- animal husbandry
- animal rights
- Bob Dylan
- Defenders of Wildlife
- Earth Day
- Edward Abbey
- Endangered Species Act
- Firehole River
- Grand Tetons
- Heart Lake
- Idaho Department of Fish and Game
- loon calls
- mental health
- Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks
- national parks
- National Park Service
- solar system
- the Bible
- The Cornell Lab of Ornithology
- the holocaust
- Turner Classic Movies
- U.S. Department of the Interior
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
- W.O.L.F. Sanctuary
- wild wolf encounters
- wolf hunting
- Wolf Lake
- wolf management
- World War II
- Wyoming Game and Fish Department
Wild Wolf Encounters
Songs for a Beloved Friend
No regular diapers like yesterday
with newfangled ones the pee finds its way
The pee finds its way, you know, flows through
but the poop stays put where you want it to!
Time for swim lessons with grandbaby mine
holding him close in the water will feel so fine
Floating and gurgling, moving with ease
the water’s caress is sure to please.
I stall and wonder before we go
waiting for poop so I don’t have to know
if new age swim trunks really work as designed
and the poop stays in place on the baby behind.
I swim at this pool almost every day
and dread hearing whispers that clearly portray
me as she who caused a stampeding melee
and forced the pool’s closure to total dismay.
Photo public domain courtesy Raphael Biscaldi/Unsplash
After graduating from college in California, we moved to Michigan, where my husband started law school. The weather there is bitterly cold in winter and so hot in summer that life doesn’t seem worth living (before the days of universal air-conditioning). A Westerner by birth and predilection, my spouse was not happy in the flat and humid Midwest.
During spring break, we drove through Denver, Colorado on our way to backpack in Canyonlands National Park in Utah. Denver was warm – we did not need to bundle in our winter jackets. We decided then and there that law school in Denver was a fine idea. That’s how we wound up here.
Canyonlands is as wild a place now as it was then. Off the beaten track, few front-country campgrounds with limited spaces, and minimal facilities. Nothing for miles upon miles but open red rock country, stark in its beauty and unforgiving in its embrace of the elements – wind, storm, flash flood, arm and toe holds in layered stone, sheer drop-offs, tall spires standing where neighboring rock has eroded away, and vast numbers of canyons empty of human presence or imprint.
Canyonlands was established as a national park in 1964. On our first visits, cows were still permitted to graze in the park. Cow dung was everywhere, and hiking in the backcountry involved stepping into and around it in the dry creek beds, the dunes, and what passed for trails. Evading their droppings took a tremendous amount of energy, especially with a heavy pack on one’s back.
There were then no marked trails in the canyons. Our first and favorite hike – we would return many times over the years* – heads into Lost Canyon. Beginning in the middle of nowhere as the wide mouth of the empty stream bed opens a route into the canyon, the trail narrows as it climbs slowly uphill. The course undulates like the river that formed it. We reduce mileage by cutting across the sandy bed and taking a more direct but up-and-down path. We pass dozens – hundreds – of other canyon openings and pray we remain on track. At least I do the praying; my husband is skilled at reading topographical maps and knows precisely where he is.
The location we head for is about 4 ½ miles away. Not that far, but we are walking the entire way on shifting sand seasoned with cow manure. Permits are not yet required. One simply stops and camps where convenient. A water source is a blessing, and we find water in places as the canyon narrows. Deep pools also exist in the desert. Water must be treated before drinking. In this exacting country, no one needs to be reminded that water is life.
For a city girl born and bred, sleeping out in the canyon country’s vast emptiness is unsettling. Beauty and harshness are equally extreme. I had never seen such stars. Multitudes covered the night sky. In particular, I remember Orion. Rising and marching across the northern hemisphere’s dome in spring, I look for him every season of re-birth. He is visible even in the city. When I see Orion, I remember my youth, our backpacking trips to Canyonlands, and the darkest sky with nothing between us and the stars, moon, and planets.
Years went by. Our son was born to grace our lives. We left him and our dogs at home with grandparents and returned, again in the spring, to Lost Canyon.
Access had changed dramatically in the intervening period. Trails to Lost Canyon and elsewhere now begin from the campground. Instead of walking into and up the dry wash, one climbs up, over, and down the slickrock. Called slickrock because, although the footing is stable when dry, when wet it becomes slippery and treacherous. Traveling into the various canyons en route requires using hand and toe holds. Sometimes a ladder is placed strategically. I missed my old circuitous path into magic. Instead of winding slowly into another world, we walked on top of it, looking down into it, not so much a part of it.
Each step requires caution, and I couldn’t lose myself in the moment. We made our way to the Lost Canyon trail, and there the adventure intensified.
We heard cries from the top of a nearby hill. Insistent cries, becoming more insistent every second. Hard to make out what their voices were calling; finally we understood. One had injured her shoulder. She could not return the way we had all come – hoisting ourselves over ladders and up and down steep rock faces.
What to do? Not many people would have known about an alternate route that did not require use of the arms and shoulders. (As it turned out, even the rangers did not know a person could exit the canyon this way.)
My husband decided to run back the way we had come, head to the ranger station, and alert them that someone might need rescuing. My job was to lead the two women out the Lost Canyon route, last taken more than twenty years before. My husband took the topo, since I couldn’t read it anyway. He with rangers in tow would meet us at the canyon mouth.
I was on my own. Four and one-half miles out and hundreds of side canyons to ignore and avoid while they beckoned. A wrong choice and we would spend the night in the canyon – or worse. I had only my very dark prescription sunglasses – desert dark – so for many reasons exiting in daylight was a priority.
My first task was to make sure I was heading in the right direction, that is, downhill. Water was flowing where the path joined Lost Canyon, but direction of flow was difficult to determine. Tamarisk, that foreign species sucking up so much water in the American West, had invaded in force since my last visit. It filled the stream. Eventually, and to the accompaniment of the injured woman’s piercing screams, I made my decision and we set off.
Lost Canyon had not changed much in 20+ years, except that the pesky cow dung had long ago enriched the soil and polluted the water. No human sign or print disturbed the sandy riverbed. As before, I crossed the stream to shorten the miles, back and forth, up, over, and down the small embankments. No trail markers existed to prevent a foray into a side canyon. The canyon looked familiar. I was reasonably comfortable with the course and direction. But I would only know for sure the last half-mile, when the canyon widened and opened to the trailhead. My injured companion and her friend had no trouble walking. I asked her to focus on the canyon, the sky, the view, the spires – anything but her pain. And she did.
In good time, and to my great relief, the canyon began to open; I knew we were almost out. A quarter-mile before the end, a ranger met us with a stretcher. Not necessary, but the sight of another human was welcome. A few more steps, and I saw my husband waiting, together with several more rangers. My husband had produced his ancient topographical map with route highlighted to show them how we had navigated the canyon so many years before.
The women drove to a hospital in Moab, where the injured shoulder was re-set. They came and stayed with us that night; we had booked a cabin with an extra bedroom for our son, who preferred to stay home with his grandparents.
It was a grand adventure, and I remember it with great fondness.
Canyonlands skies are still gloriously dark. It and three other national parks in Utah enjoy the International Dark Sky Park designation.
* sometimes with dogs, meaning we could only drive to the trailhead and look but not hike. There is no shade in Canyonlands in the spring, and dogs cannot be left in the car.
Old pathways through canyon bottom
erased by wind and sand
overgrown by time’s twisting brambles
dry stream bed empty of human prints
Lost Canyon winds its way
into the past heart of youth
Subdued blue sky
ponders a change
from winter to new spring
poems from Bright Moon Wandering,
Environmental Love Poetry
City lights are more numerous
than the stars,
and light years vanish
in the glow from the garage.
Distance vision shutters,
and veiled night jewels
adorn our lives no longer
with other-worldly luster.
The Dippers slake no journey’s thirst,
the Polestar gleam grows dim,
while lonely Orion makes his way
hunting a memory
of radiant display.
from Songs for a Beloved Friend,
Poems and Essays for the Planet
No crime drama
just an aging woman’s search for herself
abandoned on the shifting shore of accommodation
lost in the dryer with the single sock
neglected in the pleasure and perceived
need of putting others first
exhausted by the onslaught of external emotions.
Now wanting myself back
daring to use my own voice
ready to rely on my own heart
taking life’s breath in my rhythm
carving out my time
acknowledging my strengths
crediting my accomplishments
and creating space for more.
Honing a steadfast attitude toward those
who would impede my goal
my goal is my self
my self surviving
my self thriving
sloughing off old skin
producing a shiny new encasing
which permits further growth
I will protect it from infringement
with gently fierce and ruthless resolution.
Names are Important
I recognized at the age of three that names are important.
The names you are given, and, especially, the names you choose for yourself. Others demonstrate respect and caring by honoring your choices, even when ridiculous.
For example, when I was a child in New Jersey, we had a parakeet I named “Cheepy”. Not very original, and I have to admit that this creature was not an important part of my life. Not like my dog. We were also unaware that this bird needed a mate, or at least a companion, to share his cage. A lone bird is a terrible thing. Kind humans, not intending to do harm, do so through their ignorance. Every day.
My family had nick-named me “Nickie” – short for the last syllables in “Monica”. “Monica” was a hard name for a shy child to utter. People always thought I had said, “Martha” or “Matilda”, so I would have to repeat it, louder, often several times. I didn’t meet another “Monica” until I was in my 30’s. Now it’s relatively common. Only my family and close friends through high school called me “Nickie”. Some still do, and I like it.
I left that name behind when I crossed the country for college. Even though I am very particular to people named “Nick”.
For some unknown reason I decided at three that my parakeet’s name was preferable to mine. I announced to the family that henceforth I wanted to be called “Cheepy”. I didn’t choose my dog’s name. Laddie was too real a presence, too essential to my well-being for me to adopt his name and therefore something of himself. I didn’t notice either any eye-rolling or any particular eagerness to comply.
One day I was hiding behind a piece of furniture in the front hallway. Perhaps I was testing my influence. I heard my mother’s voice calling, “Nickie”. A second or two later: “Nickie!” I failed to respond. A few seconds more: “Monica!” Several seconds went by as I waited to hear what would come.
I still remember listening for it. There was no hint of amusement or condescension in her voice, as, perfectly modulated and controlled, she called, “Cheepy!!” I ran out happily.
From this I learned several things. One, what you call yourself is important and must be honored by others. Expect it will be. What others wish to be called is likewise important. When my son was a young child, I had many names for him, variations on the theme of his full and nickname. At some point he stated, “Mom, please call me (by my real name). After that, I did. No more theme and variations.
Last names are important, too. Women’s last names, married or “maiden”, matter. Please acknowledge my choices, and expect to have yours accepted in return. My choices belong to me and will not be surrendered.
I never told my mother I remember and appreciate her choice to honor mine with love and respect at age three. She would have enjoyed hearing it so much.
It’s rifle hunting season in the Colorado mountains. We – that includes dogs – wear orange clothing and patrol our mountain property, hoping to protect our moose, deer, elk, and bear. Two weeks ago, during moose archery and muzzle-loading seasons, our moose (he’s not ours, but I have a special interest in him) bedded down after dark in bushes close to the deck. I could hear his moose noises, some of which sounded very much like the “moose-in-heat” throaty warbles I heard several years ago in the Tetons, at the same time of year. (Here is the Teton moose with his family, cow and calf.)
The cabin moose left at day break.
I came upon this same moose for the first time at the end of 2015’s moose hunting season. I took a longer-than-expected walk and was returning as twilight turned into something darker. My weak headlamp shone only a little bit ahead. As I began climbing the last hill, I saw a large blackness almost at the bottom, not far in front of me. “Bear – or moose,” I guessed. A black hole of blackness. “Too big for bear”.
The blackness was motionless; as my eyes adjusted, I saw that, yes indeed, it was moose. And not a happy one. Not happy with me because I continued to climb long after he smelled, heard, saw me coming and had stopped. What effrontery on my part to invade his space. How could he know my senses were not equal to his? And especially unhappy because hunting season had just ended, too recently for him to know this. Weeks of evading bow hunters, muzzle-loaders, and rifles had made him ornery indeed.
So as I finally got the message and stopped still, he began to move toward me. This was a new experience for me.
I have encountered moose over the years on our mountain property. One bull in particular, I knew from his days as a coltish youth, slim and long-legged.
I would see a black presence, darkness slipping behind a tree, becoming invisible. I would not approach, and he grew to understand my respectful deference. One evening we walked, seeing a large shadow standing in the forest waiting. We also stood quietly for some time, then watched him sink slowly to the ground for the night.
Good Night, Moose
Night shades fall
as darkest shadow
stops stock still…
melts behind tree trunks
notes our approach halt
we three, human and wild, waiting and watching…
He sinks slowly to the ground
evening bedding safely found
I looked for this moose always, especially after the close of each hunting season. Sometimes two years would go by before I saw him again, and the sight was always welcome. The last time was five years ago, also in the fall. We were hiking with dogs near the cabin, calling and making noise. He approached from behind, on an almost-intersecting path. I grabbed the dogs’ collars as we sat down. Their long collie noses circled in the air like sniffing search lights, as I tried to silence their howling.The moose continued to advance, stopping and watching for some time as we took pictures, which occupy a place of honor on my wall. Eventually he continued on. I never saw him again. Sometimes I wonder if he was saying good-bye.
In any case, that is what I have grown to expect from moose. Mutual respect and forbearance. Not what I was getting at the moment.
His Orneriness came toward me slowly, continuing as I backed down the hill. I turned off the dirt path into the forest, hoping that would do the trick. It didn’t. He turned, too, following me into the trees. I kneeled down, figuring there was nothing I could do to avert whatever was coming. From ten feet away the moose looked at me for several long seconds, displeasure registering on his face. Then he began to climb. I don’t know if I felt more relief or astonishment. I wasn’t yet sure relief was the appropriate emotion.
As he climbed, he stamped and snorted. He stamped and snorted all the way through the forest and up the hill. This was quite extraordinary, since moose in my experience move silently through the woods. He wanted me to understand clearly that he was very much annoyed!
In the “no relief yet” department, I heard him snorting and stomping as he circled back to the dirt road he had just descended. I’m at the bottom, he’s at the top, snorting while looking down at me. I thought, “Must we do this again?”
I began to sing, alternating my yoga chanting, which I know calms herds of buffalo one passes through, with the if-all-else-fails world’s most monotonic lullaby I invented for my son. I sang for a long time without moving. I didn’t see or hear him at the top of the hill. It was quite dark, and I knew the family would be wondering where I was. I had to climb this hill to get back. So eventually I did.
At the top, I saw and heard nothing. Evidently I had bored him enough for him to move along. Back at the cabin, the dogs barked like crazy. They had some hint of odd goings on. My husband was oblivious.
In winter that same season I saw this moose again. Far away, climbing a different hill also on our property, he was in company with another bull. He gave me a long look from the distance. He seemed less inclined to be ornery now.
The dirt path I have been describing is an old logging road. Until the snows come, we can drive the car the mile into the cabin. After that, we must ski. On our last visit, I saw tracks in the snow – large moose tracks. Moose are bigger than elk and generally travel alone. Their legs are long and leave deep, far-apart imprints. I saw smaller tracks and wondered if those could be elk. Then I realized there might well be a calf.
And there they were, in sight of the cabin. A cow moose with calf, leaving the road and heading up into the forest. The cow kept us in sight as they climbed. Thinking about it, I realized this calf could be the one conceived two hunting seasons ago in the then still-leafed bushes next to the cabin.
I have more moose stories, also centered around the cabin. This land has become a mountain sanctuary for deer, elk, moose, and bear. A fox follows our tracks but usually stays out of sight. I hope someday wolves will find sanctuary here. I look out the window and hope.
I am incomplete without:
the red fox
who shadows my tracks
leaving prints and pee everywhere
but hiding himself from sight;
whose blackness fades from view
behind a tree;
who announces his displeasure
at human incursion
by sitting on backpackers’ tents
as they sleep;
the white whale
whose power cannot be contained;
who opens suitcases;
by imitating the hawk’s call;
who follows me discreetly
down the trail;
who comfort and delight;
whose steady gaze
opens and searches my heart;
that will never be understood
manipulated or controlled
Crying Over Callas
Your voice, expressing the highs and lows
the limits of human pleasure and pain
in this our earthly existence
Your voice, rich and vibrant, warm, nuanced,
screechy in the modern medium of compact disc
I grieve for those who know you only through that medium
I grieve for myself, never hearing you sing in person
Your voice always makes me cry.
Joy and loss in full measure, telescoped together,
floating forth from vinyl
My body knows first, before my brain.
Is that Callas singing?
If I’m crying, it is she.
Please check out my special favorites: #2 at 10:50 – Carmen, Act I, Scene 5: “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle” (Bizet); and #9 at 41:17 – Orfeo ed Euridice, Act III, Scene 1: “J’ai perdu mon Eurydice” (Gluck)
Another gateway to the sweet heart of the universe: GRANDCHILDREN!
His voice is melodious. He smiles and clucks with pleasure and alert interest. He imitates the sounds I make.
He comes from a state of bliss and serenity and takes me there.