What do Rattlesnakes and Snow Have in Common?

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As today is the last one in November, it is perhaps prudent to tell a rattlesnake story or two. Why now? Two reasons. I like to semi- follow protocol of many native storytelling traditions, where only certain stories can be told at certain seasons. Like fish stories when fish begin to arrive, or bird stories when waterfowl begin to migrate, or other when events occur that coincide together.  Reason two, this month reminds me of the time I saw a rattlesnake in November. Yep, November.

Interestingly, I had a doctor from back east call me up to inquire about going chukar hunting.  ” Have you ever been chukar hunting,” I asked.  “Sure have” he answered. “Then you know they are not like flat lander birds, but rather  like the precipitous terrain in nose bleed country” I continued. “Yep, I know, and am readily up for it.”

“One more thing”, he replied,  “I just broke my ankle about two weeks ago, but have a good walking cast.”  “Are you serious? ” I asked. He sure was, and talked me into letting him go hunting with his friend for a say on the steep slopes of the Salmon River.  So he signed up for a day trip on the 24th of November. There had been snow on the ground for several days, but some had melted off, leaving mostly pocketed patches that appeared  similar to what terrain with measles would look like.

When the day arrived for his trip, and we floated down to where we were to begin our climb for finding some birds, he hobbled out of the boat and tackled the terrain like a peg legged pirate. And, to my amazement, he actually made it to the tops of the ridges and outcrops his buddy and myself were traversing. Not as fast, but he traveled  just as far and hard, as we were pursuing birds. I was flabbergasted and always wondered if he had been using some super pain pills or something.

It was afternoon when we landed on top, where most of the birds were, and though it was freezing when we started our trip in the morning hours, it was sunny and warm by then.  Birds were taking advantage of open ridges where wind and sun had melted snow, where they could also look for foraging. But, so too, did a less likely critter.

“Hey, I found a rattlesnake” he called to me on the radio. I didn’t believe him, so told him to stand guard on the snake until I could get there. It took me a few minutes to reach them, but the snake was coiled, not moving, and just basking in the relatively warmth of the afternoon sun.  Sure enough, it was a rattlesnake. It wasn’t dead, just confused, I guess.  They should be following the logic of bears this time of year, but apparently  there is as much ignorance in rattlesnake world as there is in people world.

Most snakes like a little warmer weather than what November normally provides.  Like last year, when I was hunting with only one dog in October on another guided hunt.  A guest came along who has the sister (Izzy)  to my dog Ember. We had gotten cut off from each other  by going around in different directions around some very rocky terrain, cliffs,  and steep talus slopes.  All of a sudden Ember went on point about five feet in front of me. She was locked on chukars about 30 yards away.  But, for some reason I just happened to look down and see that she was straddle directly over the top of a coiled up rattlesnake. Adrenalin hit the red line in my survival meter. Instinctively, I pushed her forward as hard as I could, while at the same time jumping away from the snake myself.  It worked, and we were both spared a different ending to this story.

Fortunately, we don’t have Diamond Backs or any of the larger varieties of rattlesnakes on the Salmon River. They are Western Pacific Rattlesnakes, and most adults average about  two feet long. Their venom is also not as toxic as most other subspecies, but I still wouldn’t want to get bitten by one, all the same.   But, funny how everything on the mountain starts to look like a rattlesnake, once you have a close encounter with one.

We rarely see that many throughout a season, and I personally cover a ton of terrain, in all seasons, when not floating on the river.  And most try to hide, get away, and will only bite when threatened or mistakenly stepped on. Which reminds me of another story, but the timing isn’t right to tell that one.

Suffice it to say,  hopefully, by not killing any snakes (unless for food) I will continue with my appreciation for brother snakes  real value, and hope the feeling will be mutual. My practice is to live by the motto, ” I won’t hurt you, if you won’t hurt me.”  I’m not sure if snakes have ears, but it doesn’t require a set of ears to hear what I am saying.  Spirit talk requires only an open heart to be heard.

So before November slips away, I have to get this  time appropriate  story in.

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The Wolf Within

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On a winter hunt a few years back, I was high on a wind swept mountain top in the cold of early morning when I ran across some wolf tracks. My mission was to find a deer willing to gift me its spirit for food and nurturing my own spirit. But, I was not alone in this pursuit, as the large canine images in the snow indicated.

While some hunters hate wolves and see them as competition for the same game they are after, or as an evil impact to wildlife they value higher, I harbor no such ill will.  I am willing to share, and recognize that in the ecological scheme, predator prey relationships is the bottomline to how the world works, like it or not, denial or not.

Following the tracks for awhile and reading their story in the white landscape, my mind drifted like the snow. A faint memory thawed out in my semi-frozen brain and an old indian story came to surface. It seems that there was once and old grandfather who had two wolves inside himself that struggled with each other. One was filled with hate, anger, and revenge. The other was filled with love, compassion, and forgiveness. “Which one will win?” Asked his grandson. “The one you feed,” he answered.

Even Aldo Leopold tapped into the same earth wisdom when he said:”Harmony with land is like harmony with a friend; you cannot cherish his right hand and chop of his left. That is to say, you cannot love game and hate predators. ”

A Nez Perce elder once compared animals to human body parts, like fingers. Each finger represents an animal, and if you cut off a finger then that animal is lost. How many fingers are we willing to cut off before saying no? You can lose a few fingers, arms or legs, but at some point the damage kills you.  Each loss of animal is another step towards loss and diminishment of the whole.  All creatures are related and have their place for  adding diversity to the world.  Ecosystems that are healthy have no missing parts.

A rainbow, is not a rainbow any longer with the loss of even one color.  I prefer rainbows and the artistry of nature.

“The goal of life if living in agreement with nature.”
– Zeno

What Would Bambi Do?

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Self preservation is an innate survival mechanism in the natural world. As any new born fawn would do, stillness is the initial non-step on the path to longevity.  At least, until some imminent danger approaches too close, then the instinct of flight from fright takes hold.  The fawn in this picture was pretty exposed on a pathway I was walking along the Salmon River. It thought it was hidden, or at least tried to convince me of such, so I pretended not to see, while taking this photo. Luckily, I left it without disturbing, and discovered  later on my return hike back to my boat, that it had made its escape after I had gone.

It reminded me of another time long ago while on The Snake River in Hells Canyon. I was guiding a dory trip and had stopped to lead a hike for the guests in my boat that day. We made a side hike up a beautiful micro canyon, with a spectacular cathedral like canopy of trees, wading through a gurgling  stream with little waterfalls  to pass around. Once we got above the grotto, more open  slopes of bunchgrass and sparse hackberry trees met our gaze.

As I began to climb the steep  hillside, leaning into the extreme slope, something grabbed my attention when I began to take my next step. Thinking rattlesnake, as I was ever aware of keeping my eyes open for one (my own self preservation), suddenly there was a big commotion. Before I could even register properly what was going on, I miraculously was holding in my arms a baby fawn, only a day or so old. Without seeing it, I was about to step on it, when it decided it was time to move. But the slope was so steep, the poor little thing stumbled and fell backwards, landing in the middle of the danger it was trying to get away from.  Me.  But lucky for it, I was not the big bad wolf.  One of the guest took a picture of it, then I let in carefully down to the ground and it scampered away faster than greased lightning.

It made turned my day into Cloud Nine, all day long afterwards, and turned into a life long memory.  Nature is so wonderful.

Chukar Elk Paradox

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While hunting chukars on a recent “hike your butt off” climb, I ended up seeing more elk in bird habitat than chukars. The next day I went big game  hunting, and saw more chukars in elk  habitat than I did big game.  It wasn’t the my first time to see deer and elk in chukar habitat, as they do share the same range grasses, forbs, and browse during the winter.  But it was the first time I had seen chukars in dense forest of mixed conifer (Doug Fir and Ponderosa Pine) with Ninebark/ Snowberry/Oceanspray thick shrub understory.

I have seen chukars in areas with sparse trees and edge-line forests, before,  but not that far away from what I always thought of as prime chukar habitat.  (300 yds from nearest bunchgrass slope). They were in 6 inches of snow and trying to get out of the 20-30 mph hour winds that was also freezing my body parts, too. So I thus learned another lesson from chukar world.

Apparently, their behavior (hunkered down to get out of the wind) made more sence than mine – hiking around in the middle of it all.  That is part of the problem of having a higher brain.  Our supposed smarts sometimes gets in our own way.

Do Fish Sleep, or Do People Care?

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Do fish sleep? Well, if they do, they do it with their eyes wide open.  But hey, that isn’t much different than the mass public. Most people run around with their eyes wide open, but seeing very little.  When fishing slows down, like it has for steelhead this time of year, it might appear that fish are sleeping.  But, like people, they may have their eyes open, but things don’t register. They move to deeper water and let their slower metabolism rule their world.

Same thing with people. It appears we are sleeping too, when considering all the bad politics happening all around that in the final anaylsis has a huge impact to the foundation of planet earth. You know, like habitat. The habitat of fish, wildlife, and people.  Black Friday, is a great symbol of humanities blind spot. We run around shopping in a pyranha like frenzy, with a one track mind for the best possible deal. Unfortunately, the best deal is a ruse of short range thinking, running around like a chicken with its head cut off, and not looking far enough ahead for the true cost of ignorance.

Some of the  things that get by our attention (ignor-ance) are issues like globocop belligerence; decay of civl liberties; phone tapping, (diminished liberty);  holy war on the poor and middle class (99%ers), where lop-sided tax structure favors elitism; insider information available legally only to politicians;  privatizing schools and many other things  to make  more room for  for future development and farther out-of-reach of the general public (less access for fishing and hunting; less habitat for the benefit of fish and wildlife)…in short.

Yes, when a fish sleeps with its eyes open, it might still get snagged by the lure it doesn’t see.  People are the same way. If we enjoy nature, fish, or hunt, and don’t pay attention to all those shinny lures flashing along side of us, sooner or later one will snag us and be to our sorry detriment.

Perhaps the reason people have eyelids is so they really can sleep and get some rest from all our earthly woes. Then when we do open our eyes, we should pay attention more to our peripheral vision than just focusing straight ahead.  For it is in our peripheral vision where our blind spot lives, which can hide the on-coming trains that we don’t see coming down the track.  There are many trains. Pay attention. Be conscious? Don’t sleep with your eyes wide open. Everything is here.  Are you?

Thanksgiving Turkey Chukar Dilemma?

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Sugar:  Did you say turkey? Opps, my bad

Happy Hunting Thanksgiving Style

InSpired

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Funny how the mind works, and what things trigger it into the direction it takes.  But no matter where you go, it always goes with you. Ok, sometimes when high on a cliff side hunting chukar it might seem like you have lost your mind. Especially when you choose to take the more dangerous route rock climbing with all fours to save time, as opposed to the safer, but longer back-tracking route, does craziness begin to register.

But the other day when I was out in the middle of nowhere hunting chukars, I saw a huge spire that had always been visible from the river, but I had never seen before. At least, not until I saw it from a different angle and high advantage  on an opposing hill where it became much more noticeable.  It added to the feeling that I had entered some mysterious fantasy world, where it might even be possible there could exist some sort of  chukar hobbits.. I was inspired. OK, oxygen depleted.

In addition, it added to the wonderful feeling of being far away from civilization where one can still appreciate the value og undiluted purity of air, where it actually pleases the lungs to fill at full capacity. What a great place to escape the woes of our more populous industrial pollutions of the  world.  Or so it seems.

This isolated feeling triggered my mind to go back to a long ago memory of a similar time in another remote region of neighboring canyon country. I was guiding for Grand Canyon Dories, and it was my turn to kick back, while other guides took guests on a hike in Hells Canyon. I chose to enjoy my brief reprieve sitting in my dory boat floating around in a large eddy above Granite Rapids.  It was so cool. Every view was awesome, and bobbing around in the dory made me feel like a much closer part of the river.

Having always been active in fighting for various fish/wildlife/land and water issues over the years had been taking a toll on me. I always thought back about what Aldo Leopold (father of wildlife management) said about biologists (which I had trained to be): “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make-believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”

Everywhere around me I had seen that as human numbers increased, habitats for fish and wildlife were diminished. Subdivisions subdued winter ranges, industrial smoke stacks dim visibility, hamper breathing,  and on and on.  I was tired of being like an ecological doctor and so had checked out mentally of paying attention to the politics of the day. I did not watch tv or  read newspapers for over two months time,  and tried to avoid encountering anything negative caused by humans by escaping to the natural world. So, sitting in that eddy, alone, in my dory, I had found paradisiacal freedom.

But, then I had a semi-epiphany. What if I continued on to  live in my dream world, not paying attention to what the outside world was doing? What could be the harm in that? Well, people could be making decisions that could lead to damming the river I was on, then my paradise would come crumbling down.  Could I make a difference? How could only one person make a difference?  Then I thought about the impacts of Rachael Carson and her book Silent Spring.  She alone helped birds of prey by fighting the pesticide industry through her words and action. Every persons vote counts, because ultimately, it only takes one vote to break equilibrium.

So, it was time for me to start paying attention again, to the politics of people and our effects on the natural world.  Thus is the medicinal value that wild places bring to peace of mind. We need these places to at least temporarily escape the harshness of the everyday routine of scurrying around trying to make a living.  And to think, all this cerebral rambling inspired by one spooky spire on the slopes of the Salmon River.  From chukar hunting to river running, my convoluted thoughts continue to swim in the eddies of my mind. No matter where I go, the center of my circle is everywhere. Once I get my medicine I can go anywhere to be everywhere, and somewhere to be nowhere.

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