I love the return of spring and its random patterns and awakenings. In spring, the days warm slightly – and then snow slightly – and then warm slightly, but despite the season’s see-sawing nature, we start to see the return of the flowers, insects, and animals that have been missing or were merely occupied with survival during the endless winter.
The last bit of snow left my yard just two days ago. But the worms were brave, and emerged earlier. I saw the first worms of spring two weeks back and just so you know, I had to rescue some from certain sidewalk death. Fortunately I had the assistance of a handful of 6th graders to help out. Funny how having an adult do something as “silly” as helping a worm makes it OK for kids to do it, too. Worms do have their uses, and their presence harkened the return of the first robins. …continue reading Random patterns
I just saw the last day of summer. I know what you’re thinking: it’s the Equinox – so didn’t we all just see it? That’s true, but if you work outdoors like I do, you don’t need a calendar to tell you when the seasons change. You just have to read the signs.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve observed the slow transition of the forest underbrush from abundant green to rustling, crunchy brown. I’ve seen the first splashes of yellow appear on a the scattered Aspens and Cottonwoods along the Snake River in Grand Teton National Park. And I’m waiting for the snow line to appear on the high peaks, and slowly descend to the valley floor with each new storm.
I’ve noticed the disappearance of the neighborhood’s Uinta ground squirrels; their mid-August vanishing act always catches me by a surprise. The annual elk rut has commenced – and many human visitors to Grand Teton and Yellowstone find themselves participating in this bewildering dance. Hunters start replacing mountain bikers and hikers in the backcountry, and the pace of life in the town of Jackson slows down.
When I was in high school many years ago, the local environmental education program offered some great courses to help students see, imagine and create connections between the classroom and the great outdoors: Art and Nature, Nature and Literature, and Nature and Photography. I remember taking a Nature and Photography one winter and delighting in the contrasts between shadow and light as I tried to capture drift lines, silhouettes, and the subtleties of the snowy landscape. Those early days at the Teton Science School were adventurous and illuminating, and many of us who passed through its wooded gates have moved on to careers in science, ecology and the outdoor industry. It part of the reason why I chose the river-guiding life 35 years ago – and why I’m still guiding today.
I was recently reminded of these formative experiences at the Teton Science School when I chanced across an advert for a master filmmaking class put on by the great documentarian Werner Herzog. Herzog’s required reading: The Peregrine, by J.A. Baker. Herzog talked about The Peregrine as the only book you’d need to become a great filmmaker. I’m always on the prowl for illuminating reading, and a huge fan of Herzog’s films, so I ran down to our local independent bookstore (The Country Bookshelf in historic downtown Bozeman) and grabbed a copy. If you are in Jackson, try the Valley Bookstore, or order a copy. …continue reading Nature and Literature
Families are important. Vacations are important. Our National Parks are important. And taking our families on vacations to National Parks might be the most important thing we do. As a culture, Americans enjoy a “love/hate” relationship with our jobs. We value hard work and industry to the point that we as individuals feel diminished when we step away from gainful employment. For some, there is a perceived threat that our value as an employee drops when we take a break and a co-worker does not. It’s a dilemma – but there is scientific evidence that taking time off to recharge and rest helps us approach our work with energy, efficiency and creativity.
And it’s not just vacations we need. We also can help recover from the demands of work by spending time outdoors, preferably in a natural setting. Over the last few years, studies have shown that something as simple as a walk in the woods can improve memory and performance. Time spent in forest settings improves mental and physical energy, relieves stress and reduces inflammation. When woodland walkers return to work, they feel better, perform better, and even exhibit calm during their commutes. …continue reading The Greatest American Invention
Grand Teton National Park is home to many types of small mammals, including the Magical Mustelids. This family of fearless carnivores includes badgers, fishers, martens, mink, river otters, wolverines, and three weasels: the least weasel, the long-tailed weasel, and the short-tailed weasel or ermine.
The short-tailed weasel measures between 7 and 13 inches including the tail, and despite their diminutive size, they really believe themselves to be quite tough. I remember one little guy I saw while hiking with some clients along the river – he bravely held the trail against four much-larger mammals, and would not let us pass. It turns out the weasel symbolizes courage in many Native American cultures. Even though they are small and only weigh up to 12 ounces they will readily attack larger animals. They are effective hunters, preying mostly on mice and voles. (Researchers rely on the presence of weasels as an indicator of an abundant rodent population.) They are also terrific climbers, so our avian friends are not immune to their predatory survival strategies.
How does the little short-tailed weasel survive the long cold winters in Jackson Hole? Food, shelter, and companionship are critical. With their long bodies, low weight, and lack of body fat, weasels have some distinct disadvantages during the long winter months. They must keep warm by eating up to 40 percent of their weight every day, and may occasionally engage in “killing sprees” so that they can storing leftovers as a hedge against days without any kills. They use up a lot of energy during a hunting day, covering as many as three miles in their quest for prey. How does the Small-tailed weasel negotiate the winter landscape? …continue reading Magical Mustelids