Tag Archives: glacier

Up On McDonald Creek

A couple of rainy weekends ago, Vin and Nate and I went for a swim.

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Well, to be honest, even for a cold water aficionado such as myself, it’s hard to actually swim in Glacier, even in the heat of summer. Our water is really, really cold. So by swim, I mean snorkel in a head-to-toe dry suit (well, semi-dry, as it turns out), and by “heat of summer” I mean drizzly, gray, 60 degree August day.

We were searching to see what fish we mind find, for no particular reason but to say hello. I watched some cutthroat darting around a deep pool below some falls, and caught a brief look at a small sculpin, tucked between two rocks, but other than that, the locals stayed hidden.

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Still, it was glorious to spend a few hours exploring the underwater, current-carved rock sculptures, the two hundred colors of smooth river stones, the industrious caddisflies carting around their funny little tubular homes, tiny tinkers, clinging to the rocks . . . and to hook an arm around a crooked, rain-slick branch, just float, and gently wimple in the flow of the river, as if flying with a steady speed.

If you’re not afraid of a chill, I highly recommend it.

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Dead Things, Mikey

You know, I fully understand and appreciate how fortunate I am to live in an exceptionally beautiful place. I really, do. I love the fact that you can walk from our house into Glacier National Park, and into the remote high backcountry, and that we have deer and elk and bears and coyotes and wolves and cougars trotting through our neighborhood, flush with summer huckleberries.

But every living environment has its challenges, right? My friends in Chicago occasionally find syringes at the playground. My friends in Manhattan hear honking and car alarms as if they were the murmurations of steady bird migrations. Italians must dodge dog shit landmines down every cobbled street they strut. And us?

We get dead things.

Most recently, specifically, an elk calf carcass about 75 meters from the back door. A couple of days ago we were mentally preparing to remove said carrion while eating dinner on the back deck. (Having chosen to eat first, lest our appetites be spoiled by the impending funk.) But lo, before we could snap on the rubber gloves a robust black bear trundled in through the lodgepole, sniffing his way to dinner. Given there was plenty of elk left to eat, and knowing that bears sometimes like to physically sleep on top of their dinner to protect it, we knew there would be no relocating that night.

Unfortunately, while said bear managed to gobble up all the good bits, he left enough behind to ripen in yesterday’s hot sun, and with it an odious calling card to all neighborhood dogs. Including our five-month-old puppy. Who came running up to me covered in reeking, blackened flesh crumb goo, and who has subsequently been on post-bath lock-down. At least I don’t think she actually consumed much, unlike our neighbor’s dogs, who have been plagued by “uber disgusto carcass farts” the last few days…

Oi! Just as I was writing this a new bear shuffled in looking for leftovers. That makes three different bears in three days. Which, alright, yeah, is pretty cool, minus the puppy-putrefaction  combination… I guess it’s called “local color.”

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The North Remembers

I’m not going to talk about spring. It is simply way too early for such talk in the mountains. Our environmental palette remains subtle: white, greys, blues, white, greens so dark they appear black… white. Our feet adjust to snow, ice, slush, snow, ice, slush. Our crocuses continue their dormancy. We don’t hold our breath.

Last month some friends and I spent a long holiday weekend volunteering for the park’s fisher DNA study (read about similar work here) assembling and re-bating old hair-collecting stations in Many Glacier, in hopes of detecting an animal who is hard to detect. This involved skiing into a backcountry cabin, getting pounded by wind and snow, and reveling in the rare pleasure of having the busiest part of the park all to ourselves. The trip reminded me of everything I love about winter–the smell of the cold caught in your hair, hands wrapped around a hot mug, fire crackling, fresh tracks on the snow, the way the landscape feels monochrome–and my mind returns to it on this misty, drizzly day.

Objects are as fuzzy as they appear
Four feet
Freshening the meat packet
Harvesting hair
Adding the love scent
Sidewinder
And not a shanty in sight
Drip daggers
See you in spring…

   

Mephitis Mephitis

Yesterday we were heading into the Park for a ski, when lo! my day was made by a special wildlife sighting. Naturally I have seen a savage number of poor roadkill skunks over the years, and even the sad and smelly remains of some in Yellowstone wolf scat, but surprisingly, I’ve only ever seen one live individual in the wild. Until yesterday… when we saw this little duffer loping over snowdrifts between lake shore and road.

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My first thought, well, it wasn’t so much a cohesive thought so much as a bombastic emotional reaction/squeal of pure glee, was look! A skunk! A skunk! So fuzzy! Look! Look! That bushy tail! Skunk! My second thought was more akin to, Must. Get. Out. Of. Truck. Must. Get. Close. To. That. Fuzzy. And soon enough I was out of the vehicle, jogging along next to the skunk for a few hundred meters, grinning in breathless delight. Some of you may question my judgement, but let me remind you that while they see and hear quite nicely, skunks have pretty terrible eyesight, and the little guy could barely see me. (This poor vision is partially to blame for all those fatal automobile encounters.)

Just look at those little pink slippers!
My third thought was that Walt Disney is a liar. Remember in Bambi, when Flower gets all sleepy and goes into hibernation for the winter? Yeah, well, that just wasn’t jiving with Mr. Bushypants here. Striped skunks don’t actually hibernate. They go into a state of torpor–a generally inactive, denned up period of rest, though they may come above ground a couple of times to poke around and empty their scent glands. Also, Walt, deer don’t get twitterpated in spring, okay. They mate in the fall. Do your homework.