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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Wild places nourish the soul

Last night, I gazed at the dusky sky with jagged craggy mountains looming on the horizon. Darkness, complete unfathomable blackness, enveloped the world between me and the mountains. The darkness, the nothingness, gave me hope. Only wild places harbor complete darkness with no house lights flickering to announce the presence of people. Wilderness sits nearby. But, it will only remain wilderness if we stop the inexorable march of civilization trying to eat up every empty space.
This morning, I mountain biked with K, and I knew from her body language as we started that no wild animals had visited our territory last night. Indeed, yet again, our wildlife cameras registered no visitors. It's frustrating trying to test out the new wildlife camera, knowing that multiple coyotes and other animals passed through our clearing almost every night all summer and fall, but now, no one visits. I don't understand why the pattern has changed. It must be the season.

K was crazy this morning, frustrating me like an unruly puppy. It's a good sign. She hasn't been so wired in a long time. I think that it means that she's finally truly rebuilt her strength since her life-threatening illnesses. I spent a lot of the ride hammering, trying to keep up with the fluffy brown tail that threatened to disappear around the next curve in the trail.
Occasionally, she did disappear around a curve, and I called her back. She kept finding deer legs on the slope next to the trail, none of which seemed terribly fresh, but I started getting nervous about letting her out of sight. Below, she's barely visible peeking around a pine tree.
After a final recall, I asked her to stay in a heel next to my bike because her energy was too frazzling for me. I kept reminding myself how lucky we are that she has so much energy that she can frazzle me!
We broke trail on a favorite route of ours. As turned out to be the theme for the day, we followed the tracks of a herd of elk.This roughly north facing trail doesn't feel the kiss of the sun for even an instant throughout the winter. Some sections had melted down to dirt, thanks to the warm air. We waded through other sections that looked like deep winter had taken hold. The crusty deep snow held my bike upright in the photo below.
I'd taken a photo of exactly the same spot in late September. It looked like a different planet then.
We climbed up a ridge, off-trail, for a view. As we wandered, I noticed a spot that looked like an animal bed. An animal had dug out a pit about 3 ft wide and a couple of inches deep, with the dirt and pine needles that he'd removed sloughed into a pile. The bed lay under the boughs of a pine tree, and looked somewhat protected from foul weather. I examined the tree and branches but couldn't find any fur on them. However, I did find some short tan fur, a wisp here and there, on the ground in the bed. I searched for scat or additional beds in the area but found none. I wonder who's been curled up in that spot recently? I'll have to watch this spot to see if it's used regularly. It might be a good spot for my wildlife camera.
When I resumed pedaling along the trail, I caught glimpses of views that I haven't seen in a few weeks. I love seeing the rough rocky country in the foreground with the arctic mountains peeking from behind.
After I dropped K off at home, I headed out to enjoy our ongoing Indian Summer. The trails were quiet. As usual, I didn't see or hear another person. However, tomorrow is the start of the last rifle season so the quiet might be broken.

I was in the mood to explore so I headed toward a gulch with a little-known trail near it. My front wheel is about to fall into the creek in the photo. Also, notice the trampled and broken snow all over the area.
A big herd of elk had recently marched through this spot. They'd come down through a snowy north-facing forest, briefly paralleled the creek, crossed the creek, and climbed up the dry and sunny south side of the gulch.
When I looked closely at a set of elk tracks, I could see that the elk had used a 'direct registering' walk, which means that the back hoof stepped exactly into the track of the front hoof. This pattern seems like it would save energy in the deep snow of the gulch because only the front hooves have to 'break trail'.
Among the morass of broken snow, I wondered if any predator tracks overlaid the elk tracks. I decided not to search the among the elk tracks. Superstitiously, this spot always scares me just a tiny bit because I saw a mountain lion here last winter. Rationally, I know that there's nothing special about this spot that increases the odds of a lion encounter. But, irrationally, I never linger here.

Today, I followed the same path as the elk. Within 10 yards to the south of the creek, the trail was dry and rocky. The blue endless sky drew me upward and away from the darkness of the gulch. Visiting our wild places nourishes my soul but it was time to head home to the pups.


  1. Why do 'we' feel the need to eat up every bit of empty space there is?

    Thanks again for another wonderful post!

  2. Your title says it all - and why I so live for the weekends and hiking.

  3. Great title, great post. One reason we love your blog so much is that it really makes us stop and think and appreciate what we have and how easily it can all be spoiled.

    Good to see K wil so much spunk - that's a good thing:)

    Woos, the OP Pack

  4. I'm glad you are still having some nice weather. And I'm especially glad that K is feeling so much better. I loved the snow-capped mountains.

  5. I'm so happy to hear that K is feeling so much better.

  6. I love the comparison of the winter picture to the summer picture. What a difference!

    It's also amazing that depending on what side of a mountain you're on, you could either by covered in snow or in a summerlike world.

    You and K both sound like you had a blast. Good for you! Here's to many more healthy days ahead.

  7. That looks like a marvelous adventure!!!

  8. What an great post, KB - loved the photos and can almost feel K's renewed energy! So interesting to find a bedding would be great to discover what's using it. I explored the trails by myself yesterday - it was difficult walking because of the melt and refreeze of the remaining snow. I had an eerie feeling that something was watching me - kept looking over my shoulder in spite of myself! I think I just had a case of over-active imagination! When I returned home, a fox passed close to me and I got a great pic of it. Sometimes lately they seem spooked by what I surmise is coyote scent nearby.


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