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Archive for February, 2009

Where northern lights chase lengthening nights and caribou roam the plains

Where grizzly bears and snowshoe hares shake off the autumn rains

As trees advance and oilmen dance we lose the permafrost

As greed trumps need and pipelines bleed

Our ties to the land are lost.

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The World of Yellowstone

A tour group I accompanied on a mid-winter trip to Yellowstone had been phenomenally blessed. We had seen bison, elk, moose, trumpeter swans, wolves, and many other wild creatures, and were treated to a major eruption of Grand Geyser, not too far from Old Faithful. It also snowed heavily for two of our six days there, turning the park into an even more deeply surreal winter wonderland.

As we departed the park for our final night together at a hot springs resort south of Livingston, Montana, one guest remarked aloud, “I wonder what’s happened in the world since we’ve been gone.”

“The world of Yellowstone?” I playfully answered.

She did not comment further until the farewell reception that evening, when recounting our exchange to the larger group and the other two guides. Receiving such an unexpected reply, she said, made her reflect upon her connection to wild places in a new and different way. The wild and the “civilized” worlds bring innumerable gifts to all of us, she added, but ultimately, their mutual survival is interdependent and intertwined, and far from guaranteed.

Later that night, she shared how much she already missed Yellowstone. I nodded and smiled and hugged her as she wiped the tears from her eyes, tears triggered by Yellowstone’s wild spirit, following and beckoning her home.

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Welcome to YourLifeNature. As a former Luddite now embarking on a techno-savvy 12-step program, this site may take a while to evolve, so come back often to see what’s new in terms of ramblings, photos, links and other items. Tonight’s posting is my first blog entry, but to get a better sense of who I am and where I am coming from, click on the About section and read on…

From time to time I intend to publish a story from Yellowstone and other wild places rather than social commentary, nature notes, journal entries and other ramblings. The following, “Death Takes A Wapiti” was inspired by a mid-winter driving and wildlife watching trek  four or so years ago  in Yellowstone, the world’s first national park.

DEATH TAKES A WAPITI

The early morning streaked and striated sky glows like a hearth of red hot coals against the winter blanket below. Several bull bison loiter in a roadside pullout, their exhalations heavy and steaming in the chill air. Eerie calm and quiet prevail. The only sounds are the clicking and croaking of a pair of mated ravens, the tapping of woodpeckers on nearby snags, and crunching noises made by boots on snow as I rustle around to stay warm. The crisp smell of freshly fallen snow on sagebrush pierces the air.

A massive six point bull elk, or wapiti, staggers toward the road after struggling up an embankment. Every step looks labored, deliberate. The bull looks left, revealing encrusted lacerations arcing from below his right ear to the top of his sternum. His coat is mangy. His eyes appear weary, as if autumns consumed by thwarting challengers from breeding cow elk in his harems were now fading behind him.

His injuries most likely stem from facing down the resident Leopold wolf pack, or perhaps the Nez Perce wolves, also hungering for vulnerable elk. Cackling magpies and gathering ravens stare from glacial boulders as the bull crosses the road to feed on a snow-free slope, the smell of impending death looming, luring the lone wapiti and the scavengers together.

I drive on, wondering whether by nightfall a 600-pound carcass will appear out in the sagebrush flats that will stave off starvation for other wildlife in Yellowstone. The next morning I scour the area from Lava Creek to Blacktail Ponds for telltale signs of death. No mobs of magpies or ravens lingering, no blood or bones or tufts of fur scattered in the snow, no coyotes nervously snatching chunks of meat while watching their backs for wolves.

Did the wapiti wander away from the road to die? Did he encounter the Leopolds a final time? Did he survive somehow, only to die another day or another season? More snow and the shifting of seasons will surely bury the clues to his fate. Yellowstone’s dance of death and life endures, indifferent to the concerns and dramas of its human observers.

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