Inward

Hi hi hello from two hermit crabs. On week 4 of quarantine we ventured outside for the first time, to a place far away from anything or anyone to breathe the air, wade in the cold clear river and stand silent in the sun.

As an intensely-inward person I have not struggled with staying in our home during the quarantine. I like being in our hermit crab home with all of our things around me. However, I have really missed being in nature. The weather is turning nicer each day, and I wish to be outside.

We left the car at a divet off the road, marked with a pile of bleached elk bones. A clamber through bush and saplings delivered us to the river. We followed no real trail, just a walk through the cottonwoods and grass, always on the lookout for animal track and sign.

We saw –

  • teeny tiny red fox tracks
  • wandering coyote tracks
  • ruffed grouse tracks
  • a crow, dancing in the dirt and then wing brush where it took off
  • possum tracks with their alien-like dropped thumb
  • a snake (!) track, my first time seeing one
  • an adult eagle and juvenile eagle, and their nest

It is hard to describe how heady and intense the air smelled to me, after so many days indoors. The cottonwoods are budding out, and the entire place was thick with the fragrant, resiny smell of the trees and the marshy mud smell of the river bank. The wind was whipping over the river but the sun warmed me through-and-through.

We explored the banks of the river and the shoals, wading through the cold waters over slippery river rocks. I left my shoes on and let them fill with the water, squishing it between my toes. I think in today’s world, where there is a feeling of being far removed from nature, there are few times where you feel truly alive in all of your senses. Standing in the river with the sun beating down and the wind running by, it was easy to feel connected to all things. To see myself in everything, and everything in me.

As the sun began to set, the swallows came out to swoop and dip over the river as they fed. I picked cottonwood buds until my fingers were sticky with resin, packing them away carefully to make cottonwood salve for the future. And then, magic — dozens of swallows filled the air, coming together and then apart en masse, in a feeding swarm, in a ever-deepening blue sky. I stood and watched, bearing witness, without the need to try to record it or capture it, instead just holding it in my heart. A few minutes later, they were done.

I hope you know that in this strange crumbling time the world is still blooming.

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.