Get up and experience life in the ‘great’ outdoors

No “Planet Earth” video cameras captured this scene of a longnosed leopard lizard preparing to feast on a western whiptail lizard near Old Gordon Trail in Colorado National Monument. To see the dramatic scenes western Colorado has to offer, you’ll have to leave your lounge chair behind and get out and about.

There we were, bobbing up and down off the coast of South Africa when a great white shark erupted from the ocean depths to catch and devour a fur seal in one gulp of flashing teeth.

Very nice! Now let’s see that again.

Such a spectacle we’re certain to forget by next week. We may replay this particular “Planet Earth” video. You know, we weren’t actually “there” at sea but witnessed nature’s drama from the comfort of our stuffy office. While sipping a grande latte with our shoes off and the volume cranked high, a wriggling seal goes down the hatch.

Alas, this experience is no more real for us viewers than watching Ed Sullivan introduce the Beatles for the bazillionth time on YouTube. Rather ho hum and yet…

“Planet Earth” videos sure have an addictive quality. After shark eats seal, we’ve got to watch one more. Cheetah versus antelope. Crocodile versus wildebeest. Lion versus buffalo. And another: Stupid humans evict diamondback rattlesnake from backyard swimming pool. Go snake! (We always root for the underdog.)

In several blinks of an eye, we waste an afternoon parked on our duff while foraging bears, hissing lizards, ingenious insects and melting glaciers demonstrate adherence to nature’s survival-of-the-fittest law.

Wild animals get fitter while we humans get fatter. But we have heard that before. A boatload of scientific data shows the crucial importance of Mother Nature to human health.

The National Recreation and Park Association issued a lengthy report in 2010 that compiled studies of what makes a healthy human habitat.

“The impacts of parks and green environments on human health extend beyond social and psychological health outcomes,” the report said. “Greener environments enhance recovery from surgery, enable and support higher levels of physical activity, improve immune system functioning…”

You get the idea. Life’s good, if you really live it. They don’t call it the “great” outdoors for nothing.

So there I was, hiking up Old Gordon Trail in Colorado National Monument, when a longnosed leopard lizard dragged a recently killed western whiptail lizard within a few feet of my boots. The lizards were about the same size, maybe 10 inches long, so the longnosed leopard, a female, had a banquet to work on.

This was the real enchilada. No “Planet Earth” video cameras here. Life and death in the high desert of western Colorado happens 24/7. But in order to witness it, I had to leave my Barcalounger behind.

I felt honored just to be there and glad I wasn’t born a western whiptail lizard.

My heart beat rapidly from the strenuous trek up the Old Gordon. An adrenalin rush came from the drama unfolding before me. As I fumbled with my camera to salvage this scene for posterity, the hungry lizard swung around with her heavy meal clenched in her jaws and stared fearlessly at me.

The longnosed leopard looked at me as if to say, “Don’t even think about it, pal!”

I continued up Old Gordon. My body and mind would go hard for several hours without rest. A spectacular day had only just begun.

Eric Sandstrom teaches at Colorado Mesa University and is an interpretive park ranger at Colorado National Monument.


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