Every so often, the stars get really out of kilter and the goings-on around us seem as though they were scripted by Rod Serling of “The Twilight Zone.”
We’ve been in one of those modes over the past few weeks, and last week in particular. Some of it can be attributed to the drought, such as the fact that for the first time since the mid-1990s, you can stand on the old Parrotts Ferry Bridge north of Columbia and hear the sound of the Stanislaus River flowing beneath. In nondrought years, the bridge would be under about 150 feet of water by this time.
And as I mentioned in a column last week, the drought affects animal behaviors. A couple of weekends ago, we drove from Sonora to Kennedy Meadows for dinner. A couple of does and fawns grazed in a pasture near Sonora. They were the only deer we saw the entire day. We saw none in the higher elevations, where they traditionally hang out until winter arrives before moving down the hill. Tradition, though, doesn’t seem to mean much during this drought and era of climate change.
That’s the benign stuff. It got much more serious. In mid-July, a child who had been at the Crane Flat Campground in Yosemite National Park was diagnosed with the plague. The disease is spread by fleas that chew on infected small rodents and then bite people. Officials closed the campground to kill the fleas, reopening it last week. Then, a suspected second case this week compelled officials to shut down the Tuolumne Meadows Campground until it, too, can be treated.
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About 85 miles away, meanwhile, a restaurant and wine bar in downtown Angels Camp closed Aug. 10 due to a flea infestation fostered by feral cats, Sonora’s Union Democrat newspaper reported.
Sick of fleas?
A black bear attacked a 66-year-old Vietnam veteran in front of his home in Midpines, near Yosemite, on Thursday. He fought back and survived, but suffered bite wounds, scratches and cuts. His Yorkie service dog distracted the beast, giving attack victim Larry Yepez just enough time to get inside the house before the 200-pound bear tried to butt its way inside, according to The Fresno Bee. The bear soon gave up and left, but remains on the loose, and residents of the area are warned to avoid it.
Bears almost never attack people around homes. But the freak occurrences didn’t stop there. On Friday, two teens from Orange County sleeping in Yosemite’s Upper Pines Campground were killed when a big branch from an oak tree snapped, crushing their tent. Black oak trees, according to reports, aren’t generally affected by drought.
Other bits of strangeness closer to home, not necessarily drought-related: A Facebook friend posted photos of what appeared to be a funnel cloud, or even a ground-touching tornado, north of Modesto on Tuesday evening. From the photo, albeit a blurry one taken at dusk, the cloud appeared to soar more than 1,000 feet over the Valley floor. She took the photo from along Standiford Avenue. A commenter posted that she saw the same thing from Highway 99 several miles south in Ceres.
A tornado? A funnel cloud? No, said the National Weather Service. It couldn’t have been either. The wind barely blew at all Tuesday night, and certainly not enough to create anything that majestic. Must have been a fire. But according to agencies in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties, no such fires were reported during that time frame, between 8 and 9 p.m.
And in Modesto, the weirdness continued Tuesday afternoon when the Modesto Police Department’s bomb squad investigated what was described as a “suspicious suitcase” at the transportation center downtown. What the suitcase was suspicious of is anybody’s guess. It turned out to be nothing more than an empty, abandoned carry-on.
Just another episode in our “Twilight Zone”-like stretch of weirdness.