to be under the feet of cattle drinking Hage water. But the Hages’ actual water rights are not in question.
“The court ruled that the water right is a standalone right,” Hage said of the earlier case. “There is a water right out there and the government cannot deny you access to that water right. If they deny you access, they’ve denied you a property right,” he said. In that case the Hage family would have standing for a takings suit, he believed, a thought that has lain in the back of Hage’s mind until the April discussions took an unexpected turn.
“Accordingly, we held that the rancher ‘is not entitled to an easement to graze livestock on the lands within the boundaries of the (federal lands)’ but that ‘he should be allowed a right of way over those lands to divert the water by one of the methods contemplated by the (Mining Act of 1866),'” the panel of judges said in the 2016 ruling. The judge also references the “construction of ditches and canals” that is allowed by the act.
But Hage had been told by government land management agencies that he is not allowed to cross BLM or USFS land with a pipeline or a ditch that would allow him to divert water from the source to his private land.
Even though he didn’t believe he needed their approval, Hage said he asked the BLM and USFS if they would prosecute him if he were to remove water from the source. A pipeline or ditch would have to cross federal land to get to his private property.
He was told three different times that they would indeed prosecute him for such an activity.
Probably 90 of the 135 stockwater sources are in Wilderness Areas, Hage said. “So that is what they said, I can’t take the water off those Wilderness Areas,” he said of his conversation with the BLM and USFS.
An earlier case that the three judges referenced on April 13 is referred to as the “Hunter case” in which the Hunter family had been refused the right to directly utilize water in Death Valley, Calif., because they did not have a current grazing permit, but were given the go-ahead to remove the water from the source.
When Hunter vs. the United States was tried in 1967, the verdict seemed useless to the Hunter family, Hage said.
“The court said they can’t deny the Hunters access to the water so they can go ahead and pipe it out of there. The Hunters were looking at that in the 1960s saying ‘that is ridiculous.'”
Hage said the Hunter case has actually been cited in many court cases since, including the 2016 ruling on his ranch, as an example showing that a rancher can’t utilize “incidental forage rights” along with established water rights, but that he or she must have a grazing permit in order for their livestock to access forage on federal lands whilst using water from a source that the rancher has the right to.
“The comical thing is that the Hunter case is the one they always used to beat the rancher up with. The government lawyers would say ‘look at the Hunter case. You have to have a permit.’ Now the Hunter case isn’t helping the government. The ranchers says ‘Thank you very much. I have this right to take water and I’m going to take my property and go home with it.'”
While Hage’s intent with the appeal hearing was to prove that the government has misrepresented the number of cattle he owns and failed to prove their accusations in previous court proceedings, (wherein he was charged over half a million dollars for “repeated willful unauthorized grazing”) the discussion took a turn when one of the judges unexpectedly asked Hage about some previous testimony in which he said that the agency had refused three times to allow him to remove water from the water source he has rights to.
“That strikes me as really important. How come it’s not in the testimony or anywhere in the record?” asked the judge in the hearing.
“Because the trial was already over,” Hage said. “It happened after the trial in remand.”
“The United States had refused to grant me a permit to allow access to have the cattle physically go to the water. So I asked, ‘If you are going to refuse that access in that manner, then can we transport the water to the patented ground?'” Hage said.
Hage also said the government told him they would allow him to walk in with a 5-gallon bucket and carry the bucket the 60 miles to water his cattle.
Hage said during depositions that he asked the government, “If I can’t take the cow to the water, then how am I going to be able to use this water without a grazing permit, especially if they decide to revoke the permit for some reason?”
Steven Williams, speaking for the government, responded by testifying that Hage could fly a helicopter over the water, drop a cow in the water, as long as she didn’t touch the ground, and then fly her out, Hage remembered.
“It sounds to me as if you may have a fairly good lawsuit for an injunction on this point,” one of the judges said. “And I may be misunderstanding some of the details, but it sounds to me as though this may be a separate claim and it may be a fairly good one.”
The government has just consistently refused your potential claim of right to dig a ditch or use another device, such as a pipe, from your water rights to your ranch? another judge asked.
“Yes,” Hage said.
The judges then suggested mediation, to which Hage responded that he would be willing to sit down and talk with the government about the issue of removal of the water from its source.
The lawyer representing the federal government, Elizabeth Peterson, told the judges during the hearing that she was not aware of Hage asking to remove the water.
“Would the government let them dig a ditch from their water right to their ranch?” a judge asked.
“It’s a far more complicated question than I think it’s being given credit for,” Peterson said.
Peterson then went on to say that the state water rights are complicated and that Hage “might” be able to get permission.
“If and only if the state water right includes the right to use stockwater on grazing lands by diverting it to other lands, he might be able to get permission from the state engineer to…”
“Didn’t we say exactly that in the previous Hage case as well as Hunter? You call it an ‘if,’ but…” the judge said.
“The court said the right includes that,” Peterson said. “The state will have some say in it. It’s not entirely up to the federal government.”
A judge then asked, that if the state water right included the right to transport the water to the source of the ranch, would the federal government oppose?
Peterson said the lands must be regulated for multiple uses, and it isn’t entirely the authorization of the U.S. to allow it. ”If you aren’t going to allow it, don’t you have to condemn the water rights and pay the damages for the water and also for all of the dead cows?” the judge asked.
Peterson said the government would not be liable for dead cattle because the right to use the water depends on the right to use the land, if Hage were denied the right to dig a ditch across these lands.
A judge then commented that the 1866 Mining Act was interpreted in the Hunter case as saying “an owner of water rights possessed a right of way over federal lands for the purpose of diverting water by the construction of ditches and canals.” The judge said that meant the Hages, based on that ruling, have the right to do just that.
Peterson said that issue was not in front of the court in the last hearing. “The question was, whether Hage was trespassing on federal lands.”
“We know it wasn’t before the court at that time. We know that it hasn’t been adjudicated. I think what we’re exploring is, is there any point to mediation or is the government just going to say ‘no’ or stall until everyone including the cattle are dead? … or is the government going to work something out in a court with what we held the Hages have a right to?”
Peterson said the U.S. is willing to talk, and that mediation would be vastly preferable to the incessant litigation.
“It’s not entirely clear that they can make beneficial use of additional water piped in from federal land on their private pastures and the state engineer would take that into account in determining whether a change of use could be granted,” Peterson said.
“It would potentially destroy the value of the forage on the federal lands without benefiting private pasture lands,” Peterson said.
“We’re not in a position to judge that,” responded the judge.
The water would have to travel 90 miles in order to be used by livestock on their home ranch, Hage said. He added that often times when a water right isn’t utilized for five years, it is considered abandoned. He doesn’t want this to happen, so he continues to access his water in whatever ways he can.
The Hunter family, whose court case was cited in the Hage hearing, still owns their water rights, but have not used them for decades, Hage said. Much of the land that was once their grazing land became a national park, and the family was then denied grazing access.
“The 9th Circuit knew they couldn’t take all use and access to the water, or it would be declared a taking, so their solution was to allow Hunter to take water off the land. In the 1960s, that was a way for the government to take the right and not pay anything for it,” Hage said. “The government is screwing them around more and more all of the time. These are some of the most valuable water rights in the United States (located in Death Valley, California) and they are offering pennies. They are forcing the Hunters to look for a buyer (for the water right) outside of the United States.”
Ranchers in his part of the country battle the BLM and USFS regularly, he said, and cattle numbers are dwindling. “We don’t worry about China or North Korea. The two major threats to our freedom are the BLM and U.S. Forest Service.”
Hage said that because his family’s rights were established before the BLM or USFS, that he doesn’t need permission from them to access his water.
The Hages’ rights pre-date the BLM and USFS, Hage said. “When you read the law that made the BLM, you see that any pre-existing rights are outside of their jurisdiction. How can you create an agency and say that they can regulate you out of business?”
In January 2016, three 9th District Court judges determined that the judge in an earlier ruling was biased. Judge Jones had earlier ruled that the Hages were not trespassing on federal range land, but were making incidental use of forage while using their water rights.
Susan Graber and the other district court judges, in 2016, determined that the judge had been biased when ruling against the federal government, and his bias caused him to hold the BLM and USFS head in contempt and to rule that the two agencies had entered a literal conspiracy to take away the Hages’ water and forage rights. The panel of three called for a remand under a new judge.
In late February 2017, federal district court judge Gloria Navarro (the same judge that oversaw the Bundy standoff trial proceedings) ordered the Hages to pay $587,294 for “repeated willful unauthorized grazing” and ordered the Hages to remove the cattle by March of 2017.
Last week, the 9th circuit withdrew the case from submission and has asked the parties to mediate. Hages have agreed but the government has not yet responded.
“Anyone who owns a stockwater right can essentially dig a ditch in the ground right now without any BLM or Forest Service decisions and take it straight to the ranch,” he said. In the state of Nevada, a stockwater right can be changed to a municipal right with the stroke of a pen, he said, and the water could be sold to a local town or city.
The Hage family cattle are currently all grazing on private land. The home ranch, the Pine Creek Ranch, is about 27 different homesteads gradually added together. Hage doesn’t employ any full-time hired men, and he said his place is “kind of a family outfit,” which relies heavily on neighbors for spring and fall work.
Wayne Hage, Jr. is the son of Wayne Hage, the author of Storm over the Rangelands and well-known property rights defender, who died in 2006.
Wayne Hage, Sr. filed a takings case against the government when they cancelled his grazing permits, impounded some of his cattle and prosecuted him for cleaning one of his private irrigation ditches in 1991. ❖
Copying and pasting emails. Inventing meaningless tasks for others. Just looking busy. Why do so many people feel their work is completely unnecessary?
One day, the wall shelves in my office collapsed. This left books scattered all over the floor and a jagged, half-dislocated metal frame that once held the shelves in place dangling over my desk. I’m a professor of anthropology at a university. A carpenter appeared an hour later to inspect the damage, and announced gravely that, as there were books all over the floor, safety rules prevented him from entering the room or taking further action. I would have to stack the books and not touch anything else, whereupon he would return at the earliest available opportunity.
The carpenter never reappeared. Each day, someone in the anthropology department would call, often multiple times, to ask about the fate of the carpenter, who always turned out to have something extremely pressing to do. By the time a week was out, it had become apparent that there was one man employed by buildings and grounds whose entire job it was to apologise for the fact that the carpenter hadn’t come. He seemed a nice man. Still, it’s hard to imagine he was particularly happy with his work life.
A bullshit job is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee can’t justify its existence
Everyone is familiar with the sort of jobs that don’t seem, to the outsider, really to do much of anything: HR consultants, communications coordinators, PR researchers, financial strategists, corporate lawyers or the sort of people who spend their time staffing committees that discuss the problem of unnecessary committees. What if these jobs really are useless, and those who hold them are actually aware of it? Could there be anything more demoralising than having to wake up in the morning five out of seven days of one’s adult life to perform a task that one believes does not need to be performed, is simply a waste of time or resources, or even makes the world worse? There are plenty of surveys about whether people are happy at work, but what about whether people feel their jobs have any good reason to exist? I decided to investigate this phenomenon by drawing on more than 250 testimonies from people around the world who felt they once had, or now have, what I call a bullshit job.
What is a bullshit job?
The defining feature is this: one so completely pointless that even the person who has to perform it every day cannot convince themselves there’s a good reason for them to be doing it. They may not be able to admit this to their co-workers – often, there are very good reasons not to do so – but they are convinced the job is pointless nonetheless.
Bullshit jobs are not just jobs that are useless; typically, there has to be some degree of pretence and fraud involved as well. The employee must feel obliged to pretend that there is, in fact, a good reason their job exists, even if, privately, they find such claims ridiculous.
When people speak of bullshit jobs, they are generally referring to employment that involves being paid to work for someone else, either on a waged or salaried basis (most would include paid consultancies). Obviously, there are many self-employed people who manage to get money from others by means of falsely pretending to provide them with some benefit or service (normally we call them grifters, scam artists, charlatans or frauds), just as there are self-employed people who get money off others by doing or threatening to do them harm (normally we refer to them as muggers, burglars, extortionists or thieves). In the first case, at least, we can definitely speak of bullshit, but not of bullshit jobs, because these aren’t “jobs”, properly speaking. A con job is an act, not a profession. People do sometimes speak of professional burglars, but this is just a way of saying that theft is the burglar’s primary source of income.
These considerations allow us to formulate what I think can serve as a final working definition of a bullshit job: a form of paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence, even though, as part of the conditions of employment, the employee feels obliged to pretend that this is not the case.
The five types of bullshit job
They are given some minor task to justify their existence, but this is really just a pretext: in reality, flunky jobs are those that exist only or primarily to make someone else look or feel important. A classic flunky is someone like Steve, who told me, “I just graduated, and my new ‘job’ basically consists of my boss forwarding emails to me with the message: ‘Steve refer to the below’, and I reply that the email is inconsequential or spam.”
In countries such as Brazil, some buildings still have elevator operators whose entire job is to push the button for you
Doormen are the most obvious example. They perform the same function in the houses of the very rich that electronic intercoms have performed for everyone else since at least the 1950s. In some countries, such as Brazil, some buildings still have uniformed elevator operators whose entire job is to push the button for you. Further examples are receptionists and front-desk personnel at places that obviously don’t need them. Other flunkies provide a badge of importance. These include cold callers, who make contact with potential clients on the understanding that the broker for whom they work is so busy making money that they need an assistant to make this call.
These are people whose jobs have an aggressive element but, crucially, who exist only because other people also employ people in these roles. The most obvious example of this are national armed forces. Countries need armies only because other countries have armies; if no one had an army, armies would not be needed. But the same can be said of most lobbyists, PR specialists, telemarketers and corporate lawyers.
Goons find their jobs objectionable not just because they feel they lack positive value, but also because they see them as essentially manipulative and aggressive. These include a lot of call-centre employees: “You’re making an active negative contribution to people’s day,” explained one anonymous testimony. “I called people up to hock them useless shit: specifically, access to their ‘credit score’ that they could obtain for free elsewhere, but that we were offering, with some mindless add-ons, for £6.99 a month.”
These employees’ jobs exist only because of a glitch or fault in the organisation; they are there to solve a problem that ought not to exist. The most obvious examples of duct-tapers are those whose job it is to undo the damage done by sloppy or incompetent superiors.
Many duct-taper jobs are the result of a glitch in the system that no one has bothered to correct – tasks that could easily be automated, for instance, but haven’t been either because no one has got around to it, or because the manager wants to maintain as many subordinates as possible, or because of some structural confusion.
Magda’s job required her to proofread research reports written by her company’s star researcher-statistician. “The man didn’t know the first thing about statistics, and he struggled to produce grammatically correct sentences. I’d reward myself with a cake if I found a coherent paragraph. I lost 12lb working in that company. My job was to convince him to undertake a major reworking of every report he produced. Of course, he would never agree to correct anything, so I would then have to take the report to the company directors. They were statistically illiterate, too, but, being the directors, they could drag things out even more.”
These employees exist only or primarily to allow an organisation to be able to claim it is doing something that, in fact, it is not doing. The most miserable thing about box-ticking jobs is that the employee is usually aware that not only does the box-ticking exercise do nothing towards accomplishing its ostensible purpose, but also it undermines it, because it diverts time and resources away from the purpose itself.
We’re all familiar with box-ticking as a form of government. If a government’s employees are caught doing something very bad – taking bribes, for instance, or shooting citizens at traffic lights – the first reaction is invariably to create a “fact-finding commission” to get to the bottom of things. This serves two functions. First of all, it’s a way of insisting that, aside from a small group of miscreants, no one had any idea that any of this was happening (this, of course, is rarely true); second, it’s a way of implying that once all the facts are in, someone will definitely do something about it (this usually isn’t true, either).
I had one responsibility: watching an inbox of forms asking for tech help, and pasting them into a different form
Local government has been described as little more than an endless sequence of box-ticking rituals revolving around monthly “target figures”. There are all sorts of ways that private companies employ people to be able to tell themselves they are doing something that they aren’t really doing. Many large corporations, for instance, maintain their own in-house magazines or even television channels, the ostensible purpose of which is to keep employees up to date on interesting news and developments, but which, in fact, exist for almost no reason other than to allow executives to experience that warm and pleasant feeling that comes when you see a favourable story about yourself in the media.
These fall into two groups. Type one comprises those whose role consists entirely of assigning work to others. This job can be considered bullshit if the taskmaster believes there is no need for their intervention, and that if they were not there, underlings would be perfectly capable of carrying on by themselves.
Whereas the first variety of taskmaster is merely useless, the second variety does actual harm. These are taskmasters whose primary role is to create bullshit tasks for others to do, to supervise bullshit, or even to create entirely new bullshit jobs.
A taskmaster may spend at least 75% of their time allocating tasks and monitoring if the underling is doing them, even though they have absolutely no reason to believe the underlings in question would behave any differently if they weren’t there.
“Strategic mission statements” (or, even worse, “strategic vision documents”) instil a particular terror in academics. These are the primary means by which corporate management techniques – setting up quantifiable methods for assessing performance, forcing teachers and scholars to spend more and more of their time assessing and justifying what they do, and less and less time actually doing it – are insinuated into academic life.
I should add that there is really only one class of people who not only deny their jobs are pointless, but also express outright hostility to the very idea that our economy is rife with bullshit jobs. These are – predictably enough – business owners and others in charge of hiring and firing. No one, they insist, would ever spend company money on an employee who wasn’t needed. All the people who are convinced their jobs are worthless must be deluded, or self-important, or simply don’t understand their real function, which is fully visible only to those above. One might be tempted to conclude from this response that this is one class of people who genuinely don’t realise their own jobs are bullshit.
Do you have a bullshit job?
These holders of bullshit jobs testify to the misery that can ensue when the only challenge you can overcome in your work is the challenge of coming to terms with the fact that you are not, in fact, presented with any challenges; when the only way you can exercise your powers is in coming up with creative ways to cover up the fact that you cannot exercise your powers; of managing the fact that you have, completely against your choosing, been turned into a parasite and a fraud. All wanted to remain anonymous:
Guarding an empty room
“I worked as a museum guard for a global security company in a museum where one exhibition room was left unused. My job was to guard that empty room, ensuring no museum guests touched the, well, nothing in the room and ensure nobody set any fires. To keep my mind sharp and attention undivided, I was forbidden any form of mental stimulation, like books, phones, etc. As nobody was ever there, I sat still and twiddled my thumbs for seven and a half hours, waiting for the fire alarm to sound. If it did, I was to calmly stand up and walk out. That was it.”
Copying and pasting
“I was given one responsibility: watching an inbox that received emails in a certain form from employees asking for tech help, and copy and paste it into a different form. Not only was this a textbook example of an automatable job, it actually used to be automated. There was some disagreement between managers that led to a standardisation that nullified the automation.”
“I was hired as a temp but not assigned any duties. I was told it was very important that I stay busy, but I wasn’t to play games or surf the web. My primary function seemed to be occupying a chair and contributing to the decorum of the office. At first, this seemed pretty easy, but I quickly discovered that looking busy when you aren’t is one of the least pleasant office activities imaginable. In fact, after two days, it was clear that this was going to be the worst job I had ever had. I installed Lynx, a text-only web browser that basically looks like a DOS [disk-operating system] window. No images, just monospaced text on an endless black background. My absentminded browsing of the internet now appeared to be the work of a skilled technician, the web browser a terminal into which diligently typed commands signalled my endless productivity.”
Sitting in the right place
“I work in a college dormitory during the summer. I have worked at this job for three years, and at this point it is still unclear to me what my actual duties are. Primarily, it seems that my job consists of physically occupying space at the front desk. While engaged in this, I am free to ‘pursue my own projects’, which I take to mean mainly creating rubber band balls out of rubber bands I find in the cabinets. When I am not busy with this, I might be checking the office email account (I have basically no training or administrative power, of course, so all I can do is forward these emails to my boss), moving packages from the door, where they get dropped off, to the package room, answering phone calls (again, I know nothing and rarely answer a question to the caller’s satisfaction), or finding ketchup packets from 2005 in the desk drawers. For these duties, I am paid $14 an hour.”
• This is an edited extract from Bullshit Jobs: A Theory by David Graeber, published on 14 May by Allen Lane at £20. To order a copy for £17, go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846.
Going on a road trip? If not, I highly recommend doing so. Here are some tips I’ve found out from doing a lot of driving cross country.
1) Small town motels are usually better and cheaper than chain hotels. Yes, there will be an occasional hellhole with bugs and a shower that does not work or leaks at motels, but those are rarities. Small town motels are locally owned typically which means that the owner should feel a sense of pride in providing a quality environment for their guests. Chain hotels will have a homogenized better pillow/bed than motels, but the employees make minimum wage and probably do not enjoy having to work there.
My estimate is that that hotels will run 80-100% more than a motel within fifty miles. You will miss out on that “complimentary” breakfast of tripe that is terrible for you at chain hotels. Instead, save the money, ask the locals where the best breakfast place is and enjoy.
The sweet spot is finding a town of 2,000-12,000 people and just drive down the main street of said town. Motels sometimes are not listed on expedia/hotels.com/etc. Probably because those booking mafias charge an exorbitant percentage to the hotels/motels. Also, small towns provide that opportunity for you city folk to stare up at the sky at night and gaze with awe at the stars.
2) Do not plan exactly where you are going on exact dates. Yeah airbnb is probably cheaper and the rooms nicer, but you have to plan that out beforehand. Exploring the country should not be spent looking at peoples’ living rooms. Go outside and explore the scenery. Stop when you feel like it and if you like the spot stay there.
3) Buy and pack around your own sundries. Shampoo/soaps are always of the lowest quality at motels/hotels. So spend the $8 at the pharmacy/grocery store with what you prefer to shower with. I even buy and pack around my own toilet paper because one-ply toilet paper should have been extirpated long ago.
4) Strike up a conversation with the people working at the visitor center when entering a new state. They are there to help people like you, the clueless tourist. Recently I was directed to take a much more scenic route through Utah than I would have done if I just followed the GPS which makes the experience of driving far more pleasant. By doing so you choose either to follow the fastest route there with GPS where you get to look at billboard advertisements and the annoyance of having to follow a truck in the passing lane periodically, or a more windy stunningly beautiful commute.
5) Stop, walk and talk with the locals who are about. If you smoke, ask for a light from someone smoking and ask about whatever you want to see around the environment you are in. I like to call it sparking up a conversation.
Alternatively, you could not kill yourself and just ask locals. They are 99% more than likely willing to accommodate.
Also, if you find something nice about the locals’ yard, compliment them sincerely. You both will be better off as you have imparted beauty yourself and you gave that person a sense of pride about something that due to the routine nature of our lives can forget.
6) Avoid chains of all kinds whenever possible. Think of chains for what they are: an apparatus for which a thought prison has been inflicted upon your potential to find another outlet of interest. You may stop at a local restaurant and look at the board listing upcoming events that you never would have found otherwise.
7) If you need to go to the bathroom, do so at a gas station and not the rest area. Rest areas have so little funding outside of the initial visitor center when entering a new state that the bathroom is going to be putrid. Gas stations are much better in regards to this and truck stops are probably best.
Now, get on the road and stay in the right lane unless passing.
A young boy enters a barber shop and the barber whispers to his customer. “This is the dumbest kid in the world. Watch while I prove it you.” The barber puts a dollar bill in one hand and two quarters in the other, then calls the boy over and asks, “Which do you want, son?” The boy takes the quarters and leaves. “What did I tell you?” said the barber. “That kid never learns!” Later, when the customer leaves, he sees the same young boy coming out of the ice cream store. “Hey, son! May I ask you a question? Why did you take the quarters instead of the dollar bill?” The boy licked his cone and replied, “Because the day I take the dollar, the game is over!”
Be like the boy.
In 333 B.C., Alexander the Great marched his army into the city of Gordion, where there was a massive knot in desperate need of untying. Legend held that the hero who could undo this exceedingly intricate Gordian Knot, as it was not-so-creatively called, would rule Asia. Alexander, unable to unravel the knot, drew his sword and sliced right through it, then, apparently with the blessing of the eviscerated loops, went on to conquer Asia minor.
The tall tale gives us the expression “to cut the Gordian Knot,” meaning to solve a seemingly insurmountable problem by over-the-top means. It also lends its name to one of the animal kingdom’s most clever parasites, the Gordian worm, which has solved the often insurmountable problem of survival with means that are horrifyingly over-the-top.
More commonly known as the horsehair worms, because folks with a limited understanding of reality once thought they were horsehairs that animated upon hitting water, the 350 or so known species invade insects like the luckless cricket above. After developing for several months, the worms mind-control their hosts to make a kamikaze dive into water, then escape through holes bored in the insect’s exoskeleton. The parasites end up in a tangled knot that can be as heavy as the tattered—and oftentimes very much alive—host they leave behind.
All across America in rivers or streams, horsehair worm eggs hatch and settle lazily to the bottom as larvae (we’ll be talking specifically about the species Paragordius varius and its parasitism of crickets). Unable to swim up the water column, the larva simply wait to be eaten by the larvae of other insects like midges, mayflies, and mosquitoes. When these insects metamorphose and emerge from the water, they live out their aerial lives with the larva in tow, then inevitably croak and get snatched up by a cricket, according to parasitologist Ben Hanelt of the University of New Mexico.
Once the worm larvae find themselves in the insect, “they will penetrate through the gut of the cricket and get into the body cavity, where they then grow from a tiny, tiny larva to something that’s now on the average of a foot long,” he said. (There’s a 6-foot species, by the way, that parasitizes an as-yet-unknown insect, probably a giant and perpetually nervous cockroach.)
Really, the horsehair worm is nothing more than a giant gonad wrapped in a thin sheath of muscles, and I say that with all due reverence. Curiously, they don’t even have a mouth to eat with or chew their way through the cricket, so Hanelt remains unsure how they bore into the body cavity, and then through the exoskeleton to escape.
And there’s no digestive system as we would recognize it, because like the tapeworms that take up residence in our guts, they’re living in a veritable sea of food. “The way that these guys actually get their nutrients is right through the cuticle,” said Hanelt. “Right through the skin of the worm is where the fat and the sugar is actually absorbed straight from the body fluids of the host.”
Now, it’s nearly impossible to identify an infected cricket, for this is no clumsy zombie of popular culture. Outwardly, the cricket behaves quite normally, save for a brilliant little trick the worm plays: It manipulates them to shut the hell up with the chirping. Chirping is, after all, energetically expensive, not to mention a real fine way to get yourself noticed and eaten, a rather anticlimactic end to the worm’s grand scheme.
When the worm is ready to leave the cricket, though, you’ll know it. Typically crickets give running water a wide berth, instead getting their hydration from food and the occasional dew drop. According to Hanelt, you can take a non-infected specimen and drop it near running water and it’ll leg it right out of there, every time. The dangers of hungry fish and drowning are simply too great.
But a cricket infected with a horsehair worm swears, quite wrongly, that it’s a great swimmer. At the behest of the worm it seeks out bodies of water with its antennae, which pick up the slightest changes in humidity. Then, seemingly against its better judgment, the host proceeds to perform a sicknasty cannonball: “If you take a cricket that actually has a worm in it,” said Hanelt, “and put it next to the water, it will always, in every case, jump immediately in.”
After admiring the cannonball, the worm, monitoring the world through a porthole it bored in the cricket, makes its move, squirming out of its host as soon as it hits the water. In nature, it’s typically one worm per cricket, though every now and then two or three will emerge. In Hanelt’s lab, however, his record is an astonishing 32 worms erupting from one unfortunate host (that GIF at top, which I ain’t even about to apologize for, was half that many worms).
The parasite, now free, will swim around in search of a mate. When they pair up, the male aligns his cloaca with the female and passes his sperm. Having served his sole earthly purpose, he will die. The female goes on to lay as many as 15 million eggs, which she pastes underwater on a stick or stone. When she’s done, she too will die, emptied of eggs and totally flattened out like a straw wrapper that’s lost its straw. Two weeks later, her eggs hatch into the larvae that settle once more onto the river bottom, beginning the process anew.
It’s a remarkable tale of an organism adapting over evolutionary time to manipulate another and use it as a private escort. But how on Earth can the worm hijack a cricket’s brain? And why would this evolve in the first place?
“First of all,” said Hanelt, “the worm appears to be producing large amounts of neurotransmitters,” chemicals that allow the transmission of signals between neurons. “And the neurotransmitters that it’s producing are thought to make the cricket basically act in ways that normally the cricket wouldn’t act. And exactly which neurotransmitters these are and how they’re affecting the crickets, that we don’t know.” Secondly, it appears the worm triggers the cricket to boost production of neurotransmitters. But there is still much, much to be learned, just as there is with other highly sophisticated mind-controllers like wasps that enslave cockroaches and fungi that zombify ants.
As for why the worms would have needed to evolve such tactics, we have only theories. For Hanelt’s money, it’s a matter of opportunism. In the high deserts of New Mexico, he finds horsehair worms aplenty. Wandering through an extremely dry forest, he’ll come across a dinner-plate-sized puddle, and sure enough, there they squirm. “When I look around, I see very few resources,” he said, “flowering plants, grasses, etc. So, if I was a worm, the best way to make a living out here is to get into a very nutritious insect host, which is filled with fat. This represents the easy life.”
The cricket certainly gets a raw deal, but all is not necessarily lost for the host. Once free of its parasites, it can drown or fall prey to a fish—or, incredibly, escape a watery grave and live out the rest of its life as if it didn’t just give grueling birth to its own weight in worms. Indeed, Hanelt hears from folks all the time who find worms in toilets or dog bowls with no sign of their host, which has likely shuffled away exhausted, muttering to itself, head hung low. And that unfortunate cricket in the GIF that I still don’t regret? She not only survived, she went on to produce viable eggs.
“I always tell students this way to think about it,” said Hanelt. “Imagine if I told you to walk over to your car and remove half of its weight, but still have the car be able to get you to the airport. And somehow these worms have figured out how to do that within the cricket host, that they’re able to take half of everything that’s within that cricket but still make it tick. It’s kind of amazing.”
And so it would seem—with Gordian worms, at least—that the massive release of neurotransmitters is mightier than the sword.