We Need To Talk

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Listen we need to talk. It’s about this clock thing, the setting it back an hour that you guys do every year when it starts to get cold. I know I’ve heard some humans talking about it as they walk by. How it makes it dark at 3:30 in the afternoon and it’s still dark when you get up in the morning. It really causes us a problem. See it doesn’t matter to us what your clock says. We get up when it’s light and we go to bed when its dark. It’s an agrarian thing. Unless of course we ‘ve been eaten by something during the night, then all bets are off.

I’ve got kids, three of them. Solenoid, Nodule and Edna, the triplets. Yeah I know, I was lucky, but even so that’s the last time I’m going out with that smooth talking buck from Loveland. The point is though, they’re all just one year old and don’t have the brains god gave a toaster, but they’re good kids. The problem is now that it’s night way early for you folks, you’re driving in the dark earlier, the visibility is dorked, and my goofy half-witted kids are standing on the side of the road, in the road, in the ditch ready to dart out whenever a synapse fires in their tiny little brains and you’re tooling along thinking about dinner or whatever and there’s my little ones in your lights.

Yes, the obvious answer is “Hey! don’t stand in the road.” There is an answer for that and it’s a function of what makes us Mule deer. We’re prey animals. We exist to feed other animals up the food chain. Cougars, they’re the really mean ones, Wolves, not too big a problem unless you live in Yellowstone, Wild dogs, a problem anywhere, and unfortunately you guys. Yes I know, you don’t start home with the idea of hunting and killing us, or even hitting us for that matter. Many of you don’t want to, just because of issues with your insurance companies. But because we are prey animals the safest places at night or the edge of it, dusk, are open spaces like meadows, those flat grassy places behind high schools with all the white lines on them, yards, yards are nice, and the open areas along the roads you guys use to get where you’re going. Shoulders, verges, bar ditches, medians, berms, especially at night, that’s when the creepy things are out to get us so it’s safer to be somewhere where we can see for along way.

I’ve been asked “Why then, do you run into the path of the oncoming traffic, I know you said your kids are dumb, but wouldn’t it be better instead to race back into the shadows of the forest, eh?”. Therein lies the very answer to that question. The forest isn’t safe at night. Safe from you maybe but not from the dark evil things that like to eat us. Some of you have also driven into the forest with what I believe has been the express notion of getting us, and if all those trees hadn’t stopped you, you would have. I don’t why you do that. The end result is still a broken vehicle and the same insurance issues, but you’re the smart ones, so we have to defer to your ultimate wisdom.

My little ones had a near death experience the other night by running out in front of this 18 wheeler. Luckily the driver was able to lock it up and not hit them. I asked them why they did that and their answer was, “the other side of the road was the only thing they could see in all that bright light so they went for it.” We don’t have the ability or the spatial recognition to judge the relative speed of an oncoming vehicle, especially in the dark, so our threat assessment is all screwed up and we become 100 lbs. of ground round before we can get out-of-the-way.

What’s the answer? Simple. Kill all the cougars, wolves, bears, and wild dogs so we can stay back in the woods. That would be cool. If that doesn’t work for you, slow down. Watch for those deer on highway signs. Did you know they were put there because a deer was killed there. We’re creatures of habit. One of us getting taken out doesn’t change the fact that we’ve been using that crossing since before a road was there.

Yes I’ll talk to the kids again. Nodule shows some promise, but the juries still out on Solenoid and Edna, so I don’t hold out much hope. But I will try. Meanwhile put yourself in my place. Cougars and wolves on one side. 3000 lb. unyielding metal monsters that wouldn’t recognize a Mule deer if it slammed through their radiators. Give us a break please. Seeya in the Spring when they put the clocks back to normal. If we make it. Ciao

Ghost Along The Yellowstone

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If you’re lucky enough to be up along the Yellowstone river as it flows through the Hayden valley right now you’ll see the last remnants of the snow pack slowly melting away. It’s been nearly hip deep for months and now it’s about gone. This is where Otter creek joins into the Yellowstone and in the past it has been a place where the Hayden valley wolf pack has had a den.

At this time of year unless the weather is bright sunshine this long sweeping bend in the river is shaded by large pine trees and with an overcast day like today it can look pretty forbidding. It’s perfect for wolves however. They come and go silently, moving from one shadow to another like ghosts. The den is very likely tucked in under a boulder or dug into the side of a low-lying hill where the pups can come out and play on the loose dirt in front of the den, yet skittle back in if a low flying eagle happens by.

Being placed back in the ravine means that whatever would approach the den site would first have to swim the Yellowstone which at this time of year means a very cold crossing and they would still have to deal with the pack once they got to the den. It was a good choice to have it there.

This is one of the adult members of the pack returning from visiting an elk carcass the pack brought down several days ago. She stops and watches the watchers before disappearing into the gloom of the ravine. That den is inactive now. The wolves have moved onto another place equally remote and hidden to raise another litter. Fortunately there are lots of places like that in Yellowstone. Hidden, remote, distant, just right for the young ones to grow up into young adults. If we’re lucky we’ll get a chance to see them too, maybe even see their offspring but we’ll have to be extra lucky for that.

Wolf Wild

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Some years ago, well ten to be exact, the Hayden pack had killed an elk along Alum creek. This was before the authorities began removing carcasses from being viewed from the road as a form of crowd management. If too many people stopped and watched the pack feeding on the carcass then there were traffic jams, crowd buildups, and rangers had to be sent to the scene for crowd control. So they began hauling away the carcasses to be dumped somewhere out of sight. Another opportunity to observe animals in their natural environment doing what animal do was lost. But money was saved and they could lay off some of the rangers so the balance sheet looked good.

Those were simpler days, before budget cuts and the natural fun aspect of the park was lost. When the rangers were more like teachers and helpers and founts of knowledge about the park and its residents, than like policemen who were more concerned with citations and keeping a tight control over the citizenry. Sometimes back then, to everyone’s surprise, folks chanced across a kill and could watch the natural course of events unfold in a civilized manner and no rangers were needed to police the area. It was a visual participation where you felt as if you were part of the activity. A respect was granted to the animals involved and to the other observers. No one ran up to be closer to the action. There wasn’t any interference with the wolves feedings, they basically ignored you. You just reveled in being part of the scene unfolding before you feeling like you were very fortunate to be able to witness nature at work.

This was the dominate female of the Hayden pack back then. We watched her walk along the ridge line, drop down into the valley where Alum creek flowed into the Yellowstone and approach the carcass along the creek side. Before long another young female approached and with submissive behavior politely asked if she could join the grand dame in her feeding. The pack leader graciously allowed her to and the two worked at reducing the nearly consumed carcass down to nothing but hide and a few bones.

This wolf is not with us any more, she  was apparently struck by a car and killed sometime later. But she lives on in the memories and photos of those who were lucky enough to have been in her presence for a brief while. The simpler days are missed. It isn’t often today that you get to witness the wolf wild and up close.

 

Road Trip

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Every once in a while we take a chance here at The Institute and do something really nice for our employees. This year we shut The Institute down completely for the entire holiday season, banked the fires, put the computers in standby, turned off the electricity to the fence, turned our livestock loose to fend for themselves, gave all of our interns a bus ticket to the last place they remember being from and The Institute went into hibernation until the New Year’s bells rang.

Now we are ramping up again. Everyone is slowly trickling back from where ever they spent the holidays. Just yesterday the bright, shiny, baby blue bus that the Sheriff’s department uses to transport prisoners hither and yon, hither being County road 56G where they cheerfully spread blacktop for the entire fortnight of the holidays, and yon, back to the tent city up near the Soapstone Wildlife Preserve where they ate sagebrush and tried not to freeze to death, dropped off the interns and two of our PhD’s that had spent the Christmas holidays in the bosom of the Larimer County Work but not release program.

Fortunately our critical employees like our chef returned a day early to get the fires built back up again. Of course he returned because we kept the back seat out of his 1968 Buick Boattail Riviera as an incentive to come back. You can not find replacements for those anywhere, I don’t care if you look on Craigslist, eBay, AutoZone, or any junkyard from here to the Philippines, they’re just not available. It’s good to see that coal-black smoke roiling out of the commissaries chimneys again. It won’t be long before the scent of coal fires and Lamprey stew and frozen dinners will coat the buildings with a thin layer of grease again. I know some of our interns cannot wait. Which is good because they’ve already chewed so much bark off the aspen I don’t know what the elk are going to eat this winter,

Our Chief of Security was also an early returnee. She had to put new brushes in the generator that keeps the fence electrified and to test fire the AR-15’s that were stored in the gun locker. Plus she just likes shooting stuff and it’s difficult to find a place where you can discharge automatic weapons with impunity. Our med staff came back because there would be a lot of cases to treat amongst the returning interns due to their living rough as they call it. Rashes, bites, broken teeth, infected tattoos, malnutrition, loss of key parts of their bodies from unknown incidents, bruises from manacles and restraints, loss of body hair from attending New Year’s parties, colds, hypo and hyper thermia, hearing loss from listening to Mother’s and other loved ones telling them to get a real job, acute disorientation, many terrible nearly untreatable diseases from those who traveled outside the country to their home of origin, and sea sickness. Our med staff is ready, in fact some of them were walking around with their rubber gloves on already.

Our animals got time off also. The wolves went up to Yellowstone to visit friends, the grizzlies that watch the far-flung perimeter of The Institute had reservations at Sandals again this year. They just can’t get enough of the Turks and Caicos, Saint Lucia and Antigua. Our resident Elk herd made the short pilgrimage to Rocky Mountain National Park to see the in-laws. Our own Bighorn Sheep herd went to visit cousins and other extended family down in the Black Mountains near Kingman Arizona. They’re a little late checking in but they were sighted on Highway 34 near Allenspark just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park where they were going to stop for a night to see friends and drop off a few Desert Bighorns who wanted to see the park first hand, or hoof as it were.

It’s always a good feeling to get The Institute back up and running. Soon we’ll be having our meetings, setting agendas and summer trips schedules, putting the interns back to work with planting and watering and hoeing. They’ll be getting that lower 160 acres planted to Rutabagas again and be busy stirring up the carp ponds. Fresh fish again, they like that. We here at The Institute hope your holidays went well and you’re back in the grind with a fresh mind and rested feet. Drop us a line when you’re not busy. Let us know how your holidays went. We’ve already heard from Aunt Pheeb. Uncle Skid got out of Rikers in time to make it home for Christmas. She didn’t even know he was in New York, he had just gone out for cigarettes, but that’s a story for another time. Have a good New Year.

On Duty

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This is a coyote pup. We didn’t get his name, we barely got this picture before he ducked down into the grass and was gone. Just to the right of this image is a large jumble of rocks all piled on top of each other. There are brambles and mountain mahogany and other plants growing all over and around them making an almost impenetrable barrier keeping everyone one out except Mom and the oldest of the pups.

At first glance this doesn’t look like prime coyote nesting area. Usually the dens are dug into a hillside on the many sunny-sided slopes throughout the park. Lately however there has been a change and  now the coyotes have been denning in the roughest country they can find. The entrance to this den here in Brambleville is so cunningly hidden, that even though hours were spent here photographing this coyote family, we still could not make out where the actual entrance was.

The reason for this abrupt change in coyote behavior is not readily noticeable to the average observer. But then the average observer has probably not seen a wolf pack digging up a coyote den and methodically killing everything in it. I know, there’s going to be a collective gasp from the general population at the thought, but this is Nature, and it has different rules than we do. Even though coyotes are the “Hey! Can’t we all just get a long?” bunch in the canine family, wolves aren’t. They’re more the “Alright people listen up. We told you once this place ain’t big enough for the both of us, so here’s the deal. We ‘re going to hunt you down and wipe out every last one of you, no exceptions. The only exceptions are those of you that can get out of here before we get to you.” and that’s that.

But coyotes are not dummies. They’ve managed to survive every bit as long as the wolves and they are nothing if not adaptable. So they change where they put their dens, they teach the oldest pups to stand guard and they hunt and bring back food for their young by using a different path each time they leave and return and by being very careful.

This young coyote has been taught well and saw us as two-legged wolves and in moments was gone leaving behind nothing but a small bark of warning. The pups didn’t show themselves for twenty minutes or so but then Mom returned with takeout and after giving a little sound of all clear the pups came out and Mom divvied up the food and stood watch while the kids ate. She wasn’t worried about us but she never let up searching the surrounding area for the wolves. After everyone ate their fill she sent all but one down the coyote hole and left to hunt again. This time junior stood guard in a place where we couldn’t get a clear picture of him. But you knew he was on duty.

 

Flash Frozen

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What we have here is a very strange and unusual sight. Many of you out there in reader land, not being buffalologists, do not know that there are several type’s of Buffalo in Yellowstone park. The Institute in its quest for knowledge and a new way to twist the facts for our own ends, have discovered a hither to unknown variety of buffalo which we have named bison bison congelata which loosely translated from the Latin means “one frozen ass buffalo”. We apologize for the rude language but the Latin’s were a crude people, not withstanding the fact that they could speak Latin, which now-a-days would make them really smart.

What makes these buffalo different from your run of mill buffalo that brings traffic to a stand still while they lay in the middle of the road chewing their cud like big fat lumps? Well for one, they’re cold-blooded. That’s right, just like a lizard, or a snake, which in certain light and after a quart of Everclear they have been mistaken for. We have had interns screaming “Snake, Snake!” when it’s only been one of these buffalo. But then we have had that same intern screaming “Buffalo, Buffalo!” when it has been a snake so take all that screaming with a grain of salt.

Scorpions are also cold-blooded creatures which will sting you stupid with their poisonous tail but so far our researchers have not ascertained whether this new breed of buffalo can sting with its tail or not. We know for sure that when they’re active they can flat stomp you into the ground then hook you if they see you twitching. But so far no stings.

This particular buffalo has been caught in the classic dilemma facing all cold-blooded creatures. When your blood runs cold natures’ defense is to get you somewhere warm, otherwise your blood congeals to the point of peanut butter and it can no longer flow through your body and keep you active. As the blood cools and congeals cold-blooded creatures begin to get muddled and forgetful, often misplacing things like their car keys or that Post it note telling them to get somewhere warm before it gets cold. Then they become completely immobile, literally freezing in place.

That’s what has happened here. This cold-blooded buffalo had been crossing the Gibbon river to get to the warming shed before the temperature dropped any further when he made the classic bovine mistake. He stopped to eat some of the grass there along the river bank. Stuck his big fat head right into a clump of buffalo grass. There you are, game over, the temp dropped and that was it. Dumb mistake, but remember the muddled part, which probably played a big part in its becoming Flash Frozen.

There’s no fixing it now. These guys weigh in at about 2000 lbs so you’re not going to be dragging it off somewhere. Plus you’d have to get in that water which right now is very cold and if you didn’t bring waders and a come-a-long you’re not going to get much done. However all is not lost here. Being a cold-blooded creature as soon as the sun comes out in the morning he’ll start to warm up, finish chewing that mouthful of grass and be on his way. That is if the wolves don’t find him during the night.

This is a worrisome thought for the buffalo as he is not dead, he is just temporarily frozen, he can hear, probably even see even if he can’t turn his head, so the night is long and filled with terrors if you’re a flash frozen buffalo. We had heard the pack howling earlier but it seemed a long way off. They probably won’t find him.

The Moral of this tale is, “Pay Attention. Keep an eye on the weather. Don’t lose the damn Post it. And don’t believe everything you read.”

 

Pancho And Lefty – Standoff At Cascade Creek

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As the tale goes the Cascade Creek pack had killed a cow elk a couple of days ago. The carcass lay upon a gentle rise out in the meadow about 150 yards away from the highway. It had been worked over pretty good by the pack, plus a grizzly that came in and stripped a lot of the big bones that were still heavy with meat during the night. A four hundred pound elk doesn’t go very far when the big boys start feeding.

Soon the carcass had flattened out so that it was barely visible above the snow it lay upon. It looked as If there wouldn’t’ be anything left for the pack when they came back to feed later in the day. But that didn’t mean there wasn’t still sustenance to be had. There was marrow in the smaller bones that hadn’t been carried off yet. The hide could be licked and chewed on for the blood. There were still parts left to eat.

Pancho and Lefty were the first to arrive. As young bucks in the pack they were always hungry and wanted to get in there and get what they could before the Alpha and his mate showed up. There wouldn’t be much chance to eat once he arrived, he’d decide who ate and when, or even if, and his mate wasn’t any easier to get along with.

As luck would have it the Raven Clan had moved in and assumed control of the kill. They were pretty amped up as they had just driven a Golden Eagle off the carcass and they weren’t about to give up their prize without a battle.

At first glance you would believe that it would be a pretty unequal fight, what with the wolves being 100 lbs plus and the ravens weighing about three, three and a half tops, but size can fool you. Sure the wolves had pulled down a four hundred pound cow with very little trouble and they could easily snap a raven in two with those powerful jaws, but first they had to catch them. And the ravens had one point in their favor. Wolves cannot fly.

The ravens also had those long pointed beaks. They could peck at a massive bone until they cracked it to get at the marrow inside. It would not be too troublesome to take out a wolf’s eye if it came to that. So there you have it. The wolves surveyed the situation deciding on how much energy they wanted to spend evicting the squatters and the ravens knew that if they were tenacious enough they could pester the wolves into leaving. It was the standoff at the Cascade Creek kill.

Finally the wolves decided that there was enough left on the carcass that it would be worth the battle. They charged into the flock repeatedly, the ravens would lift up just out of muzzle range and settle back just as quickly once the wolf went after another bird. It looked like they could do this all day, but the wolves being wolves were still hungry and they didn’t let up. Finally the Ravens called a truce and moved back out of lunging range, content with nipping in and stealing little morsels that were dropped by the wolves. The wolves tolerated this until the Raven would get too confidant, then they would make short lunges to run it off.

The one-sided battle went on for several hours until the wolves had eaten their fill and wandered off to find a resting place to settle in and sleep off their meal. The Ravens knowing this would happen moved back in on the carcass and went to work. This was just a battle, the war would go on for as long as there were wolves and ravens. Right now it was mostly a draw.

Pancho and Lefty were lucky. They had the kill to themselves for much longer than usual and they did not waste the opportunity. They ate as much and as quickly as they could. The Alpha and the rest of the pack had slept in and didn’t get there until much later in the day. By then most of the drama was over. The carcass was just about picked clean and it was another day in Yellowstone.