Things that look like sloths: Tracking Diaries #10

Things that look like sloths

“Oh look, barbed wire,” Becky says as she picks her way around the rusty tangle in front of her. “It’s my favorite.”

“Are you sure?” I ask. “We have a busted sewer pipe over here.”

“That’s my special favorite,” Becky assures me.

Deyber is eyeing a swarm of bees, Fran appears to be staring at the sun with a pair of binoculars, and we haven’t seen Amelia in a while; it’s possible the quicksand got her. Quick mud. Tar pit. Poo sinkhole… Whatever it’s called when the unmentionable muck beneath our feet finally succeeds in swallowing us whole.

We are, of course, in Heck Swamp, looking for Baguette.

Baguette is a three-fingered sloth that is scheduled for release from the Urban Sloth Project, but first, we have to catch her one last time to get her backpack off. Today our top priority is finding this lady, and to this end, we have pulled out the big guns—in the form of Deyber and Fran, who have some kind of sloth x-ray vision.

“I see one!” says Deyber, and I get so excited I try to run to where he is at, forgetting that There is No Running in Heck Swamp, and I almost go face first into the mud. When I get to where Deyber is standing, though, I can see no sloth.

“Where?” I ask.

“There. In the hole in the trees. By the leaves.”

“Oh! I see—” except I don’t see, because I am looking at a squirrel’s nest. You’d think a haphazard pile of very non-furry dead leaves would look less like a sloth, but sloths are the visual version of what chicken tastes like: everything looks like a sloth.

(I tried once to explain to one of my Spanish-speaking coworkers that sloths were The Chickens of the Forest because they look like what chicken would taste like if you could see flavors… but the joke did not translate, and I think all I did was convince him I was insane.)

Finally, I see what Deyber is talking about; a single sloth claw, 50 meters away, through about 12 trees. How the heck he spotted that I have no idea. I try to get closer for a better view, since we cannot ID Baguette from a single claw, and after 10 meters of mud I think I see a new sloth—but it is a large leaf. At 15 meters I for sure have found a new sloth, get excited and call Becky over, but it turns out to be a male sloth who is not wearing a backpack. Oops.

At 30 meters I am knee-deep in a substance I am choosing to believe is mud, because the alternative is to run screaming back to civilization and get a career studying something more predictable, like, say, potted plants. I am pondering whether or not my boot will ever come unstuck. Somewhere off to my right, Fran has discovered six more real sloths and twice as many sloth-shaped termite nests. I pull on my right foot. It does not budge, but my left foot sinks lower.

Becky has found a line of giant ants the size of my thumb. She declares them cute. I give a mighty heave of my stuck foot, because otherwise my new career is going to be “fossil”, and it finally comes free.

I at last make it to the tree where possibly-Baguette is hiding, where I catch sight of Amelia.

“Look!” she says, “I think I found her!”

I pull out my binoculars. The object in question is round, brown, and furry. “I don’t know. I think it’s a coconut.”

“Are you sure? I swear it moved.”

“I’m not saying it DIDN’T move, but check it out from this angle.”

Amelia squelches over. “Darn it. It’s either a coconut, or a two-fingered sloth. Hey Fran, do we have two-fingered sloths in Heck Swamp?”

“No. Only three-fingereds.”

“Oh hey!” I say, peering through my binos again. “I have a two-fingered right here! It’s curled up with a blanket. Inside a tree…”

The group agrees that this has to be seen to be believed and congregates around the tree with the mystery animal. I contend that it is a two-fingered sloth, Becky thinks kinkajou, Fran and Deyber are debating tayra, and Amelia thinks it might be a stuffed toy placed here as part of a very obscure joke.

While we are discussing this and trying to get pictures, the sloth that might be Baguette shifts slightly and curls up into the leaves, hiding her back from us for the rest of the afternoon, and the mystery animal sticks out its little pink tongue and licks its nose, thus ending the debate on the side of tayra (which have very identifiable tongues, I guess).

Oops, not a two-fingered sloth then!

As we squish our way out of the swamp later, I confide to Amelia that I cannot believe I misidentified not just the wrong species of sloth, but the wrong species of animal entirely.

“It’s okay,” she tells me. “You just got April Fooled.”

And, remembering the mocking pink tongue and the perpetually mysterious Baguette, I have to laugh, because I guess humans aren’t the only animals with a sense of humor.

Happy April Fools Day!

 

-Ames Reeder