It began with a casual remark from Monty, our resident space alien: “It must have been eaten by gnomes.”
The Wolf Park staff had been discussing how to stop losing the clips we use to fasten gate latches, which had taken to disappearing. Of course we can replace them, but some latches do best with clips of a size that isn’t available locally anymore. This is a relatively trivial problem, like sand in your socks, but with time and frequent repetition (a phenomenon referred to by behaviorists as stimulus stacking), minor irritations may cease to seem trivial (and more like cockleburs in your socks).
Until that casual comment during a staff meeting, I had thought it likely that some of our clips had simply reached their time of pupation and had changed into something that doesn’t resemble their previous form, much as safety pins pupate and turn into wire coat hangers. (Back in the last century, my high school science teacher explained the curious and exasperating life cycle of safety pins and wire coat hangers. Safety pins are a larval form of the wire coat hanger. When you go through a period where you can’t lay your hand on a safety pin anywhere, but the amount of wire coat hangers in your closet has burgeoned out of all proportion to how many garments are in need of hanging, a pupation season has just ended.)
But perhaps Monty was right, and gnomes were afoot, or around, or possibly ajar. Were gnomes indeed stealing our gate clips? How could one tell? My knowledge of gnomes comes primarily from the invaluable works of Messrs. Poortvliet and Froud. It didn’t seem likely the gnomes studied by Mr. Poortvliet would eat metal double ended snaps or boat clips. Those gnomes seem a lot like us, only gnicer. They don’t seem to intend animals, or us, any harm. However, appearances can be deceiving. For example, squirrels will eat, or at least gnaw, car wiring, which is gnot something you would expect of them. (If you see a squirrel standing up on its hind legs under your car, beware! It may look like a little furry mechanic, but it isn’t.)
Less is understood about the gnomes in Mr. Froud’s books, but they seem to be a more sinister species (or subspecies) than the ones described by Poortvliet. However, gno mention is made of this kind of gnome, either, consuming or hoarding fencing equipment.
Perhaps we had been missing something that was hiding, as it were, in plain sight. Gnoticing that our resident space alien uses human artifacts in ways they were gnot intended, such as making crop circles in cakes, I have been looking for other things that seem a little off, having a certain something that makes them, despite appearances, gnothing like gnormal.
Take, for instance, burdocks and cockleburs, aka “Gnature’s Velcro.” Every year, to the exasperation of both species, we humans find these in our wolves’ fur. They make unattractive mats in the wolves’ fur, exasperating our photographer. Sometimes the wolves act as if the burrs feel irksome, and we agree with them when we remove them from the wolves’ fur. (Gnote: the wolves stay much happier if you pull the fur away from the burr, rather than the other way around.)
Wolves can pick up burrs directly from the burr bushes, but burrs can also be placed on their fur deliberately. Over the years we have occasionally stuck burrs on wolves to distract them from certain behaviors and divert them to grooming themselves instead. (We don’t put them in places where they will be hard to reach or painful.) But our wolves get burrs even when we aren’t around, so it’s possible that some of those burrs were put on our wolves deliberately by…some other force. Why might gnomes want to stick burrs on wolves? If you search the internet, you can find videos of humans enjoying bounce sports in combination with a Velcro wall. They jump at the wall from a trampoline or “bounce house” floor, and stick to the wall. Are some of the burrs in the wolves’ fur from gnomes daring each other to jump at the wolves, stick to them, and ride around? While I can easily imagine adolescent gnomes daring each other to stick to, and ride, wolves, this doesn’t make it so.
Also, if you search L-Space, you can find literature describing, or accusing, elves of riding horses at night, leaving the horses tired and sweaty by morning. They also are said to braid amazing knots into horses’ manes to hold on by, and possibly for decoration. Once again, there are other ways horses’ manes can get knotted. Some horses’ manes tend to twine into strings when they have been left ungroomed for a while. Add to this a horse that tosses its mane when restless, or bothered by flies, and the horse itself can create amazing (and frustrating) macrame in its mane – sections sporting three-strand braids, while other sections look like some scouts went wild trying for a knotting badge! These knots and braids look as if they were made by dexterous fingers – and maybe some of them were. But knot by human hands!
Agnother possible clue, or then again, maybe gnot: We have noticed that this year Timber seems calmer. She can still be very very very bouncy, but she just doesn’t do it as often. Our first thoughts were that she is maturing. This may be a contributing factor, but maturity does not always curb excited effervescence in animals. My first horse had a lot of energy into his teens and early 20’s. If I had been able to do about 18 miles of trail riding on the Flying Red Horse during Saturday and Sunday, he was quite cheerful and ready to go on Monday, but also calm and biddable. If Timber were giving rides to gnomes (or elves) in the evenings after the Park has closed, it might explain her more peaceable gnature in the mornings.
Is Timber calmer this spring because she is giving gnomes rides when gno humans are around to see? Are gnomes absconding with our gate clips? I wish I gnew. More observations are gnecessary. If any of our Gentle Readers have any observations to contribute, please contact us. Gno man is an island. The Truth Is Out There….