CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A flurry of "mistakes guys make on Valentine's Day" articles and checklists appeared online and in newspapers last week, giving me the chance to reflect on the fact that I've made most of them.
I've bad-mouthed the pseudo holiday and bought teddy bears and cheap, off-brand cards to ineffectively express my sentiments for me. I have yet to come up with a perfectly planned Valentine's evening, and if I had done so, I'm sure I wouldn't have appeared for it wearing the appropriate attire for the occasion.
But if I lived in one of the Top Ten Romantic Getaway Cities as rated by USA Today, where the Center for Biological Diversity distributed free Valentine's Day endangered species condoms, even I would have the sense not to make the freebies a part of my less than stellar gift-giving tradition.
I mean, nothing says 'I love you' better than a pack of condoms bearing the likeness of the eastern hellbender, also known as the "snot otter" or the "devil dog."
The hellbender is one of six species of concern featured on the CBD's Endangered Species Condoms gift packs for Valentine's Day. It is the only critter among the six that makes its home in West Virginia, favoring our state's cold, rocky, silt-free streams. Other endangered animals appearing on the packs are the polar bear, the Florida panther, the leatherback sea turtle, the western snowy plover and the dwarf sea horse.
So, what's the rationale for the unusual Valentine's Day gift?
"Valentine's Day is the perfect time to spread a message of love by speaking out about human population growth and endangered species protection," according to CBD spokeswoman Taralynn Reynolds. "Endangered Species Condoms are a great way to start the conversation about how our actions have impacts on polar bears, panthers and other critically endangered species."
Okay, I can see the logic at play there. Plus, if you ever encounter a hellbender, polar bear or panther in the wild, the last thing you'll be thinking about is sex.
I can only imagine what it would be like to run into, then away from, a polar bear or a panther in their home turf. But I have had some experience with hellbenders. They look like stub-tailed moray eels, only with legs and bad head colds. Their skin is coated with a slimy, semi-toxic skin secretion. Fringe-like strips of flesh called barbels extend from their lips and emit an electrical field used to sense the presence of crawfish, their main food source.
If the hellbender looks like something that crawled out from under a rock, it's because if you're seeing one, that's exactly where it came from.
Since Charleston, W.Va., was rated the most miserable city in the U.S. in 2013, it's unlikely that we'll be picked any time soon as a Top Ten Romantic Getaway City, as the other Charleston was last year.
Even though I won't be seeing any CBD volunteers handing out packs of wildlife-themed condoms at the levee or at Appalachian Power Park, I'd like to pass along a suggestion. For Valentine's Day, focus on cute, cuddly looking endangered wildlife species.
And let sleeping devil dogs lie.