Tag: nature

Well hello! It’s been a while. Since last spring actually – whoa!

I have been busy – it is summer in Wyoming, after all, and I am enjoying myself immensely. I’m also really excited to share this poem with you, thanks to the kind folks at Gravel magazine publishing it in their September 2016 issue.

You can read “Moose Bell” HERE.

And just to tease you, get ready for another one of my poems coming out soon at Foliate Oak. Something completely different to keep you guessing about me. Stay tuned! In the meantime, I’m going outside to play.

 

Lady Moose photo By Magnus Johansson (female moose) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

field notes read me

Back in 2001, I left Jackson, Wyoming and a really sweet library job to get a Master’s in Environmental Studies at the University of Montana in Missoula. I’d read a lot of Terry Tempest Williams and written some sappy poetry, and I really wanted to be a Nature Writer and save the planet. Less than a year later, I ended up a defeated, depressed dropout with a student loan, working on an organic farm in Whitefish, Montana for a hundred bucks a month plus room and board. No way could I have envisioned that 15 years later I would be back in Jackson with my own freelance bookkeeping business, finishing the novel about the farm that I started so long ago.

Nor would I have thought that I’d dust off an essay I wrote for one of my grad school classes, with the initial intention of turning it into a blog post. We had to choose an extinct or endangered species and write a brief, creative nonfiction essay. I picked a tiny warbler from the coastal plains of the American South. Maybe I chose Bachman’s Warbler because I grew up in Georgia. Maybe I chose it because I wanted to go small. And not simply size-wise. Bachman’s isn’t famous. But I have never stopped thinking about this lost little bird.  I did a massive amount of research while I was a writer in residence at Hypatia-in-the-Woods in Shelton, Washington – and I did my damnedest to craft an essay that I hope honors one fragile strand in the great web of life. And I am overjoyed that Zoomorphic is publishing “Last Known” in its fifth issue.

I’d really like to thank the field biologists and Bachman’s experts who took time out of their busy lives to respond to my emails and phone calls. Paul Hamel, Sidney Gauthreaux, Chuck Hunter, Robert Norton, Bob Ford, Kenneth Rosenberg, thank you all.  Isabella Kirkland’s hauntingly gorgeous oil painting deserves contemplation.  And mostly especially, a big thank you to Craig Watson of the Atlantic Coast Joint Venture, who read my drafts, sent me his own personal copy of Paul Hamel’s book Bachman’s Warbler: A Species in Peril as well as a precious dvd film of the warbler, and provided invaluable feedback.

You can read “Last Known” here on the Zoomorphic website.

 

Painting of Vermivora bachmanii by Louis Agassiz Fuertes [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

field notes read me

“Scale Wing” is, though I didn’t know it at the time I wrote it, kind of a “found” poem. While I’ve never considered myself a found poetry writer (see my PoMoSco fail), I do tend to incorporate the gleanings of eavesdropping and conversation into all my writings. Here, a friend’s story about trying to explain the theory of flight to a small child became my poem about (re)connecting to the natural world. I am still trying to understand the physics of flight – human and moth.

I’m super excited to be included in the Prairie Mountain regional issue of Up the Staircase Quarterly. This is a special publication of writers, artists, photographers (and a musician too!) living in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. I just realized that I’ve lived in half of these states at one point in my life!

You can read “Scale Wing” here.  It’s a beautiful issue, so do linger a while on Prairie Mountain and read everybody’s work. My thanks to the Editor, April Michelle Bratten, for including me. And thanks to you, dear readers.

 

Hummingbird Moth photo By Andrea Westmoreland from DeLand, United States (Hummingbird Moth in Flight) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

read me

Last summer I posted about the wildflowers on Josie’s Ridge, specifically clematis. This summer’s rock star is the Sego lily, and her lil’ buddy the Flower Crab Spider.

The Sego lily (Calochortus nuttallii) is one of 70 species in the Calochortus genus (calochortus derives from Greek, meaning beautiful grass) found up and down the Americas from British Columbia to Guatemala. This wild lily is both elegant and tasty – its edible bulbs have long been part of the diet of many tribes like the Hopi and Navajo. It’s the state flower of Utah, mainly because the Mormon pioneers discovered this nutritional fact and didn’t die of starvation. The word sego is the Southern Paiute name for the bulb itself, according to Merriam-Webster.

I have never eaten a Sego lily bulb, but I do see these flowers all over hillside trails around Jackson Hole in mid-July, and they are exquisitely beautiful. Also, these lilies always seem to have tiny chartreuse spiders tiptoeing around on their stamens and petals. I finally got a photo of one pretty arachnid and sent it off to two super-helpful plant identification websites, hoping for a name. I got answers within only a day or two! For free!

1024px-Misumena_vatia_qtl2You can read my question (basically: what is this spider??), and the speedy response I got (it’s most likely Misumena vatia) at the Land Grant University’s eXtension website here. This was so fun I’m trying to come up with more questions to ask!

I also sent my spider ID question to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s help site Mr. Smarty Plants, which has to be the best cutesy name ever. Mr. Smarty Plants couldn’t give me a definitive answer because hey, he isn’t Mr. Smarty Spiders, which I understand. BUT I still got a great list of insect identification websites.

Misumena vatia, pleased to meet you! I’m fascinated that you use flowers as your hunting grounds. And you can change color to suit your flower! There you are hanging out on some yarrow this time, eyeing your prey. Eight eyes on the prize, spidey!

 

Photo of Sego lily and her flower crab spider by me.

“Misumena vatia qtl2” by Quartl – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons  

 

field notes

Continued from my last post, Grassy Lake Road, Part 1

Where was I? Oh yes. Fast asleep in my campsite on the Reclamation Road, just south of Yellowstone. Grizzly Country.

SPLASH! Thud. Splash-plonk!

I sat bolt upright in my tent and listened real, real hard. I’ve heard many an animal nosing around in a campsite before (don’t get me started on the Point Reyes raccoons), but usually I’m in a crowded campground or I’m in a tent with someone else. This time I was entirely alone.

And I was freezing. I realized I’d been sitting up outside of my sleeping bag for several minutes and I began to tremble with either terror or cold or both. I heard more rustling sounds – something coming through the willows along the river bank. Could be a moose. Could be a black bear. Could be….

IMG_3120Well, I had to look. Why are tent zippers the noisiest damn things? I knew for certain that a flimsy nylon tent was not capable of saving me if a big ole bear decided I smelled tasty. I didn’t want to spook any creature, really.  Trampled to death my a moose? Embarrassing (for everybody). But I just couldn’t sit there shivering all by myself, unable to see what was coming through my camp. And no way in hell was I going back to sleep just then.

ZZZziiiiiipppppp. You cannot unzip a metal zipper slowly enough to make it a quiet endeavor. I got up on my knees, poked my head out the tent door and blinked in the starlight. The Milky Way blazed. The birds were still singing – at midnight. The river gurgled and churned. No moon. But enough glow to make out the biggest bear I have ever seen – a gigantic black bulk lumbering slowly and so, so quietly through the grass not five yards from my tent. I couldn’t tell if it was a griz or a black bear, so I won’t embellish.  But it was huuuuuuuuuge.  Almost as big as my two-person tent. And then…it just kept on walkin’.

I did not sleep for three hours. Several more visitors during the night paid me visits. One of them sounded like a clumsy elk tripping over a downed log – but I didn’t peek that time. I feel asleep again soon after and woke up at dawn, alone again.

IMG_0417A couple hours later, post-coffee, I knew I couldn’t stay a second night. I knew I’d come back another time, though. I was thinking this as a Park Ranger drove up to chat with me and give me the standard Bear Safety sheet. I told him about the bear from the night before. He said it might’ve been a large black grizzly whose territory encompassed the JDR, and who was affectionately known as XL.

I can imagine all kinds of responses to this post. You weren’t even in the backcountry, big deal. You are so stupid to camp alone. You should have made noise. You are a rock star! Why didn’t you run for your car and leave?! 

All I can say is: Of course. And: No regrets. I didn’t go looking for trouble, and I locked up my food. I didn’t get mauled to death. I saw something no one else saw; it’s my memory. I will never forget the way that bear moved through the high grass, in the cold dark under the stars. Or the way the Snake River changes its sound – from a fast rushing to a dampened chuckle to a muted cobble-thumping sigh in the watches of night. I was feeling sad and dispirited when I went up to Grassy Lake Road. I recovered my lost spirit there, that raw feeling of being alive in this extraordinary world.

Reclamation Road, indeed.

 

Photo of meadow and Camp 2 by me. Bear Safety sheet from National Park Service.

field notes

There’s a 40-mile dirt road running from Idaho to Wyoming (or…Wyoming to Idaho) between Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. It’s called the Ashton-Flagg Ranch Road – after its destination points. Or Grassy Lake Road (on some maps, Grassy Lakes Road), referring to the large reservoir just west of the John D Rockefeller Jr Memorial Parkway. The Bureau of Reclamation built the road around 1911 to haul materials and supplies from Ashton, Idaho to the construction site of the Jackson Lake Dam. So, on the Forest Service maps, it’s called Reclamation Road.

IMG_3097I called it home one night a couple weeks ago when I needed to get out of town. I packed up all my glamping supplies (tent, 2 pillows, monster Thermarest, down sleeping bag, hammock, cooler full of gourmet cheese, beer, and chocolate) and headed north. I got about five miles from home and remembered my Coleman stove. I went back for the stove – a woman needs hot coffee in the morning. Now, I can do camping with nothing more than a sleeping bag and a headlamp, but not if I don’t have to. I don’t mind Clif Bars for every meal, or mice crawling in my hair in the middle of the night, but I don’t love it.

IMG_3105Along the eastern end of the road, mostly following the Snake River inside the boundaries of the JDR, you’ll find 8 developed camps spread out over ten miles. That’s a total of 14 campsites (I counted), and they’re all free. They’ve got fire rings, picnic tables, bearproof trashcans and some of the cleanest (shockingly cleanest) vault toilets I’ve ever encountered. I thought about driving as far away from Flagg Ranch as I could and taking the last open site, then got lazy and chose Camp 2. Absolutely no cell service, hardly anybody driving by on the road, and my own private beach on the river (okay, I did share it with a few Canada geese and several rather vociferous killdeer).

IMG_3113Across the road sprawled a vast meadow of camas in full bloom, and for a while I watched a pair of sandhill cranes poking around in the tall grass. A squadron of American white pelicans zoomed up the river. Ruby-crowned kinglets foraged in the boughs of the lodgepole pine stand where I strung up my hammock. The mosquitoes were eager, but few, and rolling myself up burrito-style in my hammock saved me.

Around dusk, I dutifully locked up all my food and everything remotely smelly, and fell asleep in my tent while reading. Then I woke up at midnight to the sound of something very heavy splashing and kerplunking at the river’s edge.

To Be Continued

Photos of Grassy Lake Road, Camp 2, Snake River and Camas (Camassia quamash) by me.

field notes