- animal husbandry
- animal rights
- climate change
- 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
At the bottom of our hill, we found moose tracks in the snow leading into the woods.
That’s not unusual; moose often spend time on our mountain property. We see their tracks regularly: the solo tracks of a bull moose, and the double tracks of a cow with calf. Easy to spot in the snow. We often get the chance to ski in the moose track.
This piece was heavy, too heavy to pick up and carry back to the cabin. My husband had to get the sled – the one we used to carry our son into the cabin, before he was old enough to ski himself.The antlers look like bone, wood, bark, and a flower, all together. Glorious. Not easy to carry around on one’s head, even for a bull moose.
I am reasonably certain that the rack belongs to the (formerly) ornery moose I describe in “Elixir of Ornery Moose” Not too many bull moose occupy the same territory at the same time.
You can see more pictures of the Teton moose at “Family Moose Portrait” and hear his mating sounds at “Sounds of a Bull Moose in Heat”
Fresh tracks the next day told us the Colorado moose had returned. Did he notice his rack was missing?
Are We Un-Evolving?
Head down, eyes occupied
with intimate moments on tiny screens,
we no longer stand upright
and fail to notice the menace approaching,
fangs bared and posture threatening,
ready to pounce and do us in.
Senses overcome from information overdose,
brains dull from lack of exercise,
inhaling the opinions of others in lieu of
the pleasure of thinking for ourselves,
neural connections evaporate, unused and unnecessary.
Fewer will be available in future
should there be one.
Public domain photo credit: Hermann Schaaffhausen
“First Reconstruction of Neanderthal Man”
It turns out Neanderthals* were not brutes after all.
We have evidence they buried their dead
with great care and loving attention.
Neanderthals did look different from homo sapiens,
and that’s enough to give them a bad rap.
However unlikely, perhaps we will un-evolve
into creatures somewhat like our predecessors:
for whom life in harmony with the environment
was critical to survival;
and who felt no need
to concrete over the planet.
Plus, the protruding brow
will eliminate any need for sun visors.
Something to look forward to.
*Early fossil-finds came from the Neander Tal (Valley) in Germany.
Invitation to Evil
Arctic ice crusts the inside
length of the cabin door.
The ancient space heater sputters.
We dress quickly in the cold
seeking a hot morning meal
before venturing into magic,
the landscape of Yellowstone –
– standing lodgepoles engulfed in white
snow creaks and snaps beneath our skis
breath entwines with geyser vapor
where solid, enthroned, sun-sparkled
winter rules in unguarded splendor.
High noon, 30 below, 44 years ago.
We said good-bye to our beautiful collie dog Beau last week. As usual, Beau was in charge. He refused food for six days and rested on the seventh. We had time the evening before and morning of to caress him and speak softly into his open ear. I know he heard me. He was almost gone when the vet arrived. Very peaceful and gentle. Just like Beau.
Collies cannot be forced. They do what their loved ones want – or suggest – because they love to please, as long as it makes sense to them. Beau, having been abandoned twice by two former “guardians” (and I use the term loosely), was not anxious to go new places or do new things. I had the strong impression he feared being abandoned again. When Beau and Bella first came home, they consented to walk for two days. (Even though at age five, they did not know how to walk on a leash.) On the third day, Beau refused to leave the premises. I had to drag my 89-pound collie a few feet to take him on a walk. The neighborhood grew to be OK, but the park, the highline canal, and other dog-walking highlights were a “no-go” for Beau. Stick close to home and everything will be fine.
The one exception was Beau and Bella’s beloved cabin, the favorite place on earth for every one of our dogs. Wild and open, with plenty of ground to roam, and elk, deer, moose, bear, fox and squirrels to sniff for and birds to listen to.
Here are some pictures from B and B’s time there. The first is probably my favorite photo of Beau, surveying his domain from a nearby hill.Here’s another of Beau and Bella on a hike. Two are from the day in February we first took them to the cabin. Our road is impassable by car in the winter, so we walk or ski in about a mile. As we turned the corner into the cabin, both dogs came to a screeching halt. I couldn’t see their faces, but Beau’s demeanor indicated clearly to me that he felt he was in paradise. Beau was a collie, and therefore elegant and dignified. But not always. Here is Beau upside down, in a rare moment of abandon. I’m pretty sure Beau has met up with Bella and is now romping around doggie heaven, sniffing for squirrels and chipmunks. They and my other doggie dear ones will know me when I show up there one day.
This poem is about Beau:
No Kisses for Valentine’s Day
No kisses today
I’m sorry to say
I saw you about
with a squirrel in your mouth
a very dead squirrel
you dropped at my feet
a Valentine’s treat
So I must remember
to let time go by
How long does it take for bacteria to die?
No kisses for me
but what do I see?
that nose in the air
so soft and so fair
resolution be naught
I already forgot.
I’m going straight
to doggie heaven
Better wear earplugs
when you arrive
in doggie heaven
poems are from Bright Moon Wandering, Environmental Love Poetry
Change in Charge
Lament your loss or treasure your gain
To me it’s all the same
Can’t slow me down or get in my way
I’m with you now and every day
constant companion, like it or not
moving together, not stuck in one spot
Don’t waste your sighs in stagnant regret
Embrace me, we’ll play life’s duet.
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