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

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