It’s amazing how much has changed in just the past week. The snow atop Cha-paa-qn Peak (a Salish Indian term meaning treeless or shining peak) west of Missoula has already diminished in depth, while some of the trees here in town are just beginning to bud. South-facing lawns are greening up, their north-facing cousins still looking a little sickly. Daffodils and crocuses are on the cusp of becoming something beautiful.
I had dinner with friend Robin last night, who reported seeing her first osprey of the season, “Oscar”, on her lunch hour walk yesterday. “Oscar” sets up shop with its mate atop a nest surrounded by a wire-fenced enclosure, sharing habitat just behind left field where the Missoula Osprey baseball team plays its home games.
A few days ago, Robin’s Rattlesnake Valley neighborhood church had its garbage cans ransacked by a rambling, hungry, fresh out of hibernation black bear. Every week now, more and more wild residents are reappearing, such as flocks of violet green swallows I witnessed ten days ago, swirling above the Clark Fork River in a snowstorm, catching and eating God knows what, and resting occasionally in barren cottonwood trees.
That same night, red-winged blackbirds hunkered down in coral-colored willow stands on numerous river islands, waiting for the same storm to pass, while a year-round resident, a great blue heron, stood silently by the water’s edge, intent on catching dinner.
Last Sunday, mountain bluebirds flitted between trees on the south face of Mount Jumbo, meters away from sagebrush buttercups glowing tenuously close to the ground. Two meadowlarks called from atop a massive ponderosa pine tree, unseen to half a dozen folks craning their necks to glimpse Montana’s state bird.
An hour earlier, we had watched a lone bald eagle soar above while we were lounging on Jumbo’s broad and open summit, catching our breath after slogging in snow up the mountain’s forested north face, snow riddled with tracks and scat from deer and elk, their scent still lingering among the lichen-draped conifers.
Another friend reported seeing about 50 elk not far from home in Lolo, and watched several coyotes trying to spook and run down some resident mule deer that same afternoon. Two weekends ago, during a snowy cold snap, gray wolves were chasing white-tailed deer not far from a subdivision south of town. I haven’t heard of any cougar sightings lately, but stay tuned…
It’s hard to believe that all this is happening in a city of 60,ooo in a county with 100,000 people, but wildness surrounds us, and in spring, it’s impossible not to notice. Everything and everyone seems to be on the move again. Spring is here, and we’re not the only ones emerging from a long winter, full of new promise, potential and possibility.