Pursuing mindless games can have some odd and unexpected benefits. I play a web-based free slot machine, Seven Lucky Ducks, that has only a benefit of winning fake money. I can enter this fake money into a raffle to win (probably not) various small prizes. The ducks artwork on the game is cute, the sounds are subdued and not annoying, and there is a chat attached to it. People have evolved and entire shorthand to congratulate each other on their slot machine achievements, as the slot machine announces each win within the chat. WTG (way to go), GG (good going), and SS (so sorry) pop up on the right hand side as folks cheer you on for your wins and losses. As if we have anything to do with how the computer program decides to reward us. The ultimate goal is to either roll three crowns (because you win the most fake money that way) or to win the bonus round, where your duck walks a path, picking eggs that have things yummy to ducks in them: grain, grass, a worm, and graduating to a Ducky Mate and a Lovely Ducky Family on up until, if you pick the right egg for each set in the entire path, you are crowned King of All Ducks. When that happens everyone in the chat room choruses "Hail King!" or, for those more astute as to who you are, "Hail Queen" when appropriate.
People don't just continually type computer shorthand at each other. We actually chat. And the interesting thing is that this game is international. So far I've met people from Ireland, England, New Zealand, Australia and even made a friend in Tasmania! My environment couldn't be more different from those Down Under folks' and we have some funny moments with them talking about it being so hot, and me telling them it is still frozen up here. The ignorance of what Alaska is really like is enormous, and I spend a fair amount of time dispelling such notions as "Isn't Alaska frozen all the time?" and "How can you stand it being dark all the time?" Yes, one person thought that it was dark here 24 hours a day every day of the year.
One person (an American) thought I was stupid to live where there were bears. This person had seen on a digital satellite channel some show on Timothy Treadwell where, according to him, they played a videotape of him and his girlfriend getting eaten. I think this guy was clueless. First of all, the camera didn't record any pictures, so there aren't any pictures of Treadwell and his unfortunate girlfriend getting eaten. Secondly, the police have, last I heard, steadfastly refused to let the sounds of the attack, recorded on the video camera (with the lens cap on), out into the public. So I think this fellow was either making this up, or saw a dramatized version of it and thought it was real. Hey, I know so many people who think Spinal Tap was a real band and that their movie was a real documentary, that I think this is a good possibility.
After seeing what I suspect was a sensationalized program about this "naturalist" being eaten by bears, this fellow insisted that *I* was stupid to live in Alaska. No, I said, Treadwell was stupid. But the chatter was adamant that people should not live near bears. Of course in his mind it was all the fault of the bears that Treadwell met his bloody end. He didn't seem to understand that being around wild animals requires that you respect the wild animals. Treadwell didn't, and died for it. And he wasn't a naturalist, either.
It bothers me that people expect animals, wild or otherwise, to behave the way they want them to behave, and when they don't and people get hurt, they blame the animal. This happens with dogs all the time. Some uneducated, ignorant person comes gallivanting up to a dog being walked on a leash, and without asking the owner if he can pet the dog, just reaches out, looms OVER the dog's head (threatening to a dog) and tries to pat it on the top of the head. Not a good idea with a dog who, for instance, was abused by others and who is afraid of strangers. This idiot will get bit, and then blame the DOG. The dog will get in trouble simply because this fool a)doesn't know how to approach a dog, and b) didn't bother to ASK to see if it's even a good idea. The saddest part? The dog may be put down by authorities even though it is totally blameless.
The Right Way to Pet a Strange Dog: Ask the owner before approaching if the dog is friendly. Many dogs are being rehabilitated after abuse and are very fearful of strangers. Some dogs are sketchy with children for the same reason, or just because that's the way they are. For instance, Sofia thinks toddlers are aliens. I keep her way from all aliens. If the owner says it is okay to pet, walk up and squat down. Do not lean over the dog, that's scary for them. Do not stare the dog steadily in the face, that's aggression to a dog. Extend your hand for the dog to sniff. Let the dog have a minute to figure out your are okay. Listen to the owner. If he/she says to back off, back off. If all is okay, slowly reach and pet the dog on the side of the neck or upper shoulder. Reaching over a dog's head is scary for a dog and make cause them to bite out of fear. If a dog growls back off immediately.
When I moved to Alaska I decided I needed to learn the body language of bears and moose so that I could, when confronted with an encounter, do the right thing. Also so I could come out alive! Luckily I have only seen two bears in the wild and both from vehicles. There aren't that many bears in the Interior. Moose, however, are absolutely everywhere, and I've read everything I can about them so that when I do encounter them I can read their body language and see how likely they are to charge me and stomp me to death. Main thing with moose and bear: keep your distance! Second thing: be alert and keep your eyes open! So far, so good.
Most people get hurt by the wild animals up here when they, like many really stupid tourists I've seen, try to PET WILD ANIMALS. What is WITH that??? We had to physically restrain some fool up at Chena Hot Springs a couple years ago when a moose came into the resort and was relaxing in a warm pool. Hey, moose get sore muscles, too. This tourist was going to wade into the pool with the goal of walking up to the moose. Right. My boyfriend and I grabbed him by both arms and said NO, you wanna get killed?
More people are hurt by moose (and many dogs stomped, but that's another rant I'll save for another day) by far than are hurt by bears. A 1000 lb animal is not something you want to mess with. Those hooves are big, and they know how to use them. A mama moose is possibly the most dangerous animal in Alaska. Why? Because she is extremely protective and she lives in your neighborhood!
A mama moose with twin babies hung around our place for several weeks. I found hoofprints at my front door, and on the stairs! My landlord was pretty proud that he'd made stairs strong enough for moose to walk on! But I'm telling you, before Sofia and I went out every day, we LOOKED and LOOKED to make sure we weren't going to startle Mama Moose.
All my life I wondered what it was like to live in America before nearly all the large animals were killed off, before it was "civilized." Alaska is the one place left in America you can find out. You respect the land, the climate, the forces of nature and those who live there. This is their place. They suffer us to live here. No real Alaskan would complain about moose or bear in their yard. After all, we are living in their backyard, not the other way around.