Editor’s Note: This is the prologue from Charles Walters’ book, Dung Beetles, which was published by Acres U.S.A. Copyright 2008.
By Charles Walters
“A camel is a smoother ride than a horse.” I made up my mind to add that line to my notes as I glided along on a Bactrian camel while most of my associates took their pounding on ever-jolting horses. We left the Great Pyramid of Giza on a day trip from the Pyramid of Cheops to el-Sir (pronounced sigh-ear). The camels often did not keep pace with the horses. This enabled a personal discovery that has not entirely evaporated during the intervening quarter of a century.
It was a sandy trail, this ride along the Nile. Animals fed in the evening usually discarded their used feed along the trail, which was free of vegetable growth. Horse biscuits dropped only moments earlier were already being worked on by the time I came along. Incredibly, some beetles were rolling the fresh deposits across the sand, seemingly coating the purloined dung with flecks of sand that caught the sun like so much mica.
Where did they come from, these beetles? This was real desert, not the arid land we Americans call desert in spite of flowers, cacti, brush, and grasses with roots tucked under rocks. This desert drifted with the wind, scoured its foundation as if to desiccate the earth below ever deeper. The cycles that turned the Sahara from a grassland savannah into a centuries-long desert required only 300 years. Those same forces made Australia what it is, a drought-cycle-dogged land forever at the long range mercy of the perihelion, when the Earth is closest to the sun, and the epihelion, when the Earth is farthest from the sun. Add to the above the positions of the largest planet, Mercury, and Earth’s neighbor, Mars, plus the Chandler wobble at the North Pole, and you have a good example of cause atop cause until Australia arrives at its six-year drought cycle, a short-term hard times, and finally cessation of the most imaginative event since ancient seekers first domesticated wild animals. Continue Reading →