Tag: wildlife

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

Part of my ongoing monthly post series about documentary films I’m watching.

September 25 through October 3 is the Jackson Hole Wild Festival, a bi-annual conference and showcase of wildlife and science films from big-name (ahem…National Geographic) and independent filmmakers. I bought a 5-punch pass for the event, and so far I’ve seen two films, screened at the JH Center for the Arts. Each day has a theme – Big Cats, Oceans, Explore Africa, etc – reminding me that this is a biologically diverse planet with lots to document.

Thin Ice     My first film of the festival. Introduced by a Subaru ad announcing an initiative to reduce all waste to zero in three national parks – Denali, Yosemite, and Grand Teton. And an announcement that Shell had stopped drilling in the Arctic – holy wow. As for the documentary, I really enjoyed it. How do you say you enjoyed a film about Climate Change? I think because it was about the quest to understand the science. I loved the section on how to drill for an ice core more than a mile deep/long, then use sophisticated equipment to melt the ice millimeter by millimeter and measure dust particulates (like carbon) and air bubbles to get data to establish a record of the earth’s climate going back hundreds of thousands of years. I’m currently reading Tim Flannery’s book The Weather Makers, and coincidentally, I came home after seeing Thin Ice to read Chapter 16, which is all about the climate modeling discussed in the film. It’s fascinating stuff, and the film really shows you the human beings – oceanographers, atmospheric physicists, biologists – who are painstakingly conducting experiments, doing research, testing hypotheses and scrutinizing predictions.

Tiger, Tiger    I wanted to see this film because I am obsessed with apex predators and utterly beautiful places I will probably never visit.  This is a documentary about an incredible man – Dr. Alan Rabinowitz of the nonprofit Panthera – and his love for the majestic Bengal tiger, denizen of the Indian and Bangladeshi coastal mangrove forest known as the Sundarbans. It’s also a film about the people who live in the jungle with these tigers – who revere the tigers, fear them, protect them, and are all too often killed by them. There’s so much here to take in and consider, I wish someone I know would see this film so we could talk about it.

800px-Plos_wilsonFor folks who love documentaries, it’s a great time to be plugged into the interwebs – so many films only a click away. It doesn’t take the place of human interaction though, and I wanted to add that the highlight of my week was seeing sociobiologist and ant expert E. O. Wilson on Monday night. He was interviewed informally by Kirk Johnson, and the whole evening was simply delightful. Wilson is 86 years old and still as witty, compassionate and wise as ever. Leave it to a Jackson Hole audience to ask him hilarious questions; Wilson’s off-the-cuff replies dished it right back (my paraphrased Q&A notes follow).

Q: If you could, would you send us all back to the Paleolithic?

EOW: Do you want to be a big, slimy-skinned, slobbering Labyrinthodont?

Q: If every ant species united against humanity, would they wipe us out?

EOW: Ha, no.

Q: Have you ever eaten a chocolate covered ant?

EOW:  Yes – they’ve got a nice tang to them – that formic acid.

Q: Will insects be a major food source for humans in the future?

EOW: God, I hope not.

Q: What’s your favorite band?

EOW: I’m not much into rock music, but I’ve been listening to the Grateful Dead lately.

 

“Bengal Tiger in Water (13290323163)” by MJ Boswell from Annapolis, Md, USA – Bengal Tiger in Water. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons  

“Plos wilson” by Jim Harrison – PLoS. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons 

get reel

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

IMG_2838I know Spring is here, because April and my list of poetry month projects loom large, the redwing blackbirds are conk-la-reeing all over the place, every pair of shoes I own is caked with mud, and the Teton Park Road is plowed and open for non-motorized access.  Also today I saw a mountain bluebird while I was out walking on the aforementioned road, spring wind blasting across the melting snowfields.

Driving home, there were seven moose (maybe more but I didn’t want to run off the highway trying to count) hanging out in the sage flats and getting harassed by paparazzi.  And lo, a group of bison just on the other side of the Elk Refuge fence (mercifully on the other side of the fence, since everybody was right up against it, ogling those one-ton beauties).

IMG_2831For several mornings now, a herd of elk has visited the field south of my house.  And yesterday while I was walking along the Snake River, the two bald eagles who nest along that stretch indulged themselves in some graceful, and I hope fun, soaring above the braided channels.

So yeah, I am totally bragging.  Wyoming is some kinda sweetass awesome if you’re into Nature and stuff.

 

Mountain Bluebird By Jesse Achtenberg (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service WO-2283-CD60) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Grand Teton National Park and Snake River photos by me.

field notes