- 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
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.
from The Unexpected Universe by Loren Eiseley, chapter 6, “The Golden Alphabet”:
The soul of the universe, the Upholder, reported Rasmussen of the Alaskan Eskimo, is never seen. Its voice may be heard on occasion, through innocent children. Or in storms. Or in sunshine….
What it whispers, said the men of the high cold, is, “Be not afraid of the universe.”
I am losing my fear.
Early this August we went backpacking for the second year at Heart Lake in Yellowstone. The distance is eight miles from trailhead to lake and another two miles around to our campsite. Some campsites are as much as five miles from the head of the lake. We stayed in the same two campsites last year and had similar perfect weather. Misty and hazy this year, with morning fog. The beaver lodging next door again came for a visit, but I had to wait until the third evening before he was willing to approach.
Loons were newly nesting near the lake, and their calls are the wildest sounds I have ever heard. Otherworldly. A wail which sounds just like a wolf howl; a tremolo sound on the wing. Their wing span is enormous; you can hear them in flight from a distance. Listen to these recordings from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology site and tell me what you think.
I call these sites the Ritz Carleton of campgrounds. Fields of flowers so thick and lush you can’t walk through them. A musical stream barreling by your tent heading to the lake from the mountain waterfall high above. Plenty of sun for warmth and abundant trees for shade. A beach close by. And then the water.Grizzlies are active in this area. The National Park Service opens Heart Lake for hiking and backpacking in mid-July every year. Until then, the bears are given free reign. Evidently, this year at least one bear was displeased with the mid-summer human incursion. Soon after backpackers arrived, one bear sat on a tent during the night. When the humans made enough noise and commotion, he ran off to the next site and repeated. No matter that these were the sites we occupied two weeks later. A bear can get just about anywhere in short order. No one was hurt, but the bear did make his point. We helped him be good by taking meticulous care to secure all food several feet off the ground.
During our stay, a Park Service helicopter flew in several times with building supplies for the remote ranger cabin. As it circled, a bald eagle and a pair of sandhill cranes took to the air, duplicating the circle. It was as though the birds felt a kindred spirit had arrived and were eager to share the joy of flight.
I have noticed this with water birds and, of course, the beaver. When you backpack, you have time to get into the water and enjoy a swim. There’s no need to hurry out before dark. When you do this, the swans, geese, loons, beaver come to you. It’s as if they are saying, “You look a bit strange, but you’re one of us now.”
Yellowstone in general, and Heart Lake in particular, takes me to another dimension. Straight to the sweet heart of the universe. I get there a handful of other ways, too – and that’s for another posting.
*The Park Service permits you to stay for only two nights at the same Heart Lake campsite. After that, you have to move.
The Cliffs of Normandy
Fifty years after, walking on flat ground above
the water, vast to the sight and empty yet, steel blue, placid
like the black cows grazing on the furrowed field
sky a colored mirror
watching, waiting, breath bated –
for an eye blink’s vision clicking quickly into clear focus –
armada of liberation, filling the sea
idea so daring, it stuns still
conceived and carried out with brilliant care
burden of risk bearing great hope
present sacrifice agreed exchange for future life
Marital Ship of State
Ego objects, but heart may await
course adjustment to marital state
gentle strength takes the helm
guides the journey to harmony’s realm
fair wind ahead – bear up and away
loving limits save the day.
Everyone thrives on loving limits –––
dogs, children, friends, family, even spouses