Out of Bounds

Lure of Shiny Objects

It’s little surprise the biggest canyon in the United States is also an irresistible key disposal site

By Rob Breeding

The human capacity for silliness should never be underestimated. 

We obsess over ridiculous hobbies or render our weekend happiness to the fate of sports teams to which we have no connection other than an overpriced replica jersey. And in some cases, we absurdly bind ourselves to another for whom our affection offers no plausible path to happiness. 

Many of us have been tripped up by some version of hormone-induced misjudgment, though usually, the only victim of our silliness is one’s self. That’s until, sensing the fragility of our latest flame, we find ourselves “sealing” our unlikely bond by placing a love lock on a fence, bridge or gate in some romantic place.

The stories about beleaguered civil workers cutting love locks from public bridges have become common since this dumb idea became a trend a decade ago. In some instances, the accumulating hardware grew so heavy it threatened the stability of the structure to which it was locked. 

In others, it was seen as the equivalent of a Sharpie mustache scrawled across the Mona Lisa.

How about this? Instead of the padlock theatrics, make your special someone a romantic dinner. If you can’t cook, take them somewhere nice. But please, enough with the love locks. Maintenance workers already have enough to do without insecure lovers adding overtime assignments.

One thing I hadn’t anticipated was that the love lock phenomena might become a hazard for wildlife, but then I never expected that folks would leave love locks on the fences at overlooks in Grand Canyon National Park. 

Understand that once the locking mechanism is set, the love-lock tradition is to fling the keys into the nearest natural feature.

I guess it can’t be love without litter.

It’s little surprise the biggest canyon in the United States is also an irresistible key disposal site. Park officials, hoping to discourage the practice of love locking, announced another reason to end this silliness. Critically endangered California condors might die after eating the keys we’ve flung into the abyss.

If you haven’t been keeping score, California condors, North America’s largest bird with a nearly 10-foot wingspan, have eased back from the brink of extinction through an ambitious recovery effort. In 1987, the last 27 remaining wild condors were captured and became part of a captive breeding program that has resulted in 500 condors today, with 300 wild birds living in California, Utah and Arizona.

Condors are a type of vulture and spend most of their time searching for rotting carcasses in which to burrow their featherless pates. These are curious birds so when they aren’t sussing out stinking flesh, condors are easily distracted by shiny things, including discarded keys.

Park officials produced an X-ray of a condor digestive tract filled with different shiny objects: coins. That X-rayed condor required surgery since the birds can’t digest or easily pass metal, despite guts of steel.

Condors are just one of many feathered fools for shiny things. Ravens, crows and jays are notorious hoarders. There’s some debate as to whether magpies share this corvid glam addiction. I’ve no evidence to form a position, but I do know magpies are fond of shiny yellow tomatoes ripening in the July 4 sun. Those wretches ate the earliest ripening tomato I grew when I was a hobbyist Montana gardener.

Raccoons, however, have the worst case of bling lust. Place something shiny in a hole just big enough to fit a raccoon paw, but too small to extract that same paw clenched around that shiny object, and you’ve got a raccoon trap.

They just can’t let go of the bling.

Park officials didn’t produce an X-ray of a key-filled condor crop, which suggests that for now, this is more a concern than a problem. That’s fine.

So long as it convinces humans to find less idiotic ways to express their love, while also helping condors, I’m all in.

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