Thursday, 21 March 2013

The Face of Power

I found this guy beside the compost bin last November. His legal name is Taricha granulosa, but his friends call him the rough-skinned newt. (And here in the woods we call him a waterdog.) This lot are pretty much year-rounders on the North Coast, liable to show up on rainy roads and trails, night or day, in any season. Along with the Pacific chorus frog, they're a fixture of rural life here.

They're also personable little fellows, unfrightened, if slightly irritated, by handling. (A close relative, the firebellied newt, is often sold in pet stores.) In fact, fearlessness is a waterdog trademark, as they often hike hundreds of yards, in the open and in broad daylight, from the ponds where they live and breed.

This is not exactly courage on their part, however; Taricha is also one of the most poisonous creatures on earth. Let an attacker get the slightest bit mouthy with one, and a droplet of tetrodotoxin will sear its tongue and throat like molten iron. There will follow much choking and flailing, with convulsions and foaming at the mouth, progressing to paralysis, and finally, not nearly soon enough, a severe case of death. There is no known antidote, and so far as we know, only one creature on the entire planet is immune.

Of course, this may be cold comfort if your attacker has already bitten your leg off. But that's just an inconvience for my little sangha mate here: he can grow that back. Or an eye. Or a jaw. Or an intestine. Or his spinal chord. Or his heart.

So get a good look at this face: this is what true power looks like. Complete absence of violence or arrogance. No monologuing, no trash-talking, no machismo of any kind. He's a dumpy little blighter, without lurid fangs or claws or rippling muscles. And he could kill you, horribly, without lifting a Muppety finger. He knows it, too; that's why he doesn't have to prance and swagger.

Remember that next time somebody starts making speeches about power and glory.

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