31 July 2009

Dino Bones and Rank Feathers

IIII ) llllll Dino Bones and Rank Feathers (30Jul09)

0916 Pitsiiksiinaakaawahko, Snake Coulee, or at least that which I know, at the conjunction of the St Mary's and Old Man, where there are at least two hibernacula of the prairie rattlesnake. For obvious reasons, I opt to wear my hiking boots rather than the more comfortable sandles I'm accustomed to in this season

0928 In winter, with the pond frozen-over, this is my favorite stomping grounds, as full of life as anyplace can be in the cold season. But my visits here become less frequent after I see the snakes emerge, and pick back up in fall, when I watch them return to their den

0932 Today I'm here to photograph some of the plants that only grow on the coulee slopes - ma's (prairie turnip), yellow violets, evening stars, pincushion-ball and prickly-pear cactus, all the stuff I haven't been covering in the phenology class these past few months because it can't be found at the pond. But I secretly hope, while doing so, I might encounter one of my slithering friends

0948 As I start down the slope, I suck on a few of the citrus-flavored sumac berries, growing now in ripe red clusters, and note the recent flowering of both the broom- and gum-weed

1027 About half-way down, I come upon an old goose nest, situated beside a little shrubbery at the top of a cliff. There's large egg shards all around, and coyote dung right on top of the nest, leaving little mystery as to what happened here

1037 Just before I reach the bottom of the coulee, I walk along a small badlands exposure, shades of purple and grey that remind me of places I've found dinosaur bones before. No sooner does this memory cross my mind, than I begin to see that this whole shelf is littered with fragments of ancient reptiles, whole vertebrae and shards of larger bone

1110 Finding dinosaur bones brings out my inner child, and I spend the next half-hour or so gathering up some of the purple shards and lining them up against the contrasting green badlands clay for a picture, pocketing just a couple of the nicer vertebrae to take home and show the girls

1142 Walking through the forest, down to the river, I'm hit with a sense of loneliness. Though I'm very familiar with this place, I've been a stranger here since winter, and am completely out of touch with the unique dramas the residents have lived this summer. Moreover, owing to a knee injury, Piipiiaakii couldn’t make this morning’s trek. I've become so accustomed to having her with me from our visits to the pond, nothing is the same - as exciting or vivid - without her

1155 Just when I'm feeling most lonely, walking along the river's edge, past the large beaver lodge caked with new mud, I notice a strange hum in the air around me, growing louder and louder. Then I'm overcome with a terrifying realization - I'm being swarmed by bees, I've hit a nest. Its happened to me many times before, and I know there's no time to waste. I break immediately into a full-out run across the river cobbles, and don't even look back until I've gained a some real distance. The bees are still coming, so I run some more, and when I look back again they're gone

1232 Hiking the rest of the way upriver along the bank, to the path that would take me back up to my truck, I’m surprised to find not a single goose, merganser, goldeneye, pelican, or any of the usual waterfowl of the river. In fact I've seen very few birds today at all - just a few wrens, catbirds, flickers, and western kingbirds

1242 On my way back up the coulee side, I finally find a couple examples of the ma's I'd come here looking for. Each of the plants was stunted, already seeded-out and drying. I also startle a couple meadowlark fledglings into flight, practically stepping on them before they flee. One of the parents, upset by my intrusion, follows me almost the rest of the way up, flying from sumac bush to sumac bush giving a chirping alarm call

1950 Woke up from our afternoon nap to find the sky had filled with clouds, rain, and lightning.. Came out to the pond regardless. Though we won't be sitting, we can at least take a little walk

2025 We walk lengthwise along the west side of the pond, to check on the currants (which are still producing lots of ripe berries). The southern coot baby is alone. His parents either left altogether or are really keeping their distance. The main lodge beavers have been putting wood up over the mud patchwork they laid a few days ago above the south entrance. And a great blue heron is hunting the south shallows tonight

2029 Its fun to watch the gosling family when they’re going to rest on their island. Before stepping on land, they group together right off-shore to preen and wash themselves. It reminds me of the way we brush our teeth before going to bed. I can just imagine them saying, “Hey, don’t think you’re coming to lay beside me with your nasty’ol, rank feathers. Clean yourself up”