Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Friday, February 29, 2008

Badger

I saw a badger once and once only in the Sierra Nevada. I was riding around with my dad in his pickup, in the back-country. I can't remember what the specific quest was--firewood, perhaps, or merely flight from boredom. No doubt he said, "Look at that--that's a god-damned badger," and left it at that. The badger was pretty impressive in its own way--low to the ground, garbed in some good-looking fur, and awfully determined. The sighting was but a glimpse--off it went, bothered, on those big paws with long claws--really low to the ground.

It's a bit odd that "badger" was turned into a verb, meaning to tease or to harangue incessantly (or at least that's my definition), and we're used to hearing it in TV court-dramas: "Your honor, I object; counsel is badgering the witness." I guess the connection is that badgers dig incessantly, looking for food--including rodents, I have learned; so "counsel" digs into the witness. But badgers seem to want to be left alone; they do not seem to aspire to become attorneys. According to the OED online, "badger" became a verb very late in the 18th century.

Unfortunately, some people still trap badgers for the fur and hunt them for--I don't know what for: just to kill them, I guess. Steve Jackson's badger website suggests badgers usually live 2-8 years in the wild, more like 14 in captivity, and, in one case, up to 26 years. Various kinds of badgers include the honey badger, the hog badger, the Eurasian badger, and the ferret badger.

Badgers are related to ferrets and weasels. I think some people call lawyers "weasels," so I guess it's technically possible to hear someone in a court-room say, "Your honor, I object; the weasel is badgering the witness."

The American badger's Latin name is Taxidea taxus, and apparently the one I saw was from the Taxidea taxus jeffersoni sub-group; another sub-group is jacksoni. Why the scientists used Jefferson and Jackson, I do not know--and I'm sure those names arose well before Steve Jackson started his site in the U.K., so we mustn't jump to conclusions. From the website, I learned that those who study the badger have a heck of a time determining their population, but badgers are spread broadly from the upper mid-western states to the west and widely over western Canada, too.

Here's a link to the badger-site, which has some photos of handsome badgers, and of one badger who is yawning (after a tough day of digging, no doubt). Badgers seem just to throw themselves into any activity, and this badger is really yawning. I mean, he or she is going for the yawn in an inspiring way.

http://www.badgers.org.uk/badgerpages/american-badger.html

Here's a badger-poem I wrote quite a while ago. I think I may have included it in the Collected Poems I put together, but I just added an epigraph from Jackson's website. I don't know if philosophers, let alone linguists, would approve of the word or the concept, "badgerness," but it amuses me (that makes one of us).

Regarding Badger

"A loner, it is always digging."

--Steve Jackson


I have seen the badger,
and I approve. Its body
argues for badgerness. The
rhetoric is fierce, furry, low,
leveraged, and necessary.

I prefer not to point to tall
buildings and small computers
and say Look at what we’ve done!
I am, however, in favor
of sewer systems, electric light,
and medicine. Have we
done right by the badger?

That’s a measure of civilization,
too: a judgment to limit ourselves,
to leave badger and woods
alone enough and well.

Copyright 2008 Hans Ostrom
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