I’ve mentioned the story elsewhere, but it this is a photo of Eric York, who died in the Grand Canyon in 2007, of Pneumonic Plague. I never met Eric, but I saw how colleagues, friends and his girlfriend were so shocked by his death, and especially perhaps the cause. I had walked down into that extraorindary ‘hole in the ground’ with one of the last people to speak with him, a teacher at the school where I was doing a writer’s in residence programme. When we learnt a Ranger had died that night, from colleagues at the ranger’s station in the Canyon, the mood was understandably sombre. Eveyone was speculating. It was extraordinary though to learn the next day that Eric had died of a strain of the Black Death, from skinning a mountain lion carcass.

Apparently plague exists in cats and rats, especially at certain heights around the Canyon, and they die of it too in Colorado, although ‘Zoonotic Transfer’ into the human population is very rare in America. Eric had passed away in his cabin, around Halloween, and parents at the school were especially and understandably worried. Anyone who had come into contact with Eric was put on antibiotics, as the top virologist from Washington flew down with his team, to allay fears. It was a surreal and nervy time, very unhappy in other ways too, with the authorities both trying to supress rumours, and put people’s minds at rest. It seemed to take a very long time to get into the National Press. I wanted to do a book on Eric, and the life of the Rangers, a rather special breed of American, with any number of stories of Canyon life, and the often rather crazy and unprepared tourists who visit too, but sadly it was not to be. One day I hope to go back, because it is a place that touches and inspires many of the themes in my own books. DCD

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Filed under America and the UK, Science, The Phoenix Story

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