Tuesday, 6 October 2015

National Badger Day 2015: Another Problem with the UK Cull

Today, 6 October 2015, is National Badger Day in the UK. It's a day dedicated to this wondrous nocturnal mustelid, its symbolism and cultural significance, its important ecological role, and its continued struggles, especially in the anti-science/pro-agribusiness context of the Cameron government's explicitly anti-wildlife policies.

Although the situation in the UK is particularly bad for badgers, it's worth keeping in mind that anywhere you can find badgers, you'll find that they're in trouble. Honey badgers are killed by beekeepers, ranchers, and poachers; North American badgers are killed by ranchers, landowners, "varmint" hunters, and automobiles, and their habitat continues to diminish to industrial and residential development; hog badgers are threatened by habitat loss as well, and human activities from deforestation to hunting are having an increasing impact on their numbers. Like all wild creatures, badgers suffer from human indifference and malice alike.

The controversial badger cull is a case in point. In response to the continuing impact of bovine tuberculosis on cattle populations, and at the urging of the UK dairy industry, the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) has included the culling of targeted badger populations as part of its bTB reduction strategy. As I discuss in my book, and as is demonstrated by the vast majority of the available scientific evidence, culling badgers to combat bTB is a short-term solution at best, ineffectual or actually counterproductive at worst. (A great 2007 article on how culling can actually increase the problem can be found here. Illegal badger persecution has also added to the problem, as noted in a recent piece in the Irish Times.) Since I addressed the scientific discussion in Chapter 4 of the book, my interest here is to consider something less often considered: namely, that the cull and the UK's badger populations are part of a much larger contemporary context of ecological diminishment, and that healthier attitudes and policies toward wildlife are inevitably compromised by this context.

Badgers evolved as one predator species among many. Historically, bears, wolves, lynx, and other "charismatic megafauna" were native to what is now England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, and all would have lived alongside and occasionally preyed on badgers. (Other animals no longer found wild were part of that system, such as beaver, although recently news reports about wild beavers returning to England give hope that these ecosystems may be returning to health.) Without these predators, who were vitally important to the ecologies of the UK and Ireland for thousands of years, the health of the land and its various species has inevitably declined; the heavy increase of monocultural agribusiness in the countryside has also put enormous pressure on the land and its denizens, to such point that the diverse plant and animal species that nourished one another for the longest part of the land's history have also declined, with animal (and human) health, capacity, and well-being inevitable casualties. (Hugh Warwick's splendid The Beauty in the Beast and Patrick Barkham's Badgerlands offer important and beautifully written analyses of these ecological complexities.) Although badgers have managed to do fairly well alongside other smaller carnivores such as foxes and various weasel kin such as otters and stoats, a diminished landscape means that their natural behaviours from hunting to digging to breeding are compromised from the outset by human interference. They evolved to be badgers in a world where their badgerishness was part of a wider network of relations, but those relationships have now been deeply ruptured through human activity.

In the end, the cull has very little to do with badgers. It has much more to do with human priorities, and it reveals a great deal about the extreme alienation of humans from the land and its health. Melicide--the murderous persecution of badgers--has a long and inglorious history in the UK, but primarily in "sport" such as the cowardly custom of badger-baiting. Its more recent manifestation as official government policy is embedded in a deep cultural suspicion of and disregard for the wild places and wild beings of the world, a longstanding fear of difference and the deeply embedded presumption of and desire for human domination over nature. And it's no surprise that as melicide becomes official government policy, badger persecution and wildlife crime have dramatically increased.

The cull is a symptom of failed human relationships and diminished human imaginations. Rather than encouraging wildlife and farming practices that expand the diversity and health of the other-than-human lands on which we all depend for life, and which make place for the carnivores and other species that evolved to inhabit and strengthen a richly diverse landscape, the Cameron government and NFU continue to push for perverse practices and policies of ecological and imaginative diminishment. Theirs is a philosophy of suspicion, a privileging of an inevitably impoverishing but superficially coherent monoculture (mirrored in other Tory policies, especially around immigration and human diversity), a commitment to exploitation and corporatization at the expense of the most vulnerable. What they are culling, then, is not a vector species for bovine tuberculosis, nor a genuine threat to the increasingly corporatized dairy industry, but their own deeply implicated disdain for and fear of a world where they're not the sole species of significance. But they can't kill their way to supremacy--all they can do is destroy yet more of an already deeply imperilled world, and diminish their own futures, and ours, as a result.

On National Badger Day, and on all days, let's work against the UK cull and all wildlife policies that insist on false choices, false fears, and false ideologies of exploitative supremacy. The cull is a failure, not simply because it's based on bad science and even worse cultural biases, but because it's a lazy evasion of responsibility for generations of failed lands policies. These policies are what should be culled, not badgers.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Collective Nouns for Badgers: Cete, Cote, Clan, or Sight?

Collective nouns are a curiously eccentric feature of English, whereby evocative or pun-inspired terms are used to describe a group of animals, people, or items. Many of these are common parts of our everyday language--a pride of lions, a murder of crows, a host of angels, a flight of stairs--and have their roots in older vocabulary and terminology that makes sense to etymologists but are often obscure or invisible to the rest of us. (Indeed, the unpacking of some of these terms is a fun game for many scholars of language.) But there are other terms that are more elaborate and humorous or illuminating: a shrivel of critics, for example, or, reflecting the political contexts and religious tensions of their origins, a term like superfluity of nuns.

Many of these terms come from Early Modern “venery” texts--the hunt and its proper codes, customs, and language--which compiled the proper collective nouns that all well-bred gentlemen (and some ladies) should know to hold their heads high in courtly company. (The most famous of these is The Book of Saint Albans: Containing Treatises on Hawking, Hunting, Cote-Armour, Finishing, and Blasting of Arms. Not surprisingly, the rise of venery texts paralleled the rise of the complex and deliberately archaic heraldic language of blazonry.) In effect, these books and their terms were used as markers of social standing: if you knew that a group of foxes is a skulk, you stood apart from and higher in the hierarchy than some poor rube who called that same group a pack. And, as is usually the case with such arbitrary class markers, the lists became increasingly obscure and elaborate as their exclusionary value grew.

Many writers have studied these lists and their social significance, but the go-to text on the subject remains James Lipton's wry and witty An Exaltation of Larks, first published in 1968, with subsequent revisions and expansions in the years since. But Woop Studios has a really lovely hardback volume, A Compendium of Collective Nouns, that includes many striking illustrations throughout. And both include some intriguing insights about the collective nouns for badgers.

In this case, of course, we're generally talking about Eurasian badgers, as the other species only gather in groups when a mother is caring for her young. And, predictably, the badger terms prove to be stubborn, especially the common term cete. Lipton notes that the origins of cete are obscure:
Hare makes the interesting guess that it may be the Chaucerian word for “city.” In the O[xford] E[nglish] D[ictionary], the word is found among the multifarious uses of set: “A badger's earth or warren is properly and generally called a ‘set’ or ‘cete.’” A reader of the first edition of this book has suggested that cete might be a copyists erroneous transcription of cote, an Anglo-Saxon word with several meanings in Middle English, one of them chamber. The root word survives today in dovecote and cottage--and badgers do live in underground chambers. [1]

In Woop Studios's Compendium, the mystery deepens, as Lipton's work is cited, but to an odd end: "What is a cete, exactly, and why should badgers be considered one? Lipton, in his Exaltation of Larks, believes it derives from the Latin for company." But as we see above, Lipton makes no mention at all of Latin or “company,” so although this may be the case, it’s certainly not in Lipton's book. The Compendium’s authors do note that “In contemporary parlance, a sett refers not to a grouping of badgers but to their den, a badger sett.”[2] And again, this is only the case for Eurasian badgers, as they’re the only species to have extensive and long-used lairs. They do offer two other terms for consideration: a clan, and a colony, though without much in the way of commentary.

Chloe Rhodes’s An Unkindness of Ravens offers more information and is, in its own way, the most illuminating of the three. She notes that “Many collective nouns that appear in the early manuscripts are derived from the animal’s habitat...and it’s tempting to link this ‘cete’ to the sett we now know of as the badger's home....” Yet she provides even more intriguing options as well:
Complicating this theory, though, is the fact that the Egerton Manuscript uses ‘a syght’ of badgers. Syght meant sight, and Hodgkin insists that since badgers have never been known for their eyesight this must have been a transcriber’s mistake. The animals were believed to possess magical powers, however, and as creatures of the night were thought by some to have prophetic powers—sometimes known as ‘second sight’—as this eighteenth-century rhyme shows:
         Should one hear a badger call,
         And then an ullot cry,
         Make thy peace with God, good soul,
         For thou shall shortly die.[3]

So now we have five candidates: cete, coteclan, colony, and sight. Cete is the clear favourite, but I must say that Rhodes’s inclusion of sight to the list delights me, especially as it fits broader badger lore and their associations with magic and earthly mystery. So perhaps in more magical contexts and writings a sight of badgers is the proper collective, while in our Muggleish, mundane world a cete of badgers refers to the more everyday gatherings of badgers.

[1] James Lipton, An Exaltation of Larks: The Ultimate Edition (New York: Penguin, 1993), p. 59.
[2] Woop Studios, A Compendium of Collective Nouns: From an Armory of Aardvarks to a Zeal of Zebras (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2013), p. 21.
[3] Clare Rhodes, An Unkindness of Ravens: A Book of Collective Nouns (2014), accessed through Google Books; print citation to come.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Badgers in Literature: Grimbart, nephew of Reynard the Fox

In North America and Europe alike, there is a long history and many stories about badgers in relationship with their canid neighbours--generally coyotes in the former, foxes in the latter. Not only have cooperative hunting and dwelling interactions been extensively observed as actual behaviours in nature, they have also become part of the lore about these species in their respective territories.

These storied traditions can be found among many Indigenous peoples in North America, from Apaches and various Pueblo communities of the southwestern US to Clackamas peoples in Oregon and Cheyennes of the Great Plains. (Some of these stories are discussed at length in Badger, with more extensive commentary and additional material to be featured in a future blog post.) This long affiliation even figures in the older Nahuatl word for badger, tlalcoyote--"earth coyote"--in recognition of the animals' frequent shared hunting behaviours.

In Europe, such accounts are most elaborately featured in the folkloric tradition around the trickster-fox Reynard and his devoted nephew, Grimbart (Grimbard/Grimbert). 

Reynard bids farewell to his family. Illustration by Wilhelm von Kaulbach, 1886.

These animal tales date back to the medieval period and make their way from the Netherlands through France, Belgium, Germany, and to England. In his new translation of the Reynard stories, scholar James Simpson gives the following genealogy: "The Reynardian stories derive ultimately from Aesop….The continuous narrative characteristic of the Reynard material begins, however, with The Escape of the Captive (or Ecbasis Captivi, mid-eleventh century) and is greatly developed in the Ysengrimus (1148-49), an important source for the earliest branches of the French Roman de Renart. The so-called 'branches' of the Roman de Renart are short narrative sequences in French, composed probably between the 1170s and the middle of the thirteenth century. These stories ultimately inspired many more adaptations in other Western European languages for the next 250 years and beyond…." [1]

Reynard is an immoral, lying, shrewd con man who uses his guile and false tongue to triumph over stronger, more fearsome foes, including Isengrim the Wolf, Bruin the Bear, Tybert the Cat, and even King Noble the Lion, always using their greed and pride against them. He’s devoted to his family, but not above betraying friends to ensure his own survival and that of his kin. Wildly popular in Europe for centuries, they have since faded from wider consciousness, appearing here and there now largely through obscure literary allusion or the occasional cartoon reference. (The 1973 Walt Disney film Robin Hood is an interesting example of a mash-up of two narrative traditions: the decidedly dark Reynard is stripped of his antisocial, anarchic qualities and becomes the heroic freedom-fighter Robin Hood, his nemesis Isengrim becomes the Sherriff of Nottingham, King Noble is reduced to the incompetent usurper Prince John, and the foolish pseudo-confessor Grimbert shape-shifts into Robin's stalwart ally Friar Tuck. The historian and medievalist Andrew E. Larsen has a fascinating blog post about the transformation of the Reynard stories into the family-friendly Disney film that's well worth attention.)

Reynard the Fox, Simpson’s new translation, is an excellent introduction to the Reynard cycle, and includes all the bawdy, brutal, and bewildering material of William Caxton’s fifteenth-century version in accessible and lively prose. (The charming illustrations by Edith E. Newman effectively invoke early twentieth-century children's book illustration, but I much prefer Wilhelm von Kaulbach's expressive etchings like the one included above.)

James Simpson's new translation of the Reynard cycle, 2015.

Briefly, the book is a series of stories set in the court of King Noble, where Reynard has been accused of many crimes, among them deception, theft, abuse, murder, and rape. He is undeniably guilty, but the stories chronicle his shrewd manipulations of his accusers’ own crimes and moral failings to not just escape punishment but to become one of the King’s chief counselors. In this way, as Simpson observes, “the predator fox becomes a hero, or antihero of sorts, since he’s wonderfully clever, makes no claim to moral superiority, and for the most part cheats only stupid, greedy, predatory, and often brutal hypocrites. Not only that, but he cheats them repeatedly, since their readiness to fall victim to greed is infinite.”[2] Reynard’s world is very much Tennyson’s “Nature, red in tooth and claw,” where the cleverness of weaker animals is the only real protection from the cruelty of more powerful beasts.

And what of Grimbart, the badger? Throughout the stories, and in spite of Reynard’s ever-shifting fortunes in King Noble’s court, Grimbart is fiercely loyal to his vulpine uncle. (Family connections are not species specific—kinship is about character and broader category of affiliation rather than biology.) Grimbart is one of the only animals to vocally defend Reynard against the fox’s enemies; he brings the King’s missives to the outlaw and accompanies his uncle to face the King’s justice. At the end of the cycle, when Reynard is forced to fight the much stronger Isengrim in mortal combat, Grimbart serves on his support team, prepared to stand in for his uncle if needed. And when Reynard emerges victorious and rises high in the King’s court, Grimbart and a few others are recognized for their loyalty as kin, and their own fortunes go up as a result. 

Reynard before King Noble, with Grimbart at his side. Source unknown.

Yet, like most of the animals in the Reynard cycle, Grimbart’s loyalty and familial feelings are embedded in more dubious moral practice, for the badger knows full well that Reynard is guilty of all these crimes, from the most mundane and playful to the horrific and brutal. Indeed, Reynard twice makes a full confession to Grimbart as they travel to court to make his defense. Both know his guilt, but Grimbart serves as a self-proclaimed confessor to his uncle, absolving him of his crimes, but more with a cynical wink and nod than because of any deep conviction that Reynard actually feels shame for his actions. And the badger actively lies to the King and court to ensure that Reynard escapes punishment. In Reynard’s world, truth and lies are means to an end, and the end is family loyalty and the survival of the small against the large. (It is notable, too, that the creatures who stand beside Reynard are all either exotic animals, such as his shrewd aunt, the she-ape Rukenawe, or mustelids also considered vermin at the time, such as otters, ferrets, stoats, weasels, and polecats, along with rodents and other presumed pests.)

Reynard's pilgrimage. Illustration by Joseph Wolf, 1887.

The unfailingly devoted Grimbart is a good nephew, and therefore a model of family commitment. But he is also an accomplice to Reynard’s terrible crimes, and even helps to facilitate Reynard’s cruelty. As such, he is an ambivalent figure in keeping with other European literary and folkloric badgers (at least until Kenneth Grahame’s more consistently positive Mr. Badger): admired for his stubborn kinship loyalty, but treated with deep suspicion for choosing Reynard’s “vermin” values over those of the court and church.

[1] James Simpson, “Introduction,” in Reynard the Fox (New York: Liveright, 2015), p. 21.
[2] Simpson, “Introduction,” p. 24.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

A Most Unusual Badger Exhibit

Of Reykjavik's many quirky sites of interest to visitors, the most unusual must surely be the Icelandic Phallological Museum, described on its website as "probably the only museum in the world to contain a collection of phallic specimens belonging to all the various types of mammal found in a single country." On my recent trip to Iceland, this seemed like a must-see, and see it my companions and I did.

There is much to be said about this informative, discomfiting, and even playful museum--although to be honest, in short order I found the sight of hundreds of detached animal penises to be far more repulsive than amusing--but of relevance to this blog is the discovery of not one but three badger bacula (penis bones) on display.

As badgers aren't to be found on Iceland, I didn't expect to find anything badger-related during my trip, but there, in a cabinet with the bacula of other small- to mid-sized mammals as well as phallic statuary, were three: two Eurasian specimens, and one North American. More interesting, to my mind, was the discovery of the name of badgers in Icelandic, which I hadn't thought to seek out when working on my name list: "greifingi," very close to the Danish "graevling" and Norwegian "grevling," for "digger."

An odd discovery, to be sure, but one worthy of a post!

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Map of Badger Species (not to scale!)

Beni and David Loti, who designed the book trailer for Badger, included a gorgeous map of major badger species and approximate territories as part of the animation. For all the badger fans out there, here's a revised version I've put together for my own public presentations on the book, with species names added. (Again, it's all approximate: for example, the Eurasian badger's territory actually extends all the way to Japan, but it's largely associated with Europe, so that's why it's placed so far to the west.) 

Sadly, in all these regions badgers are either under assault or in decline. Increasing advocacy on behalf of these misunderstood mustelids offers hope for improvement. Badgers belong!

Sunday, 1 February 2015

FAQ: Why badgers?

"What's the deal with you and badgers?"

It's a fair question, and one I'm asked not infrequently by both longtime friends and new acquaintances. Admittedly, badgers are pretty far removed from my other writings and scholarship--and in some ways my badger interest is a seemingly eccentric departure. After all, I've never worked with wildlife in any sustained way, although I spent much of my early life roaming the Pikes Peak wilderness near and around my hometown of Victor, Colorado, and over time encountered a fair share of elk, deer, coyotes, bighorn sheep, and occasionally even bears (mostly through my dad's work as a hunting guide and outfitter). I'm not a zoologist; my area of scholarship is Indigenous Studies, focusing on nation-specific literary traditions, primarily through novels, nonfiction, and poetry. Although badgers appear in the traditional stories and ceremonial cycles of many Indigenous peoples across North America (and elsewhere in the world), they're not among the prominent animals of Cherokee tradition, so I can't even claim cultural affiliation with them.

I've held a newly dead badger, was gifted a beautiful badger pelt from the Alberta prairies, have examined the badger specimens in the Beaty Biodiversity Museum at the University of British Columbia, and have seen my fair share of taxidermic trophies in little antique and souvenir stores as well as museums. Yet the most meaningful contact I've had with this fascinating species has been when photographing vibrant, living badgers: one in the Oklahoma City Zoo (nicknamed Frances), and two in the now-defunct Muskoka Wildlife Centre (with residents Sandy and Dozer) near my former home in Ontario.

(Photo shoot at the Muskoka Wildlife Centre near Gravenhurst, Ontario, 2011. That's me with the camera, Sandy staring me down, and Centre staff keeping Sandy at a safe distance. Badgers, staff, and photographer were all unharmed before, during, and after the session, although neither Sandy nor her brother Dozer were much amused by my visit.)

So, why badgers?

It's hard to tell what the specific spark of interest might have been, by I do have some ideas. Certainly there were no transforming encounters in my childhood, no visionary experiences that had anything to do with badgers. It's been a gradual acquaintanceship that, over time, has turned into abiding admiration. Very simply, I've always been fascinated by underground beings, in fact but even more in fiction and story. Story has always been the first and most significant way I've come to understand the world and its wonders. This is, I think, how my interest in badgers first began: strange beings inhabiting magical, secret worlds far from the mundane world of the everyday. As a boy I liked moles, too, and it's likely no surprise that Mole and Badger from Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows were early on among my favourite literary figures. Their private conversation about the history of Mr. Badger's sprawling sett was a particularly memorable scene from the novel. (At the time I had no inkling that these were the Eurasian species and that their North American counterparts were quite different.) The delightful Cosgrove Hall stop-motion animated TV series was, for a time, my favourite show, and contributed a great deal to my escapist childhood Anglophilia.

(Illustration by Arthur Rackham, 1940)

(Illustration by Ernest H. Shepard, 1931)

(Cosgrove Hall puppet from the TV series, 1983-1989. My favourite Mr. Badger, voiced by Sir Michael Horndern.)

No Toad or Ratty (or, more accurately, Water Vole) for me--Ratty's condescending pontification about The River bored me, and the only interest I had in Toad Hall was the secret underground passage Badger used to lead the small band of beasts to liberate Toad's ancestral home from the weasels of the Wild Wood.

When I was a boy growing up the third generation of my mother's family in the once-great gold-mining town of Victor, Colorado, deep in heart of traditional Ute territory, I was acutely aware that there were mysteries in the hidden places of the earth, the shadowed realm of strange beings with ancient ways and alien understandings. My parents both worked for the mines at various times, as did my maternal grandfather; Victor is honeycombed beneath with innumerable tunnels, an entire underworld of darkness, dangers, ruins, and wealth both untapped and tapped out. After the Utes were forcibly removed to the southwestern corner of the state in the late nineteenth century, the region became "The City of Mines," a wild and ambitious settlement filled with thousands of fortune-seekers who dreamed, despaired, and mostly disappeared; it's now a small community of around 400 people, many employed by the local open-pit mine operation or in the casinos of nearby Cripple Creek. The hillsides around Victor are littered with the remnants of that age--tailings piles, mining head frames, ruined processing mills, crumbling and abandoned houses--with many wind-worn memories of the grand world of the past that continued alongside the sleepier world of the present.

(Victor, Colorado, c. 2006. My photo.)

I can trace a good deal of my interest in burrowing beings to my upbringing in this evocative place, as well as the early impact of J.R.R. Tolkien and his earth-dwelling hobbits and dwarves (and the animated Rankin-Bass and Ralph Bakshi renderings of these subterranean peoples). In addition to Tolkien and his fantasy descendants (including dwarves and halflings from the roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons), I was also a fan of the eponymous characters in Tony Johnston's The Adventures of Mole and Troll, who in Wallace Tripp's fine ink drawings seemed to be a synthesis of the beings of both Grahame's and Tolkien's worlds. The subterranean Nome King of L. Frank Baum's Oz series was a worthy if petulant opponent to Ozma, Dorothy, and the other magical beings of that chromatic fairyland.

And then there were the tommyknockers. These were spirits who supposedly inhabited Victor's hidden underworld. Originating as the "knockers" of Welsh and Cornish mining folklore and the miners ("tommies") who brought it to the district, they took the form of wizened little men who variously tormented and protected miners with their mysterious taps on the rock walls and miscellaneous pranks. By the 1970s, tommyknockers were so associated with Victor that one became the city's unofficial mascot.

(Myriam Friggens and Gene Coulter's 1980 book featuring a tommyknocker on the cover.)
These folkloric and fantasy works all contributed to my fascination for the Underworld and its denizens, which continued as I grew older and morphed into an interest in the living creatures who abide in the earth--as well as their symbolic significance. And while my Anglophilia faded and my commitment to my Cherokee heritage grew stronger, I remained interested in the more obscure and less understood creatures, but became far more connected to those from the lands I call home on this hemisphere. As someone with more than a passing love of history, the deep memory of the earth and its peoples was also appealing. Not coincidentally, badger lore all over the world makes this quite elemental link between ancient tradition and burrowing creatures as well.

Here, at last, is where we get to badgers. They always interested me, but it really wasn't until I was an adult that they started to directly engage my imagination in a more sustained way. When writing The Way of Thorn and Thunder, a secondary-world Indigenous epic fantasy about forced removal and the resilient resurgence of Indigenous peoples, I looked to Badger as the meaningful clan animal for one of the main characters, the plucky storyteller and tradition-keeper, Tobhi Burrows, one of the little people of my world.

(Tobhi Burrows, my illustration, 2008. Note the stylized badger etched onto the gorget around his neck.)

Buborru the Keeper, spiritual herald for the Burrows family and the Badger Clan, is a relatively minor presence in the book, but when I wanted a second tattoo it was clear to me that it had to include the prominent image of Tobhi's badger clan symbol as its centrepiece. I picked up a few badger souvenirs over the years, and looked for badgers in various books, films, arts, and other media, but the interest remained a bit dormant as I attended to other projects more immediately relevant to my primary work in Indigenous literatures.

Then I read Martin Wallen's Fox, one of the first volumes in the Animal Series from UK-based Reaktion Books, and the outlines of another project--somewhat weird, but increasingly wonderful--started to come into view. There was really only one animal I wanted to study and write about, only one creature whose global lore and specific contexts would capture my imagination for a book-length study. And, unlike when I was a kid, I knew that the North American badger had a long and rich history of relationships with Indigenous peoples, which connected nicely to my other work. After reading more works in the series and getting a sense of their scope and audience, I contacted the publisher to see if there was a badger book in the works, and--long story short--ended up with a contract for Badger.

That was about five years ago. It's been a wild journey, but one I've enjoyed immensely. The book is at last out and ready for the world, but in the process I ended up with a great deal of excess material about--and a much deeper fascination with--these misunderstood mustelids. Seems a shame to just let it linger in my data files. Besides, I still receive badger-themed gifts from friends to add to the overflowing shrine in my office; I still seek out badgerish materials and resources; and although I'm on to other projects now, I remain a dedicated and even more enthusiastic badger partisan than I was before this all began.

(A small part of my ever-growing badger collection.)

The British writer Phil Drabble once said that he suffered from “acute and incurable melophilia...a rare and delightful ailment from which I am thankful that I can never be healed....The only symptom is a deep affection for badgers.”[1] The North American variant of his English ailment is, I think, rightly named taxideaphilia. It's my own "delightful ailment," and one I'm quite happy to say appears to be a lasting affliction.

And thus The Badger Files!

[1] Phil Drabble's Country Scene, p. 41. Drabble's Latin is a bit off, however, with meliphilia a more accurate neologism. Special thanks to Simon Flory, Badger Specialist with the website www.badgerland.co.uk, who generously shared the source of Drabble's excellent quotation.  The site is a great resource for meliphiles and taxideaphiles alike!