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If a mortician is someone who does mortuary work, Ben Franklin was something of a bestician, for his observations on American wildlife began a patriotic bestiary which has never, as far as I know, been completed. Franklin observed that the rattlesnake (ahem) is not only vigilant, magnanimous, and courageous, with a rattle like the 13 colonies, but is also “beautiful in youth and her beauty increaseth with her age, ‘her tongue also is blue and forked as the lightning, and her abode is among impenetrable rocks'” (a blue tongue being of course indispensable to the American Spirit).
Franklin wasn’t as kind to our bald eagle, though, teasing it for being a “a Bird of bad moral Character [who] does not get his Living honestly.” The turkey, Franklin wrote his daughter, “is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”
Right or wrong, Franklin did not get very far cataloging the patriotism of American wildlife, so now it’s up to us to continue. I consider it speciesist to suppose patriotism is only a human quality, and cannot be exhibited by our wildlife. For example, consider the star-nosed mole.
It is a hard worker, unafraid to get its hands dirty, toiling underground in the American heartland. As the world’s fastest forager, it lives life at an American pace, brisk and enterprising. Moreover, it has the world’s most patriotic nose, saluting both our flag and our national anthem with its tiny tentacles, which resemble spangling stars and bombs bursting in air. Those who cringe at the star-nosed mole, who’d call it an “ugly American,” are simply wrong: this mole is a beautiful American and deserves to be loved for all its fine American qualities.
I could go on to the gray squirrel, the mountain boomer, or perhaps the praying mantis (not the nefarious Chinese mantis, of course, but America’s own native mantis). But it’s less fun to do this alone.
Who would you add to the bestiary?