Simple Gifts

I believe I live in one of the most beautiful places in the world; the Snoqualmie Valley. I get to see amazing things everyday. It's time to celebrate that. (You can view pictures in larger format by clicking on them)

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Kayaking on the Snoqualmie

I went white water kayaking for the first time. I am amazingly fortunate. I was lucky enough to be given a kayak (THANKS ROXIE) and an experience friend was a willing teacher. Of course, as it was my first time there wasn't a lot of white water. I guess the area we did was about a class II. I was more scared then I expected to be, but it was mostly before we actually started. I'm always like that with physical/outdoor challenges. Once I'm doing it, I forget about worrying. There might be a life lesson there. It was harder then I expected and very fun.

Amy was a great teacher. She kept apologizing for being bossy which was nuts, I was getting a free lesson and enjoying her company. I learned about eddies and ferrying. Most of the river was fairly shallow but I finally did a wet escape (tip the kayak over and swim out). It's an essential safety technique. It's so hard too make yourself dump intentionally and even though I had a helmet on I was scared of bashing into rocks. It all went well though and now I feel much more confident.

Lesson about eddies

Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of the funniest moment. I borrowed a wet suit from Amy that was apparently very old and...well... thin in the hind area. When I crotched down to pull the kayak to the launch area I felt a release of pressure and cool breeze on my bottom. Sure enough, the butt seem was giving out. By the time we had scrambled out and over the rocks at the end of our ride my derriere (in a swim suit) was exposed for all to see. As Amy and I carried the kayaks back up the levy trail to the car we kept getting the giggles!

I am tired and sore now and more relaxed then I've been in a week. I forgot what a high I get out of stuff like that. My head is full of sound and sights of the water. I've always found sea kayaking to be the ultimate meditative experience. This was like... adrenaline rush, soothing and beauty all mixed together. The only things I can think to compare to is jumping on horse or sex. You are absolutely lost in the moment.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Yellowstone's beauty

I will never ignore the simple beauty of the land.

You can click on any picture to see it larger

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Wolves at Yellowstone

I know I'm not alone in love for wolves, they are an animal that seem to bring strong emotions (positive or negative). I followed the reintroducing of wolves to Yellowstone closely. I've also followed the talk of wolves to the Olympic National Park. When I volunteered at the Point Defiance Zoo, the best moment was often entering the zoo early in the morning and hearing the wolves howl. I wanted to see wolves at Yellowstone. I told myself it was exceedingly unlikely. I tried not to get my hopes up.

As I began driving home, I was hoping to find that elusive moose. I thought I might see bear. When I saw the cars pulled over on the side of the road I thought it was probably a bear. I got out and asked and was honestly amazed when I was told it was wolves. It didn't take me long to find them, two wolves moving across the open plain. I was told there were three.

I've watched plenty of coyotes. I see dogs every day. What struck me about the wolves is the way they moved. They were moving in a straight line at a quick pace. It reminded me of a military march - all business with the focus on some distant end goal. The wolves didn't seem to communicate with each other but their movements were coordinated. There was an efficiency to their movement.

Then they disappeared into the trees. Some people stayed, watching the trees in hopes of another glimpse. Most people moved on, either carrying on with their day or heading to the next open area to watch. I loaded into my car, planning to also go to the next open area. I was driving watching the woods (ok, maybe not the best driving technique). I saw a gulch, that gave me a clear sight line deep into the woods, and there was a small pull-out for the road. There was one other car and the people were looking up in the woods. As I pulled in I saw the flash of a thick, bushy tail disappearing behind a log. I climbed out of my car, eyes straining to peer behind the log and slight hill. The other people must not have seen anything, they loaded into their car and drove off. I was alone. I sat still; every sense alert. Time passed and I began to worry that they had slunk past me or that I'd imagine the slight glimpse I had., but I held my place and patience. I felt strangely certain I'd see them. That I had found the right place.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a bison moving my way walking up the road. Occasionally a car drove by. I wonder what they thought of the small woman standing beside the road, gazing intently into the woods and oblivious to the large bison moving closer. I began to realize I would probably have to give way to the bison soon when there was movement in the woods. I didn't see the first wolf emerge, he was simply there. There was nothing frightening about him. He was looking away from me. Then another wolf moved from behind the log. She was so close and for a moment we looked at each other. (She was 40ft/13m away at the very most). She was white and had a collar. They both seemed... Uncertain and I felt a bit guilty about causing them stress. She stood on the log, I finally remembered my camera, but the movement sent her back behind the log. As I listened to the film rewind I knew I wouldn't get anymore pictures. I didn't mind, I was watching wolves in the wild. The bison was now very close, clomping down the road. I wanted to hold my ground, but common sense was asserting itself. Cars began to stop and at first I thought they were watching the wolf, but of course it was the bison blocking the road. The area began to fill up quickly and the wolves slipped back down out of sight. I knew they weren't coming out until traffic cleared. I decided to move on, in part, because I wanted to keep their secret. No one else knew they were there.

I drove down the road to the next clearing. There were people once again watching for wolves. There was a ranger who studies the wolves. She explained that they were trying to cross the road and they would hunt on the other side. The white wolf I saw, so close, was the alpha female. They mostly hunted elk but they had taken baby bison. Others in the group of watchers had already seen them hunt. They had chased elk, that fled into the river. The ranger said that was typical prey strategy. The elk can stand in the water while the wolves are forced to swim.

I desperately need to go to the bathroom and poor Coal was in the car. I went back to the car and let Coal out briefly. He suddenly seemed so small and the size of the wolves finally struck me. They weren't heavy, just long in the body and legs. I told Coal he'd easily been eaten. He didn't seem to care. My need to urinate was now getting desperate. I loaded us into the car, but instead of heading towards bathrooms and home I drove past the people still watching for wolves! Suddenly I decided my bladder wasn't that full. I got out and watched. I finally saw all three and once again they moved with efficiently and gracefully, intent on their goal.

A few days ago a visiting couple walked right up to the Hayden packs natal den site causing quite a bit of stress with the adults and pups. According to the couple, who reported their encounter, the two alpha's along with the two yearlings circled the pups and den site, barking and acting protective, and that the pack had 5 pups. Please honor area closures and pay special attention to closure signs! At this time it is unknown what actions the park service will take towards the couple for violating the entrance, and invasion into a closure area.
6/14/06 Field report

Some of what I've read about the wolves since my return saddens and worries me. I know much more about the Hayden Pack. I feel especially honored to have shared my quiet moments with the wolves. I saw no signs of the "fearless behavior" rumored for this pack. I hope I didn't cause them too much stress. The wolves are the bad guys in most stories, but these real life wolves must face one of the scariest monsters of all - human beings. Yet, it is humans who brought thew wolves back to Yellowstone. I am glad and I wish "my" wolves luck.

Bears at Yellowstone

When we arrive at the campground in Yellowstone I was called to identify some droppings. (I did mention I became the "poop expert") At first I didn't think it could be bear even though it was rather large because it wasn't in a neat pile. The bears around my home tend to poop in the middle of the road and it's in a pile. I realized that a bear running would leave a pile like the one in the camp ground. We found out from a ranger that there was a bear regularly visiting the camp and the rangers were quite concerned about bear/human safety.

We didn't want to attract the bears to our camp but we did want to seem them. Three days after we arrived in Yellowstone we'd fallen into the routine - load into the car, watch for wildlife while driving, visit some geysers and explore. We were heading back to camp when we saw a lot of cars parked and people watching.... something. We hadn't seen crowds like this so we knew it must be something impressive. Sure enough it was a grizzly. (Renae got good pictures, I'm hoping she'll send me one). We watched for quite some time. The best part came after he moved a bit further back in the woods. He found a power pole (we weren't far from Canyon Village). First he laid down and rolled around on his back. Then he stood up on his hind legs, rubbing his back against the pole. It was great.

On our last full day there we took a nice hike. We had my bear bells on Tasha's pack. It's amazing how much fun and noise an almost-nine year old can make with a bell. I hike alone (well, with Coal) all the time. I know there are bears, but it felt different in Yellowstone. We sure don't have grizzly at home. As much time as I spend outdoors I rarely encounter bear sign, much less bears, but at Yellowstone it was impossible to miss. I noticed a tree with huge claw marks in it. Later Renae discovered bear tracks. They were on the same path we were walking. We tried not to walk on them. I had Renae stick her foot beside to give a sense of the size. They are such big animals!

The last day I made a promise with myself that I wouldn't hurry. I think the USA has a culture of hurry. All too often I get drawn into that and even when the journey is the point I race towards some artificial destination. My plan was to stop as often as needed; to look and experience. It was an amazing day. I said goodbye to my friends and I'd barely been on the road when I encountered the wolves. Then I continued north. Once again I saw the cars parked (many blocking the road) everywhere. Out in the meadow was a Grizzly grazing. It was off in the distance. I sat on the edge of the road and watched for quite a while. The grizzly seemed slow and gentle. It was funny how watching the grizzly didn't seem frightening at all, but the day before when we'd been hiking in the midst of all the bear signs it had made us uneasy. The bear was slowly working towards us and once again I was stuck by the size. I got a behind the scenes tour at Northwest Trek once. I will never get how suddenly fast a bear can move. I was about ready to retreat back to my car when the Ranger came along proclaiming "If you are not in your vehicle, return there immediately." I didn't need to be told twice. I got back into the car and drove less then 5 minutes when I came upon the two black bear (one is cinnamon colored). They kept close together and I assume they were related. Unlike the Grizzly that seemed to like the open meadow, the bears were in a wetland of a forest. A ranger kept moving people away, for the bears peace and comfort. I felt so fortunate to get to watch these big and mostly gentle animals.

Grizzly in the meadow on my last day

The cinnamon colored black bear was much larger then the black one

They never showed any aggression towards each other

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Monday, June 19, 2006


We were so excited when we first started seeing the bison, but by the end you could hear one of us say "It's just a bison". It's amazing how much novelty and limitation affects our perceptions. We didn't have to search for them and their behaviors were fairly predictable. So we started to focus our energies on searching for other animals. It's not so different in human relationships, when the "wow" factor wears off you have a chance for deeper understanding if we don't turn away.
We finally saw the babies (light brown)

We didn't completely discount the bison. We watched closely, noticing how the bison shed off their winter coats. We'd comment on how "clean" some looked. We had the sense that we could just grab a tuft and pull. It was reminiscent of the desire to pull off skin from a sunburn. We were also watching for babies. We didn't see any at first. Was because they were hidden or because we were so distracted by the novelty at first we didn't really look? We also wanted to see them crossing the river (I missed it but Renae, Chris and Tasha did get to see this). I think by seeing them cross the river we hoped to get a better sense of their size and power.

Bison with deer in the background.
This Bison made it clear he was crossing the trail before we did.

One of the things that continually struck me is the harsh conditions they survive. Much of Yellowstone is over 8,000 Ft. Winters are long and fierce. We kept finding tracks or droppings in the midst of geysers, boiling pools and the stink of sulfur. I couldn't understand why they would seek these areas out. From my reading I know that they go there in winter for warmth, but that didn't really answer my question. Why were they going there in June? My theory is that they get some mineral from the area, but how do they know where it's safe to go? I think it will always be a mystery to me. They seem so placid, but their life is fraught with hazards past and present. What is clear to me, is that they are survivors and I'm honored I got to watch them.

We met this one in a parking lot.
The rock was a good scratching post

A 'bison bed'.
They seemed to clear all the grass from where they would lay.

I'll tell more of the story in the wolf entry.

Click on any picture to make it larger

Wildlife at Yellowstone

It was amazing to drive in to Yellowstone and enter a strange and exciting land. Shortly after we entered we drove under an osprey nest and started seeing the bison. Every day we saw animals. They largely seemed oblivious to the human audience, going about their daily business.

Much of the habitat reminded me of the African Savannah. I felt like if I looked closely I would see elephants instead of bison and alligators in the water. I guess my mind went there because of all the nature shows I've watched about Africa. But here is a truly stupendous biome that is full of large animals and it's in the USA. With it's borders of woods and higher mountains it's not surprising there is so much diversity and wildlife.

Part of what made the experience so amazing was that sense of anticipation. We quickly realized the area was full of life. There were signs of animals all around. I quickly became the "poop expert". We also found tracks and scratches. Perhaps once the most exciting and eerie things was the bones. We found entire skeletons and sometimes scattered remains, a clear reminder of nature's uncertainties.

I'm going to make separate posts for bison, bears and wolves. They are the ones that stick in my mind the most, but that was just a small part of the overall experience. Once I get my film developed I may have more pictures to add. Some day I'll have a really good camera/lens for capturing wildlife.

The deer were shy compared to the other big mammals. We didn't see many. I was alone, by a river, when I found this one. It was peaceful to watch her.

Can you find the moose? We never got a good look at moose. Renae was disappointed. In fact there was debate over whether we actually saw a moose at all. This is my proof :)

This guy was camera shy at first. It's a Uinta squirrel. They both hibernate and estivate (dormant during summer)!

Out comes a Golden Mantled squirrel running from beneath the board walk. Hopefully he knows where to walk without getting into the geysers or hotsprings. It seemed like an odd place to find a squirrel

Not surprisingly he (or she) seems to be looking for food.

He either thinks I'm a tree or is hoping I have nuts in my pocket. I was wondering if he'd actually climb my leg
Sometimes I see ravens at home, but they looked tiny compared to the Yellowstone Ravens. The ravens were fairly shy of people too.

The elk already had large sets of antlers. There was a pair of bulls that seemed to be sticking together. On the first day we saw bear, we kept hearing people mention the elk. We were much more excited by the bear. After it left we decided to take a look, the elk were very large and just laying there unconcerned with the human photographers.

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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Geysers and mudpots and steam, oh my!

Since this was new to all of us, we had to visit all of the typical geothermal tourist places. Tasha (almost 9) was really excited about the idea of mudpots. I'm still not sure why. Chris decided that after a while it all seemed the same and wanted to hike. Renae and I were fascinated. We talked about what this place must have been like (and maybe still is) to the Native Americans. So much power in the landscape. We talked about building the trails through boiling, steaming, changing land.

I do prefer the forests and wildlife but there is something magical about Earth's raw power uncovered. I couldn't forget that we were walking on a volcano. I like the uncertainty; the reminder that as much as humans can do we are still very small. That has always reassured me, I guess because it gives me hope that no matter how destructive humans get there is power greater then us.

Mammoth area - Terraces and travertine

The hot spring spreads killing trees


Close up of travertine

Norris area - Amazing colors

A new geyser starting up?
It's splattering on the walkway

Dragon Hot Springs,
rumbles from the cave sounded like a dragon to me.

Old Faithful area- an active and strange landscape

Old Faithful

Paint Pots - Tasha's favorite

Tasha and Chris

Boil boil toil and trouble

(You can click on any photo to see it larger)