Spring Comes to Skookumchuck

Spring is perhaps my favorite time of year. I love this transitional space between the long cold days of winter and warm, full golden days of summer. Spring with its rains and storms, with its winds and feeling. Ever-changing spring. I always love to be outside, but it is during this season I start to get an itch, a feeling of needing to go out and about.

We have such beauty around us. About an hour southeast lies the beautiful Skookumchuck river and premier elk hunting grounds in Washington state. So far, we have visited a few times and I look forward to more exploration.

The steelhead were running the first time we visited, so we had plenty of company with people fishing off the banks and rocky peninsulas. We followed the river for quite a ways, and saw plenty of elk and beaver sign. We also had the pleasure of watching a dipper pair bobbing and dipping in the river. They also flew back to their nest, which was cleverly concealed in the end of a downed log. I very much enjoy dipper birds! While I wasn’t able to get any photos of them, this video demonstrates their dip.

The next time we went, we decided to head upland – away from the river – to investigate some prime bear and elk country.

To get back in to the forest, we started up an old logging road that eventually dead-ended in a lush forest. This is the type of forest that I know and love – lots of conifers and cedar with thick underbrush of fern, salal, Oregon grape, trillium, cleavers, herb Robert, youth-on-age, etc.

I love these old logging roads because there is always plentiful sign. Animals repurpose old roads for their own use. We saw lots of side trails running off through the trees, and lots of old coyote scat. I thought for sure we would see bear sign but we found none in the area.

It is clear that the elk are happy here. The day was full of elk sign! Back in the forest, we got on and off elk trails, some of them massive. I wonder if they live in one big super-herd or if there are smaller communities of them. I also am curious how the hunting season affects their behavior.

huge elk highway that we followed

Already I can’t wait to go back!

Start Where You Are

 

When I first started tracking, I didn’t know how to see the signs around me or read the landscape. I didn’t know how many toes in the front versus back a rat had, or a rabbit. Gaits, or an animal’s locomotion, were a complete mystery. Pat would show me the tracks, sign and trails that he found, but I struggled to ‘see’ them when on my own.

More than anything, I wanted to have a connection to the land – one where I could understand the ebb and flow of life all around me, where I saw the rhythm and swirl of Nature. Tracking, to me, is engaging in conversation with the landscape. It is the combination of a naturalist understanding (‘this animal makes this track’, or ‘this plant is here because..’) with total engagement of the senses. Of dissolving into complete awareness. 

One of our Cyber Tracker evaluators told us that tracking is simply a ‘conversation between you and the ground.’ I liked this phrase very much; it symbolized how we can get caught up in our minds so easily with doubts, fears, fantasies. Especially at a time when you are learning and developing. But tracking is simply you taking notice. You and the ground. Everything extraneous falls away.

I realized that to be a wildlife tracker, or any type of naturalist, I had to just start. To begin where I was, with my level (or lack of) knowledge and experience. To practice, build, learn, grow….accept my mistakes and failures, and begin again. And again.

It seems to me that most of life is like this. You have to get comfortable with the process of resurrecting. Of rebirthing yourself into new roles, new ideas, new skills. To start where you are, and proceed.