For the last several years, I have spent the early summer driving back and forth between my adopted hometown of Bozeman, Montana and my original hometown of Moose, Wyoming. I relish the opportunity to spend three to four weeks of the summer guiding rafts along the Snake River, and renewing my relationship with Jackson Hole – a place of immense importance to me.
These early weeks of summer are fun. The river runs fast. The nights are chilly. The wildflowers are abundant. And the moose and elk calves are taking their wobbly first steps. But danger lurks here, too.
Just three days ago, I drove over Teton Pass on my way back to Bozeman. And in the middle of my lane was one of God’s creatures. A big, beautiful porcupine, whose life ended in a collision with a vehicle.
I’ve often seen deer by the side of the road that have met their end on the hood of a car. And though it breaks my heart, I understand that drivers sometimes hit deer – after all, they jump right out at you, with little or no warning. I see a lot of skunks along the roadway too, and I get it: not everyone is a fan of skunks. But a porcupine? Porcupines are slow movers, and to hit one you’ve either got to be driving way too fast or way too distracted. So have a heart: please slow down!
Why the hurry? It turns out that Americans are taking significantly shorter vacations than they did twenty years ago. In the 90’s the average family summer vacation was ten days long. Now, the average is closer to five days. And it appears that people are trying to see the same number of sights in half the time. Which means you have to drive fast. Or you have to be focused on something else, like catching Pokemon.
In Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park as of the 22nd of June, 32 animals were killed in collisions with cars. One of these was Snowy, a cub of the beloved matriarch Grizzly 399, who was killed in a hit-and-run shortly before I started my season on the river. Many people were despondent over the loss – our whole valley feels connected to this iconic bear family – and losing any animal in our delicate ecosystem is potentially detrimental.
Which is why we all need to work together to protect our wildlife resources. Wild places and wild creatures contribute to our psychic well-being. The lucky people who spend time with us on the river are struck by how peaceful, how relaxing, and how restorative our scenic float trips are. Poet Gary Snyder wrote, “Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.” And I think, for those magical two hours on the Snake River, our passengers believe it.
But how can you slow down, when your vacation is short and there’s so much to do? Try building in a couple of “aggravation hours” to your daily schedule. Add two hours to tomorrow’s drive to allow for traffic jams, long lines, and flat tires – because those things happen. And if they don’t, you’ll find yourself with an extra two hours on your hands, to take a hike, take a float trip, or just enjoy the scenery.
Try it! It’ll soothe your nerves, and it just might save the life one of our furry friends.