(national park service photo)
29. The animals were fighting back against our very lifeblood--our personal private machines that roll over and suck the breath out of the earth.
These beaverish rodents dwell the dark crevices of fallen avalanche rock in the high sierras. For the most part, they settle above 7,000 feet. The Mineral King Valley houses a good many of them.
Limping toward the station I noticed chicken-wire wrapped around the autos, blue tarps wrapped under the front tires and up over the engines, hoods propped wide open. I noticed a buttery creature below a gray Prius fumbling about inside the chicken wire barrier.
6 days prior, I had left in a rush and missed the marmot post at the station:
Each spring and early summer, the marmots of Mineral King have been known to dine on rare delicacies. Their fare includes radiator hoses and car wiring! Like bears, jays and ground squirrels, marmots have not only become accustomed to visitors, they have learned that people are a source of food.
In the parking areas some marmots feast on car hoses and wires. They can actually disable a vehicle. On several occasions, marmots have not escaped the engine compartment quickly enough and unsuspecting drivers have given them rides to other parts of the parks; several have ridden as far as southern California!
When I made it to the ranger station I checked my truck. The motor began, the red check-engine-light clicked on and my brakes gave all the way to the floor. At the station, they gave me a damage report sheet and pointed me to the pay phone.
Why hadn't the ranger warned me.
I called my insurance co., they assured the tow was covered, ignoring my description of the crazy M.K. mountain road. I imagined a shower, some food, some rest, some booze. I angered as I waited. I popped my hood and saw all the little claw steps across my dusty truck engine, the chewed tape, the tattered fiberglass & foil heat shield. A marmot had chewed through my break line, break fluid dripped and dripped. I was picking up the yellow fiberglass crumbs from the gravel and laughing when that gray Prius pulled up to the ranger station. A couple got out, the guy popped open the hood, his wife walked around and a live marmot leaped out from inside the hood, landed at the lady's feet. She flung her hands and screamed a holler of surprise. The creature landed at her feet, she jumped again, screamed again, the creature disappeared into the brush. I walked over laughing, we all laughed together, and at that, I was wholly appeased from my misfortunes.
The tow guy made it up around 10:30 pm. The damn insurance co. had told him the drive was 6 miles away. The insurance ass trusted her computer screen more than my talking breathing self as to my whereabouts. The driver gruffed about $ on the way down when he wasn't telling crazy stories about killing rattle snakes, saving drunken drivers, or swerving to miss a bear and fox. "This tow should cost $1200, more than $1200, the hourly rate in the mountains is $150+." His wines, were legitimate but became annoying in the hot truck with my six days of hiking stench.
He was a good fellow in the end. Dropped my car at the lone repair shop in Three Rivers, then toted me around checking for the lowest hotel price. He came in and talked one of the cashiers down $40 off what she wanted. He gave me his number, I gave him the number of my insurance co. He even said he'd fix my brakes it the chevron couldn't make it happen. I slept like a dead body.