When Aliens (and Cryptosporidium) Attack


I have aliens chewing on my intestines. Ever seen that cult classic, Alien? Remember that part where the alien baby bursts out of the guy’s stomach at the dinner table? Look it up on Youtube.

Alright, so they’re protozoans, sort of like Giardia. Pretty much the same thing as aliens in my book. The name of my alien is Cryptosporidium, or Crypto for short. It hangs out in the intestines of mammals for the all you can eat, 24-hour buffet line. It’s like the Oxford, but with slightly less space and culture, and a slightly less appetizing menu.

You can get Crypto by eating food that’s been contaminated, or by drinking water that they’ve infected. Dirty buggers. Apparently it’s contagious enough to provoke a call from the Health Department. That was a first for me. After an afternoon of being told how carefully I need to wash my hands, they had me feeling like a carrier of the zombie virus.

I got Crypto when I was out on a ranch identifying grizzly tracks and collecting their genetic material with my Wilderness and Civilization class.

I know what you’re thinking. This is because Crypto grants me the ability of telepathy. It’s a symbiotic relationship in that way. But I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Wait a minute, Clay. You wander around the woods looking for grizzly sign and get telepathy, all for school?!” The answer is yes.

The Wilderness and Civilization program is a combination of undergraduate courses built around resource conservation, ecology, policy, native American studies, and plenty of field-based learning. We kicked off the year with eight days of backpacking in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Every Friday thereafter, we’ve traveled somewhere new in Montana to explore the relationship between nature and civilization.

The program spans two semesters, at the end of which I’ll receive a minor in Wilderness Studies. One of the best parts about the program is that all majors are welcome, including bumbling creative writing majors like myself that don’t know the first thing about ecology. If you’re into the great outdoors, and have a desire to protect it, I highly recommend this program to you. Check out their website.

Alright, now that I’ve gotten my shameless propaganda out of the way…

This week we were collecting hair samples off of “bear rubs.” A bear rub is just that: a tree that a grizzly has taken it upon himself to scratch his back on. You can tell a bear rub when you see it because of its polished looking bark, or, if you see a six hundred pound grizzly rubbing all over a tree, that would be a good sign as well. I have a hard time thinking of who this would be more awkward for.

The researchers that were guiding us, former Wilderness and Civ’ers themselves, explained how barbed wire had been laced on trees previously identified as bear rubs in order to collect hair samples. Don’t worry, bear hides are about as thick as they come, and judging by the amount of bear hair we found, they weren’t deterred at all by the few barbs.

The hair samples are collected and sent to a lab where their DNA is analyzed. Using this method, the researchers can determine part of the bear’s range of travel, as well as if one bear is the offspring of another bear that they’ve previously analyzed.

Genetics. Pretty groovy stuff.

I’ll stop there for now, Readers. In closing, make sure you drink filtered water. Keep an eye out for polished looking trees in the woods. And remember, I know what you’re thinking. The answer is yes, I do have other super powers.

Thanks for reading. Be good to each other.

P.S. Snow is coming!!!!!   Back to “A Day in the Life” Blog Homepage.


A little about me: I escape the city as often as possible to go on random outdoor excursions. I enjoy standing in the middle of bridges for extended periods of time. I love reading. I love dogs. I also love making music, dancing, potlucks, pretending to be a zombie on Halloween, gardening, running on trails, cooking with garlic, copious amount of hot sauce, falling leaves in autumn, and drinking black coffee. I also love writing, and feel fortunate to offer my weekly perspective as a college student to the Make it Missoula collective. Tune in next week for the next riveting chapter.