Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Trip To Yellowstone - Part 5

Before my oldest boy gave me my first digital camera as a Christmas present (only a month before I left Tennessee and headed to a new job in Juneau Alaska) I had never been one to take a lot of pictures.
I was also not someone who spent a lot of time nature watching.
Always running or biking or kayaking.  Always focused on training and racing and getting as quickly as I could from Point A to Point B.
That all changed after I moved to Alaska.
I started this blog in early 2010 originally as a way to keep friends and family up-to-date on my life after I moved to Alaska.
The only way I knew how to stay truly in touch with those I cared about and missed.
These days I am not really certain why I continue with a blog.
It's a place to put pictures.
I am not really certain what else it is, and I have no desire to become introspective enough to evaluate what other functions it provides or what other needs it satisfies, but at the start of 2014 I looked at the dates - of the years gone by since I started this thing - and it really hit home just how long I had been blogging.
I don't really know why anymore..............

When I moved to Alaska I worked too hard and too many hours and was unfortunately surrounded by people who had no professional or personal integrity.
It was a tough experience and I was treated badly, but at some point during my time up there I realized that I really liked to take pictures.
And I became a late-bloomer of a nature lover.
I learned in Alaska (and that lesson has only been reinforced in other states that we have lived in over the past few years) that if you stand still long enough and watch (really watch) the animals that are in front of you, they will silently tell you a story.
I think the first time I realized that was a few days after LC finally was able to join me in Juneau.
It was a very warm and unusually (for Juneau) sunny day.
I had rented a rustic "cabin in the woods" more than 20 miles outside of the city (that was squeezed between the Gastineau Channel on one side and the rugged mountains on the other).
The cabin was known at work as the Unabomber Cabin, and I loved it out there.
On this day LC and I drove further away from town (known unimaginatively as "Out The Road") and 30 miles from town we saw a small black bear.
He was a yearling and was sitting upright in the tall grass by the side of the winding two lane highway, happily gorging on new, green shoots.
We pulled the truck over to the side of the road a good ways from him, zoomed the camera in as far as we could, and began snapping pictures of happy little bear with the full stomach.
After a few minutes a truck sped by on his side of the highway, and little bear scurried into the woods in fear.
A few minutes later he reappeared, picked out a new spot close to the road and continued on with his feast.
Again a vehicle sped by and again little bear scurried back to the safety of the woods.
We must have stayed parked in the same spot for 30 minutes greatly enjoying watching this same scenario play out time and time and time again, before he finally decided that he had had enough and disappeared for good into the forest.................

I was walking with LC and Jamie at a beach in Juneau.  On that day a bald eagle landed on a stump about 50 feet in front of us and proceeded to stare at us.
We all took one slow step towards the eagle.  And then another and another.
I had expected the eagle to take flight at any moment but it did not.
By the time we were 20 feet from the eagle I stopped moving and pulled Jamie close to me, while LC continued slowly walking through the sand towards the eagle.
When man and bird were only 10 feet from each other LC turned to me and shrugged as if to silently say "I can't believe this!"
Neither could I.
I never imagined that this beautiful wild bird would allow a human to move so close but it did.
Eventually majestic eagle realized that 10 feet was close enough and took flight, but that extraordinary day will always be memorable for both of us...................

One day on the way to work in Juneau I drove into a bend in the road.  As I came out of the bend I slowed down because I realized that two young black bears were running across the road in front of me.
I pulled the truck over to the shoulder of the road and then eased into a larger pull-off that overlooked the channel.
 I managed to catch one final glimpse of the bears on the opposite shoulder  just before they disappeared into the woods.
I stayed where I was for a few moments, disappointed that I had missed an opportunity to take pictures of young twin bears and was hoping against hope that they might reappear.
All of a sudden movement to my right caught my attention, and I turned to see what was there.
One more young black bear (triplets!) was scrambling over the guard rail.
Fumbling for the camera that I always kept in the side pocket of my backpack I watched at the little guy made it over the guard rail and trotted into the parking area that I had pulled into.
He wandered around the paved area, wandered in circles, wandered in front of my truck, obviously a little disoriented and obviously looking for his siblings.
With me furiously snapping pictures through the windshield young bear eventually walked to the edge of the parking lot and was readying to cross over the highway when a vehicle whizzed by.
The unexpected motion and noise scared young bear back into the paved overlook.
He walked back over to the guard rail, jumped up onto the rail and balanced on the narrow structure for a few moments, before effortlessly jumping back down onto the pavement, running across the lot, running across the road, running up the embankment where his siblings had headed just a few minutes prior, and (as with his siblings) he promptly disappeared into the trees.
An amazing experience before even having breakfast...................

We had pulled off the highway part way home from the East Gate of Yellowstone Park.
The gate was still closed for the season and we knew that, but had spent a good deal of time exploring quiet highway while enjoying the sight of bison and big horn sheep grazing after having come down out of the mountains for the winter.
We were headed back to Cody and on the spur of the moment pulled off the highway and climbed a steep hill after seeing a sign for Wayfarers Chapel.
We had never been to the chapel before and had expected that this place of worship would be a beautiful structure nestled among the trees.
Instead, it was an amazing outdoor chapel.  Bleachers, a cross, endless views of endless mountains and pine trees and glimpses of the north fork of the Shoshone River.
Even for an atheist it felt like a spiritual place.
It was a beautiful place but I didn't even notice it for the first while that we were there.
I was leading the way up the narrow trail towards the outdoor chapel, with my Mountain Boy and my dog following  close behind me.
I looked up ahead and immediately stopped moving, startled by what I saw.
A very large and beautiful elk was standing maybe 70 feet in front of me, and was not fearful of me but was watchful of me.
We stood looking at each other for a few minutes, neither of us moving.
Watching her closely I slowly took a step forward.  She didn't move.
Jamie was silent behind me, so although I didn't turn around to see them I knew that LC was keeping our pup close.
I took another step and then another and then another, moving slowly and expecting her to turn and run away at any moment.
She didn't.
Still moving slowly I kept making my way forward, still watching her closely.  She knew that I was approaching her but stood her ground, seemingly curious about me.
Eventually I was 20 feet away from her and we both stood staring at each other, her curious of me and me totally in awe of her.
And then she turned and trotted away.
I thought that was the last I would see of her but I was wrong.
She only wandered a little ways before partially turning and hiding her head behind a tree.
I stayed where I was, realizing that we had closed enough distance between us, and just kept watching her.
A minute after she had hidden from me she poked her head out from around the tree and look at me again.
She pulled her head back behind the tree, and a minute later did the same thing - sticking her head out from behind the tree to check me out.
The funny thing about the entire episode was that although her head was hidden behind the tree, her entire body was still exposed and completely visible to me.
But this elk believed that because she could not see me, that I also could not see her.
We played peek-a-boo for five minutes before she finally turned again and this time did disappear into the trees.
For the first time in more than 10 minutes I turned around to look at LC.  Did you SEE that?
He had seen that, and we laughed for a long time, both of us completely astonished at what had just happened...................

One day while we were living in Cody we drove out to the Southfork with our neighbor to check on some horses.
It was the middle of summer and very hot, and we spent a long time standing along the fence of a piece of property watching the horses and feeding them handfuls of grass.
As we were getting ready to load back into the truck and head back to the house that we were renting at the time we looked up and realized that there was a deer staring at us.
She was on the same side of the road as us, and was also standing in the grass as we were.
Surprised at the unexpected sight of her we all stood perfectly still, wanting to enjoy the sight of her for as long as possible.
The doe grazed for a few minutes, and every once in a while glanced up at us as she was chewing on her mouthfuls of grass.
And then - astonishingly - she began to walk towards us.
Nobody moved.  Nobody spoke.  I don't think any of us even breathed.  
She continued to walk slowly towards us and eventually was only a few feet away.  
Our neighbor lady reached out her hand and the deer walked up to the elderly lady and sniffed the hand before turning her attention back to us.
Or rather, turning her attention to Jamie.
I had been so astonished that the deer was simply walking up to us that it took me a few minutes to realize that this doe was completely focused on Jamie.
She slowly and easily continued towards us and when she was standing directly in front of LC she slowly veered around him, wanting to get closer to our dog.
LC stepped in her way and she walked around him.
And then she reached down and slowly touched noses with our dog.
After touching noses she lifted her head, turned away from Jamie and slowly began to walk away.
Again, LC and I looked at each other in astonishment.  What the hell just happened???
The only thing we could figure out was that the deer thought our red dog was her baby, and after getting close enough to Jamie realized that she was not her little deer.............

There have been so many other animal stories that have happened over the years - the eagles in Juneau fighting over scraps of Salmon but then working together to fend off the hungry ravens - the antelope in south eastern Wyoming who cried and stared at Jamie and refused to leave the park where we were eating lunch (who we also believe thought that Jamie was her little one) - the obvious leader of a herd of big horn sheep in Shoshone National Forest who climbed a rock bluff in search of a navigatable route for her group, while the others (including babies) watched and waited down below - the elk who stood in the middle of the freezing river in the park and continually looked back towards the tree line, and it was obvious that she was afraid to leave the safety of the river - the wolf in the park who was obviously pregnant, but who also looked thin and weak and fearful.
So many stories.
All laid out before us because we happened to be in the right place at the right time, and were open to watching and waiting to see how their stories would play out......................

And so it was with our bison sighting at Yellowstone National Park last week.
One more exceptional and totally unexpected story.
During the last full month of summer the park was packed with people.
People gawking, people stopping, people picture taking and wandering and falling all over each other trying to get a glimpse and a picture of these powerful animals.
So used to people, the bison paid them little to no attention.
As we have seen them so many wonderful times in the past, the bison were focused on their grazing.
But in all the times we have seen them, we have never seen them focused on each other.
It was mating season.
The reason that the male that we had seen on the side of the road on our way to the Fishing Bridge was growling his low and purposeful growl at the female grazing on the opposite side of the road.
I stood close to the truck watching them and was completely and absolutely mesmerized by them.
There were stories laid out everywhere in front of me.
Males leaning carefully down to the river so that they could drink.
Young that had lost their light brown coloration and were now as black as the older members of the herd.
Young still with their mothers although needing their mothers less now than they had only a few months before.
Males talking to their chosen females.  
Standing over their females protecting them from the attention of other males.  Growling and shoving other males away from their females.  Following their chosen mates, talking, growling, moving with the intent and drive that spoke to the ancient desire to mate.
I had never seen them like this.
It was completely and absolutely compelling.
There were hundreds of buffalo spread out over the entire valley on both sides of the road, but I chose to focus on the majestic animals that were directly in front of me.
We just didn't have time for more.
Click on the pictures to enlarge, and watch the bison as I saw them on this day.  
The stories are all there.
It was an absolutely astonishing site.
A link to information about bison:
It was time to move on.
We continued driving through the valley, still excitedly talking about the herd of buffalo that we had just seen............
We had seen amazing things in the short time that we had been in the park.
And we made two more stops before finally reaching the West Gate and finally heading towards home in earnest.
One more blog post about our trip to go................
I will write about this squirrel in the next blog post.
An angry and feisty little guy as it turned out................

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