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Plague Doctor on the Green River

The nose half a foot long, shaped like a beak, filled with perfume with only two holes, one on each side near the nostrils, but that can suffice to breathe and to carry along with the air one breathes the impression of the drugs enclosed further along in the beak. Under the coat we wear boots made in Moroccan leather (goat leather) from the front of the breeches in smooth skin that are attached to said boots and a short-sleeved blouse in smooth skin, the bottom of which is tucked into the breeches. The hat and gloves are also made of the same skin… with spectacles over the eyes.


He wore spectacles over his eyes and a floppy sun hat during our days drifting down Utah’s Green River. No gloves though. He hated gloves. Gloves were his garb in his lab and we were a long way from his lab.

It was back in the early 1990s. We were camped somewhere on the Green River in Utah in a shallow canyon down near confluence of the Green and the Colorado. We were seven days deep into a nine-day canoe drift down the Green. It was night. We’d eaten, smoked, had some cups of grog, and were lying back on our bedrolls with the stars as close as a tent’s roof. The night was warm. We sipped warm grog made from rum and the water of a beaver pond. We were talking about the things we did for a living when we were back in the world.

He was a scientist. A biochemist. When he wasn’t drifting down a river in the vast American outback he was working behind several levels of biohazard barriers at some megacompany whose name has now been washed down the Green River with so many other names and moments from the lost years. Everything from that night in camp was now washed away except his short monologue about his line of work. He was working with the live AIDS virus. And to him, it wasn’t just another chunk of strange almost-alive/almost-dead bit of matter so small it might not even be at all. No. Not at all. To him, the AIDS virus was very much alive and loomed large in his mind. It might be neither living nor dead but it had not only a purpose it had a personality.

“What I worry about sometimes,” he said, “is that it’s so lively for a virus. It’s mutating all the time.”

“Well, that’s what makes it interesting,” I said. “Isn’t that what a virus does? And besides, don’t you have to have long and direct contact, blood to blood, to contract AIDS?”

“Yes, now you do. But don’t always count on that. It could always figure out how to get airborne. Then you’ve got a real problem.”

“Okay, but isn’t that very difficult and very unlikely?”

“Maybe,” he said sounding sleepy. “Maybe. But from what I see in the lab I have to say that this virus is a very clever virus. Very clever and getting smarter all the time.”

Today that’s just some fading campfire conversation soon subsumed by sleep. It was a long, long time ago, in another life, down along the Green River. It was probably nothing.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Anonymous June 22, 2020, 3:39 AM

    You drank pond water and you’re worried about an airborne virus? OMG we’re all gone bonkers.

  • Gnawbone Jack June 22, 2020, 3:59 AM

    Pond, lake, river and stream: it’s all good when you have the need.

  • gwbnyc June 22, 2020, 6:52 AM

    first beaver reference of the week.

  • James ONeil June 22, 2020, 7:56 AM

    Why yes, saying this as kindly as possible, stupidity must be a contagious, airborne virus if folks today get their knickers in a twist about someone drinking pond water.

    Next thing you know we’ll have epidemiologists tellin’ us shaking hands is a far too dangerous thing to do! OK, I realize that’s just beyond the beyond and such could never ever happen in a rational society.

  • ghostsniper June 22, 2020, 8:43 AM

    Snapping turtles recycle foul pond water into a crystal clean drinkable potion.
    Let it clamp down on your left arm, then with your right hand you squeeze the hell out of it’s fat beaver right into your vessel of choice. Don’t git no better’n that!

  • Jewel June 22, 2020, 8:45 AM

    Wait, the guy walks out of a sick ward in a suit covered with movie cooties and is surprised that the cooties are airborne. Through the ventilation system.

  • Joe Krill June 22, 2020, 9:07 AM

    Maybe it is just my age, maybe it is just all the cleat marks on my back, maybe it is because the older I get the wiser I become but this article has a lot of hidden bombshells when examined in the context that the human race has a lot of enemies and they are fellow humans who are driven by demonic desire to eradicate what they call a cancer on mother earth. It is not that they do not telegraph their intentions, they do, but it is people ignore the telegraphed signals. Just one classic example would be the Georgia Guide-stones.

    The Georgia Guide-stones
    Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.
    Guide reproduction wisely — improving fitness and diversity.
    Unite humanity with a living new language.
    Rule passion — faith — tradition — and all things with tempered reason.
    Protect people and nations with fair laws and just courts.
    Let all nations rule internally resolving external disputes in a world court.
    Avoid petty laws and useless officials.
    Balance personal rights with social duties.
    Prize truth — beauty — love — seeking harmony with the infinite.
    Be not a cancer on the earth — Leave room for nature — Leave room for nature.

    You my friends are the cancer. Sweet dreams.

  • OneGuy June 22, 2020, 12:39 PM

    My question is does he think that a homemade cloth mask is sufficient to protect him when he is working with these viruses???

  • Tom Hyland June 23, 2020, 4:32 PM

    Fake News anyone? This will blow you mind. Go to Google… type in any combination of 3 numbers then “new cases” and see what happens.