If you look up the words “Gordian knot” in Merriam-Webster, you’ll learn that it means “an intricate problem.” But that hardly describes the fascinating history behind the vivid phrase.
History.com recounts the fable of Gordius, who was supposedly the father of King Midas. After his death, he left behind a wagon whose yoke was tangled in a huge snarl of knots, and a prophet said that whoever untangled it would rule Asia.
Well, who should show up on the scene but Alexander the Great, an ambitious Macedonian who thought Asia would make a nice addition to his empire. After examining the knot, Alexander said, “It makes no difference how they are loosed,” and chopped it clean in half.
The (ahem) direct approach works fine when dealing with twine or leather — and not so well with animals.
Workers at the Wisconsin Humane Society Wildlife Rehabilitation Center probably couldn’t believe what they encountered on Sept. 13. According to Fox News, a good Samaritan discovered five trapped baby gray squirrels.
But these squirrels weren’t caught by anything as mundane as rope or wire or even plants. Rather, they were ensnared by their own bodies.
Somehow the material of the nest they’d lived in had tangled their tails — and then their tails had tangled around each other. The squirrels were snared tail to tail, a true Gordian knot if ever there was one.
Humane Society workers dubbed the case a Tale of Five Tails. But the work the creatures had to go through was no laughing matter.
They anesthetized the little animals and oh-so-carefully unwound their tales. The quintet came out of the procedure just fine and probably quite thankful that the medical professionals didn’t take Alexander’s approach to their knotty problem.
A Washington Fish and Wildlife officer learned a similar lesson when trying to save a snared osprey.
The wild bird had gotten tangled in a length of baling twine. The bird was trying to fly, but couldn’t make it far.
So the wildlife officer found the bird and gently snipped the offending string away. Sounds easy, right?
Not so much, at least for the officer. KXLY reported that the osprey gave him a firm chomp on the left forearm for his troubles.
In 2017, a Bordeaux Mastiff ran afoul of a far more natural snarl. Metro chronicled how a puppy named Zeus got frightened in England’s Lake District and ran away from his owner.
The dog vanished for two weeks, and his owner started a desperate social-media campaign in an attempt to find him. When a pair of volunteers finally discovered him, Zeus was trapped in a thick tangle of bracken.
He could barely move and had survived by drinking rainwater. “If it hadn’t have been raining I don’t think he would have survived,” one of the volunteers said.
“When we got to the dog it was very scared, but when I got my sandwich out it calmed down. We couldn’t stop smiling, we couldn’t believe we had found him.”
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