Episode 32 - Animals are such agreeable friends - they ask no questions.

We were all nervous. It seemed like we were back in High School, getting ready for our yearbook pictures to be taken. The renowned National Geographic photographer, Nigel Brooks was arriving at noon at the Mulberry Ridge. Brooks's assignments have ranged from the search for the last of the Pygmy Hippopotamus in South Africa to a solitary circumnavigation by sailboat of Prince Charles Island in North Canada. In a remote part of that Island, he spent weeks in the snow for a rare view of the Eskimo Curlew, a Canadian shore bird. Mr. Brooks endurance was our biggest fear. If he didn't find what he was looking for, he would stay here for weeks. It was our job to make sure he found all the animals he wanted to photograph. And off course, make sure the mutated turtle didn't find its way in front of Mr. Brooks camera lens. By 900 hours the whole team had already hit the showers. By showers I mean the Abrams River. Private Harvey had nicked himself shaving and Roy was helping him with the bleeding. The sarge was wearing his beret for the first time since I met him. Overall, like Ben had said, we all looked like a bunch of ladies. The helicopter was right on time and after the usual greetings and a few photos of Base Camp, Ben and I were instruct to take Mr. Brooks for a drive around the Mulberry Ridge. I suggested him to start with the watchtowers in the valley, since they provide a wide view of the area. Upon arrival I started to climb the ladder while Ben and Mr. Brooks waited down below. For my surprise, Mr. Brooks was just as tall as the most of us. He had a nicely trimmed mustache and spoke with a terrible British accent. He didn't seem interested in us at all. Hardly asked us any questions about our little operation here. To top it all off, Mr. Brooks was sporting an awful orange and green shirt, bound to scare any animal who set eyes on it. I got at the top of the tower and the photographer started to climb up after me. Ben stayed by the Jeep laughing at the whole thing. The noise of our foot steps echoed inside the metal top of the tower. Mr. Brooks paused a few times and kept saying: - Oh, yeah! This is great...great! - I just watched him. I have to admit, the view was incredible. Not far away a Blue-faced Cormorant landed on a tree. I heard the sound of his camera's shutter, clicking away at lightening speed. We stayed there for almost an hour. We drove around for the rest of the afternoon, stoping sometimes to take more pictures. At some point, Mr. Brooks decided to go on foot in search of the almost extinct Gold-Chested Jack Rabbit. Ben and I followed him cautiously. - There! By that bush! - I whispered as I pointed my gun in the animal's position. Mr. Brooks didn't waste any time. Like a cowboy in a gun duel, he drew his camera real fast and started to snap pictures of the rabbit. Scared, the animal took off up hill through the rocks. We decided to follow it. As we got deeper in the ravine, right in front of us, drinking water from a stream, there was a Hedgehog! I had never seen one of this animals before in the wild. I could see by Mr. Brooks face that the hedgehog was quite of a find. He crawled down close to the water and pointed his camera to the spiny mammal. We spotted a few more hedgehogs down the ravine and Mr. Brooks could not stop taking pictures. - Corporal, do you know what this mean? Mr. Brooks asked me. - This little animal could be the only American Hedgehog. There is no record of a native hedgehog in the Americas!!! - Mr. Brooks replied excited to his own question. After a hard day of work, we headed back to Base Camp were Dr. Johnson and Mr. Brooks had a long argument about the hedgehogs over dinner. The next morning we headed down to the pond. Sergeant Palmer advised us not to take any big guns along, so we wouldn't raise any suspicion about the giant turtle to Mr. Brooks. It was going to be a tricky assignment. We arrived early, at sunrise. While Mr. Brooks played around with one of his cameras, I looked over the shore for signs of the mutant turtle. Ben, who was still complaining about his itching back, lingered by the Jeep. We stayed at the shore of the pond for a moment. Mr. Brooks found some smaller turtles which kept him busy, while I prepared the boats. After I got everything set. I took the motor boat in the pond while Ben pushed Mr. Brooks kayak in the water. Everything went as planned. No giant turtles. No mention of the nuclear dump site. We heard a few splashes on the water coming from north corner of the pond. Mr. Brooks paddled his kayak towards that direction and I feared for the worst. - God! Let it not be the turtle! - I said out loud. I followed him closely but only to find a playful otter at the rocky banks of the pond. - What's wrong Corporal? Never seen an otter before? - asked Mr. Brooks curiously. I felt relieved. It's like all the Mulberry Ridge animals came together to hide the presence of their king, the giant turtle. Well, mission accomplished. Our secret is safe. Mr. Brooks left this afternoon. Unfortunately he didn't even take my picture.

by Corporal John Harris, April 19, 2006