Friday, April 19, 2013

Looking Deep Into Nature

On the way home the other day I turned off the highway early, deciding to take a slow drive through one of the back roads leading to the house.
On this back road I frequently see many animals.
Three lamas live in one pasture along the route.
A couple of well-to-do locals own large ranches, with over sized pastures that are home to beautiful horses.
A large herd of deer live in this area, and it is an unusual drive when I don't see them - frequently sitting under trees in the side yard of one home - freely grazing in one front yard or another - grazing along side the road - crossing directly in front of you to move from one yard to the next.
I see them very often in this same general area, day after day.
As I drove on the winding gravel road I looked to my right, and through the falling snow could see a couple that I have not seen in a long while.
Two sand cranes.
They are beautiful, apparently a committed couple, and they disappeared for a few months over the winter.
Happily they have made their way back to this area.
They are a noisy pair, and we can often hear them making their characteristic whooping sound, even when they are a couple of miles from the house.
They wander from pasture to pasture in this same area, and last year they had two small little ones with them.
I like them.  
I like them very much.
The other day I was standing beside the truck in the yard, heard a noisy whooping sound, and looked up to see one of them flying directly over the house.
I smiled as I watched him.  Or her.  
This tall, slim creature was all wings and long body.
I watched him (or her) for a long time, enthralled at the aerodynamic figure - long beak, long fully extended body, legs straight out behind, and with full extension of wings.
It was the closest I had ever gotten to one of these birds and I watched as he or she flew directly over me, greatly wishing that I had my camera with me.
I didn't even bother attempting a dash to the house to retrieve it.  
The moment was passing, and was over almost before I realized that it had happened.............
A view from the back of the house, looking in the direction of Cody and down into the small valley below me.
Hidden in the approaching clouds and snow is Rattlesnake and Cedar Mountains.
Carter Mountain to my left and Heart Mountain to my right had also disappeared.
Spring in Cody, Wyoming.............
Supper time for the horses that live on the property.................

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better...............Albert Einstein

Monday, April 15, 2013

What Are You Doing Here?

I was sitting fully clothed on the edge of the bed.
My hands were resting in my lap.  My feet were resting flat on the floor.
In an endless loop inside my head I quietly and calmly said his name over and over again.
Sean.  Sean.  Sean.  Sean.  Sean.
He walked into the bedroom.
He was talking as he walked and was wearing a thick hooded jacket in hunters orange.
He looked the same way he had looked when he was about 14 years old.
His hair was longer, starting to get darker after years of being white.
He had the same eyes and beautiful face that I had loved for a lifetime.
It was the face of a boy who was beginning to grow into a man.
 He was holding something in his hand, and as he turned to face the door leading into the bedroom he was talking and looking down at whatever it was that he held.
LC walked into the room behind him and they faced each other, both completely engulfed in conversation.
Both looking at whatever it was he was holding.
I looked at him stunned.
"Sean, what are you doing here?"
Neither Sean nor LC responded.
They kept talking as though I wasn't even in the room.
They just kept looking down at whatever it was that Sean had in his hand.
What were they talking about?  What was he holding?  What had them both so totally focused?  Can you hear me?
"What are you DOING here?"
I couldn't understand why he wouldn't answer me.
I could feel the panic.  The desperation.  It was rising fast and threatened to consume me.
"SEAN!  What are you DOING here??  
I woke up with a start..............

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Life Gathered Into Her Heart

Considering that we are living at an elevation of over 5000 feet it is always surprising and somewhat disappointing that we don't receive more snow in Cody than we actually do.
We have had a number of ground-covering snowfalls throughout the winter, but (although it often gets cold and windy) temperatures don't stay below freezing for more than a few days at a time before heading north again.
Both LC and I had assumed that living in Cody would mean living in meat locker conditions for a long, dark, extended winter.
The reality of Cody winters is that it gets freezing cold and then the temperature moderates.
A continual, and seemingly never ending cycle of mild, cold and colder.
We have had large fires and small fires burning in our wood stove since early October.
And we are finding out that spring is actually the most unusual of seasons.
A week ago we had four or five unseasonably warm days.  Days filled with non-stop sunshine, clear skies and temperatures in the upper 60's.
This past week we have had snow almost every night.
Some days were warm and the snow disappeared.  Others were so windy and freezing cold that it was almost impossible to stay outside for more than a few minutes.
You can only get battered by icy, gale force winds for so long before you reluctantly decide to call it quits and head for the house and the wood stove.
These pictures were taken on one of those days.
I had not walked Jamie in a couple of days, and like a spoiled and petulant child she moped around the house and then looked for excuses to go outside.
Dogs barking down the road - time to go out.  Have to pee - time to go out.  No........didn't really have to pee.  Yes.....this time had to pee.  No particular reason.........just want to go out.  Have to pee again.
And so out of guilt (and even though the wind was horrendous) I got bundled up in an uncomfortable number of layers, grabbed for my sweet dog's leash and held the storm door as we walked outside together so that the wind wouldn't catch it and slam it violently against the front of the house.
Which has happened more than once..................
It had snowed a little off and on the entire day and as I walked with my dog I was suddenly glad that I had decided to walk her.
I was cold within only a few minutes of being outside, but there is something compelling to me about being outside in ugly weather.  
There is something beautiful about it.
The starkness of the day.  The violence of the weather.  The lack of people or animals.  The silence of a day where any body and any thing that had good sense was hunkering down for the duration.
Yes.........there was an indescribable beauty to it all and I was glad to be out.............
As Jamie did her Jamie things I looked out across the neighbor's pasture and realized that the world had disappeared.
Somewhere........out there beyond the private property..........was BLM land.  Beyond wide open BLM land were endless hills big and small.  
Hills that contained trails and rocks and pine trees and animal killing fields.
All of it had vanished into the fog and thick cloud cover that had completely engulfed the Big Horn Basin.
All summer long LC and I watched narrow bands of rain head towards us, and we often thought that we would get hit with rain.
More often than not those bands circled around us and never made it to Cody.
And so it goes in the winter as well.
We have watched so many wide bands of snow trying valiantly to make it up and over the mountain ranges that surround us.
Sometimes that have done the same thing, and simply circled around us.
If they make it over the mountains we have watched, enthralled, as these same snow bands have dropped down to completely cover the mountains, before marching irrevocably towards us.
To observe the weather fronts in Wyoming is a mesmerizing experience.
With such vastness and openness you can see it all unfolding in front of you..............
The trail leading to BLM land.
The wind had been at my back during the walk along the dirt road from the house, and as soon as we changed direction I could feel the icy whip of the wind on my cheek.
Damn.  It was cold................
Sticking her nose in every sage bush along the way.............
The original plan had been to walk a large loop of trails on BLM land before heading home.
The trail to my right.
I turned left.
As soon as I did I had full on, icy cold wind in my face.
We walked for less than 10 minutes before I pulled my pup back in the direction we had come.
The last thing I needed was frost bite on my bare cheeks.
With the wind to my back again I breathed a little easier and found a reprieve from the unrelenting cold...........
I looked down at Jamie as she walked (as always) worried about the cold and worried about her hips.
The cold never seems to bother my dog and (judging by the amount of hair she sheds) her double coat serves her well in these temperatures.  The cold never seems to bother her.
She was walking fine.  Hips seemed to be holding up.
Jamie was OK.  The wind was at my back.
We were content again to be alone together, outside in the isolation of a barren landscape and bitter weather............
And of course we walked too far.
The entire walk back on BLM land, the entire walk along the trail leading to the road, the entire walk on the road and back to the house had the wind blowing directly at me.
It was freezing cold and miserable, and so was I.
Or rather, I straddled that strange, invisible line between desperate to get home and back into the warmth of the house, and in no hurry to leave the solitude of the outside world.............
Nature looks dead in winter because her life is gathered into her heart.................Hugh Macmillan

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Animal Story Lines

Both Shoshone National Forest and Yellowstone are incredibly beautiful places, with endless mountains and streams and rivers, rolling hills and open pastures.
But one of the things I love so much about the entire region are the sheer number of animal sightings you can have during every trip that you take.
What I find so compelling are the stories that surround these animal sightings.
If you take your time, and just quietly watch them, these animal sightings naturally develop their own story lines.
I have shared many of their stories on this blog over the past couple of years. 
The lone elk at the Wayfarers Chapel who let me get surpisingly close to her, who eventually hid her head behind a tree and then peeked out constantly to see if I was still standing and watching her.  I could tell by her actions that because her head was hidden, she thought that I could not see her.
The elk in the river at the park who kept looking back the way she had come.  It was late in the year, and as she stood in the river it was obvious that she had been in the water for too long and wanted to leave, but was afraid to.  What had been chasing her and did she sense that the predator was still close by?  When she finally exited the river we realized that she had likely given birth not long before.  Where was her baby?  Had the predator that had scared her into the river gotten the baby, or had she led the predator away from her newborn?
The deer in the Southfork who inexplicably and amazingly walked right up to us, and who was so focused on Jamie that we believed she must have thought Jamie was her fawn.  She actually walked around us and gently touched noses with our dog before backing away.
The antelope we encountered outside of Wheatland who was also intensely focused on Jamie.  She cried out to our dog, refused to leave the area, wandered across the road and then came back again, all the while imploring our dog to come to her.  After crying and watching and looking in our direction for a long time she eventually and reluctantly ran back onto BLM land.
There are so many stories.  So many unexpected animal encounters that were simply magical and that told us compelling stories without a word being spoken...............
After being out in the Shoshone National Forest for many hours, on a unexpectedly and unseasonably warm day, we were heading out of the forest and close to the Northfork when we ran into this herd of big horn sheep standing along the side of the highway..............
LC again (as he had done so many times already that day) eased the truck over to the shoulder of the road.
Tired from a long day of adventure, he and Jamie stayed in the truck, and I quietly and slowly eased out of the truck and stood beside the open passenger-side door quickly snapping what I assumed would be only a couple of pictures...............
As I stood snapping pictures LC asked me if there was something up on the hill that I should be aware of, because the sheep (and particularly one female) kept looking up in that direction.
I turned and scanned the hillside to my right.  You never know - mountain lion, wolf - you never know.
I searched the hill (paying particular attention to the trees and large boulders) but could see nothing.
But the sheep were definitely focused on the hill..............
Curiosity peaked, I watched the sheep closely, and particularly watched the female who led this herd.
She was obviously the matriarch of the herd. 
The leader of this small group of adult females and their young continued to scan the hill above her, and I began to wonder what was going to happen.
I could sense indecision in the matriarch.  Could sense that she wanted to lead her herd to something.  To somewhere..............
This beautiful leader swiftly and effortlessly sprung part way up the hill, and was quickly followed by a couple of other young adults.
The youngest of the herd remained at the bottom of the hill, seemingly not willing to and not wanting to climb............
Except for one young brave little soul............
The matriarch looked continuously in first one direction and then another direction, obviously searching for a safe route in which the herd could climb higher............
I turned to look at LC, and we smiled at each other as we both wordlessly recognized that we were witness to one more story that was so unexpectedly unfolding in front of us.
It was a magical story and we both knew it.
They looked to their leader for direction, and she continued to search for a way through for her herd...........
And the little ones waited patiently at the bottom of the hill for direction.............
I don't know if it was by chance or by some wordless big-horn-sheep-instruction but the brave little one suddenly and unexpectedly scooted back down the hill.............
I quickly snapped these pictures before I realized that the sheep that remained up the hill were also preparing to head back down.
Maddeningly, by the time I realized that they were on the move my camera was in "think" mode and I missed the shot of them all scooting together downhill.
For whatever reason, the decision was made to not travel this route up to the top of the hill.
It would have been a long and steep climb up to the top of the bluff, and they could have made it, but for whatever reason chose not to go this way.
It was an incredible experience to watch this scene play out.
As with all animal sightings it was unexpected and delightful and wonderful.  A magical story that we would have missed if we had not taken the time to stop and watch.............
The herd reunited.............
Click on any of the pictures to enlarge.
We stopped only briefly, one more time when we saw this herd quietly sitting close together in the sun on the top of one small hill.............
And we stopped one last time to watch this small and young herd grazing alongside the road.
The first herds out of the mountains last fall were young mothers with their babies.
The last ones back into the mountains this spring will be those same young mothers with their babies.
This winter has been easier than the one we experienced a couple of years ago.
By spring of 2011 the big horn sheep we found in the Shoshone looked thin and tired.  It had been a long and hard winter.
This year they look heavier and healthier, and I was glad for them..............
I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in............George Washington Carver