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Category: wildness

Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear

On Sunday, Chuck and I went off on an adventure — we headed over to the backside of Livingston Peak to look for mushrooms and elk horns. We’d just crossed a ridge that bordered private land, and were talking about how goofy the Icelandic horses in the field looked with their long long manes when Chuck stopped suddenly.

About 100 feet below us, under a big fir tree, was a bear. A pretty big bear. Not a stupendously big bear, but big enough. He didn’t seem to see us, and the Icelandic horses didn’t seem too upset, so we figured he was a regular in the neighborhood. Chuck pulled out his binoculars, and because I’m a scaredy-cat, I watched the bear through the little space over his shoulder and under the binocs.

The bear was digging for something under the tree. We quietly got down closer to the ground, as slowly and silently as possible I unclipped my pack and unzipped the outer compartment where the bear spray was (astonishing how loud things can sound when you’re trying to be silent). The bear was still down there, digging around under the tree, eating small plants. Chuck kept passing me the binoculars, but I was too scared that I’d see them fill up with charging bear, so I kept handing them back.

But the bear didn’t charge. We watched him for five or ten minutes before he ambled down the drainage. From what we could tell, he was maybe three to five years old, with a beautiful grizzled coat. He didn’t have a big hump (which is why we think he was young) but he did have big claws, and Chuck said he saw through the binoculars that he had “big shiny white incisors”. He was a gorgeous, healthy bear, doing bear things, and we felt so grateful (even if I was really scared) to have had the chance to watch him for a little bit.

After the bear left, we continued hiking. We bushwhacked up through a lovely fir forest. It was much more open inside than it looked like from the outside — glade after glade, many of which were speckled with yellow Glacier Lillies. We found a very cool exposed ridge at the top, which, when we came around on the downhill side turned out to be a really spectacular cliff. On the way down we followed a creek, which met another creek, and then another one. It thunderstormed in the afternoon, and the creeks came up visibly. We saw a lot of elk and moose sign, as well as some large bear scats, but we didn’t see any other animals.

It was such a fun adventure. Bushwhacking around, looking at things, the bear, and then the kind of soaking rain we so rarely get around here. We made it back to the car, drenched, and about five minutes from being really cold, then drove home through nearly-flooded roads with the heat on high, and the car steaming up, drinking a beer and talking about what a fun day we’d had, and how lucky we are to live here.

Morels!

Morels!

morels 2009 Here they are — the first morels! (I always want to sing that to the tune of The First Noel.) The Carpenter and I had a great time this weekend finding morels up behind his cabin — mushroom hunting is SO MUCH FUN! I get SO excited when I see one sticking up out of the duff (he laughed at me as I splashed through the irrigation ditch in my haste to get to a patch of three on the far side).

Saturday night we had morels sauteed in butter with onions and garlic over steak, and last night I made a baked macaroni and cheese with morels. And there are more out there — it’s been intermittently rainy and sunny for a week or so, and we haven’t had any snow in almost a week.

Spring! Morels! Delicious delicious mushrooms out there waiting to be found — like presents from the universe.

The First Morels …

The First Morels …

first morelsI keep hearing the headline in my head to the tune of “The First Noel” — but here they are, the first morels of the season. It got hot here this weekend — into the eighties — and after our long cold wet spring, I just knew there must be mushrooms out there. These “yellow” ones show up in woodsy copses along the river, then later, the black ones emerge in the mountains. I didn’t find very many yesterday — this is maybe a pound or a pound and a half — but I only hit one spot. Ray and I had a lovely little morning looking for mushrooms — I poked around, doing the mushroom-hunt-Very-Slow-Hike while Ray hunted bunnies and doves. He’s gotten to be such a good boy — he’d disappear for a few minutes, then come circling back when I called. All in all a nice morning, and a little dinner of reheated chicken and rice with a morel cream sauce (cream from my lovely gallon of local milk) was quite delicious.

Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate

Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate

I have a lot of gardening books — I’m one of those people who learns how to do things from books, so the first couple of years I had this garden, I bought a lot of different things (especially if they were in the bargain bin at Borders).

But there’s a very short list of books I go back to again and again: Second Nature by Michael Pollan  and This Organic Life by Joan Dye Grussow. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstal’s River Cottage Cookbook is also probably in this category (except that every time I look at it I have such livestock-envy that I forget how close to being paid off my house is, and have to remind myself that if I bought enough land to have livestock, I’d have to start a new garden, and a new morgage).

And now there’s Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate. I love this book. I’m going to have to read this book a second time because I’m reading it so fast this first time through. I’m reading it like a novel — to find out what happens, and I know I’m going to want to go back to specific sections and pay closer attention to the content. But right now, I’m smitten. I’m like a little kid reading with a flashlight under the bedcovers. Wendy Johnson has been gardening at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center for over twenty years, and this book is a description not only of the physical act of gardening, but how the garden is a part of, and a challenge to, her Buddhist practice.

One thing I’ve been turning over in my head for the past couple of years is the way that my relationship with nature has shifted its focus. Throughout my teens, twenties and thirties my primary relationship with the natural world was with wild nature — whether that was through canoe camping in the BWCA/Quetico region of the Minnesota/Canada border, or through raft guiding in North Carolina or ski bumming in Colorado, or even through my graduate work in English which focused on wildness in American literature and the history of the novel. Since I moved to Montana my primary relationship with nature has been through my garden and my dogs — that my interest has become so domestic just as I moved to a region which encompasses so many of North America’s last intact chunks of wilderness has been something of a mystery to me. Why do I find an afternoon in my garden so fascinating that I’d rather stay home than take a long hike in the mountains?

In Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate Johnson describes twenty years of trying to negotiate a truce between what she wants from her garden as a human being from what is due to the  natural world of which the garden is a part. If one is deeply engaged in a spiritual practice which challenges one to live without discriminating between human and non-human needs, a practice which challenges one to honor all beings, then what does one do about pest control? selective breeding? the whole history of domestication throughout human history?
There are no answers, of course, but the depth of the discussion, accompanied as it is in this book with a wealth of practical information about actual hands-on gardening, has been my only solace for this weekend’s snow and cold temperatures (19 degrees! it’s the end of April! enough already!).

Girls with Guns …

Girls with Guns …

Things are a little hectic here at LivingSmall today — so why doesn’t everyone go over to Someday Homesteader and read about Kim’s first deer. It’s really affecting and well, since she did it by herself, without a guide like my Mighty Hunter, I’m kind of in awe.

Wolves in Paradise

Wolves in Paradise

Last night my friend Bill Campbell’s documentary, Wolves In Paradise: Ranchers and Wolves in the New West had its premiere at the Bozeman Bioneers conference. It’s a terrific production — keep an eye out for it on your local PBS stations (or better yet, call and ask for it).

Bill followed two different ranches who are dealing with the burden of ranching in wolf country. The margins for any of our small farmers or ranchers are so small that the losses caused by wolves killing or harrassing one’s cattle are substantial. Ranchers live or die by the amount of weight they can get on their stock over the summer, and wolves running your cattle doesn’t help them keep weight on. Bill chose to focus on the Davis family, three generations ranching in the Paradise Valley just south of Livingston, and on the Sun Ranch over south of Ennis which is run by Roger Lang, who made his fortune in Silicon Valley. Both ranchers are trying to keep ranching alive, are trying to preserve open space from development, and are trying to preserve a way of life that is slipping away. It’s been ten years since wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone, and while they’re here to stay, the question is how to manage wild predators in close proximity to domestic livestock. There are no final answers, but the documentary shows lots of people asking interesting questions, and doing their best to work things out.

The documentary is also beautifully shot — Bill has a gorgeous eye and a marvelous talent for making even the most mundane aspects of ranch life visually fascinating. Keep an eye out for it, and push your local stations to carry it.

Bear Shit Dog

Bear Shit Dog

Black bear It’s fall in Montana which means that the bears are on the move — there’s been a black bear down in the creekbed woods behind the dog park where we walk and last night Raymond came home covered in bear shit.

Bad dog!

Bad dog got washed with cold water from the hose in the backyard. Bad dog got washed with the stinky leftover orange-rosemary shampoo that he hates — I keep hoping this will deter him from rolling in stinky dead things, however, I seem to be hoping in vain.

I haven’t seen the bear, but we’re all having trouble with dogs and bear shit. So far this fall we’ve had a young buck moose in town, but no real bear stories yet — it’ll happen. There’s always a bear story in the fall.

At least they haven’t gotten lice yet this year. Yet.

Perfect Porcini

Perfect Porcini

perfect porcini Look what I found yesterday? One perfect little porcini. It was just off the trail, it’s little brown cap barely poking through the duff. We’ve had a few afternoon thunderstorms lately, and on a whim, I went up to the trail where I’ve sometimes found boletes … this was the only one I found, but look how beautiful it was. Here’s the cross section:

cross section Not one single bug. A perfect porcini. I ate it sautéed with butter and a little olive oil, with some garlic, and parsley from the garden. It was delicious. Perfect.

Nature Moment ….

Nature Moment ….

great horned owl It’s lovely today — the heat has broken a little bit and so when I took Raymond off for his morning dog walk, we ran into the whole gang down in the creek behind the dog park. We were yakking away when suddenly Bob said “Hey … look at that!” And there on a dead branch not 20 feet of the ground on the far side of the creek was a great big fluffy owl. At first I thought it might be a great gray, but then we saw its little horns — it was a Great Horned Owl.

So we all stood around and watched the owl for a while. And the owl watched us. And it turned it’s head in that funny way that owls do. And then the dogs started to romp, and we all moved down the trail feeling grateful that despite all else, we live in a place where the odds of seeing a large wild bird on your morning dog walk are very good.