I awoke this Sunday morning slowly, and went to the bathroom. While I was doing my business the door cracked open. My soon-to-be nephew was peeking in the door. He is almost three, and no one else was awake. I informed him I was busy, but that had no effect on him standing in the door. After finishing up I realized that he was running around the house in the buff, having ditched his PJs in the middle of the night. Oh well. There are worse things when you’re three.
He took turns bothering his mother, and bothering my fiance and I by jumping on the bed in one room and then running to the other. There was no sleeping in.
This particular Sunday, as all of you know, was Mother’s day. I came downstairs to find that all the mothers, for various reasons, were taking care of the kids and also failing to sleep in. To ease what I felt was some sort of small violation of the cosmos, I went to the store to get ingredients for French Toast so I could make everyone some breakfast.
On the way there I was disappointed to see a Redwing Blackbird and a Pheasant within easy range of my camera. Alas, I had left the camera at home. I wanted to go outside.
I grew up with no siblings, and just my mother. I am used to quiet and tranquility. The typical noise and close quarters of any other family makes me tired, even though I enjoy it.
To ease the unrest that inevitably comes with long stints of socializing, we went for a Sunday drive. East of Blackfoot, Idaho there are a lot of back roads, ranches, and what most people would consider to be swaths of nothing. We decided we would take these back roads, and head to Gray’s Lake Wildlife Management Area. With any luck, we would get to see some cool waterfowl. During the entirety of the drive, we were surrounded by Sagebrush. The Sagebrush Steppe ecosystem looks as though it would be good for a background in a Spaghetti Western, but not much else. Interspersed among the Sagebrush sea are Aspen groves that serve as habitat for all sorts of creatures.
The trouble on the range is not the want of good wildlife viewing, there’s wildlife everywhere if you are willing to stop and look. The trouble is invasive grasses and the human psyche. Anything that increases the frequency of fires kills Sagebrush, which is eventually replaced by Juniper trees. The Juniper stands are inevitably more eye catching than Sagebrush, and people don’t even notice that one of the most iconic ecosystems on the planet is disappearing before their eyes. When I am old this Sunday drive might be a distant memory my grandchildren will only read about.
After driving for an hour, seeing deer and a coyote, we came upon a steep hill with a jeep trail leading up to the top. The Montero made it up without a problem, and there were Bald Eagles riding the air currents up top. There were Ravens chasing the Eagles, and any other bird that happened to bother them.
We came over the crest of the hill, and quickly discovered why the Eagles and Ravens were hanging around. The hillside was covered in grazing sheep with their newborn lambs. Blood still stained the wool on the ewes. Bald Eagles are large enough to hunt lambs, but I imagine they are more content to scavenge for the still born.
Our encounter is an example of how hard it is to make a living out here, human or otherwise. In fact, the only people that seem to live in this area are ranchers. Some homes are boarded up, while other have windmills and solar panels. It’s rugged here. We like it.
At some point we got lost. Not truly lost, but we weren’t entirely certain where we were either. In such pretty country, with so much wildlife, it wasn’t a problem. I was content to wait and see what we would see next. We noted that there were lots of deer here, and it might make a good place to go hunting this fall. I think the deer knew this too, as they were all especially wary. At this time of year it can be hard to tell what the make-up of each deer herd might be. The males are just starting to regrow their antlers, and the females are getting ready to have their fawns. If I had to make a bet, I would think most of the groups we saw were young males. In any case, all the deer sightings precipitated some strife in the vehicle. Couples should not have to share camera lenses.
I was getting more and more excited about everything we had seen that day, and mistook a very fat Marmot for a Badger, an embarrassing mistake to be sure. The mistake lead to us getting out and exploring. We discovered that the Marmot den was adjacent to a hot spring! Well…lukewarm spring anyway. Many of these lukewarm hot springs are home to tropical fish in Idaho. Troubled fish owners with nowhere else to turn often release their unwanted fish. Ecologically, this is a conundrum. The fish cannot leave the spring and invade surrounding streams because the water is too cold, but they can alter the water chemistry and introduce new bacteria to the spring. Many of these springs are studied by microbiologists, and some of these sassy little microbes could become new bio fuels. I’d rather the fish and their various micro-fauna stayed in their tanks at home.
We made it to the lake right at sunset, and were desperately snapping photos of this and that. Sandhill Cranes are nesting this time of year, and Gray’s Lake was infested with them. We vowed to come back next time we needed to unwind to take some more picture or go camping. We lost the light quickly, and drove home in the dark.
There was no moral at the end of this day, just good time spent and memories made. If I had to try to make a moral up it would be, “get out your backdoor and go.”