Your Life Nature

Connecting You With Nature, No Matter Where Your Feet Are

Category: Nature Essays

It sure ain’t deep winter anymore, but it’s hardly spring, either.

Earlier today I stopped by a place that carries my cards and larger images in Missoula, the Bitterroot Flower Shop on South Higgins Avenue. I didn’t expect to be seduced then and there, but it didn’t matter. I was entranced and immersed in one sweet intoxicating moment that lasted an eternity.Who the hell cared anymore that it was hovering in the upper 20s outside, with skiffs of fresh snow accumulating on north and east facing aspects of buildings? I sure didn’t.

What hooked me? Orchids. Their fragrance, their vibrant and vivid colors,  they got me good. Eight hours later I still have that primordial scent and image on the brain, reminding me that spring is surely coming, that it’s a good time of year to leave behind some things that no longer serve or fuel me, and to let those things become fodder and sustenance for all that is beautiful and wonderful that is to come.

The following entry is a bittersweet and timely one, given the slow but sure transition now underway from winter to spring in the northern hemisphere. This is one of the hardest things I have ever written and also shared, yet I find great comfort from doing so in the closing words of Christian Huygen from his poem “Five Easy Peaces”.  Simply put, “Everything is food”.


It was early April. I rambled through a remnant pine and oak forest in a place called Deep Run Park, with my good friend Beau, who was a little over nine years old at the time.

Damp, rotting earth and the smell of new, green growth reawakened childhood memories of growing up in central Virginia, when trees and forests and creeks and fields appeared so vast and untamable that they went on forever. But in these remaining woods, it was hard to tune out traffic snarling along suburban parkways marking its perimeter.

This is what struck me most about visiting this place, after not having lived here for nearly a decade. Peace. Quiet. Being fully present and focused in one’s natural surroundings. Things easily accessed and experienced growing up here, yet now hard to find. The woods still had a palpable and primal pull on Beau. His entire 120-pound frame suddenly energized and captivated by a scent, he pulled harder and faster on his leash, lurching toward the source of the smell. Before I could intervene, he discovered and proceeded to roll over a no longer identifiable dead animal. After his bonding ritual with the carcass, he sniffed, then sneezed, and waded chest deep into a briny creek. Beau crawled out and dropped to the ground, rolling in mud that clung in large clumps to his dripping, auburn coat. I laughed and smiled and shook my head, knowing he would equally relish a garden hose bath back at my Dad’s house.

I saw Beau one more time, when visiting family in December the following year. Beau was nearly 11 years old. He had lost 30 pounds and grayed considerably, his arthritis preventing him from getting up or walking much anymore. It was crushing to acknowledge we would no longer journey to our suburban sanctuary together, to walk, to fetch small logs, and to soak up the senses of what had first brought us here, when Beau was a big-footed, unruly and exuberant four-month-old puppy.

My solo walks that December were lonely and inward, mirroring the early winter landscape of soggy leaves and barren trees. It felt empty and strange not being tugged to investigate something along the wooded trails.

I walked more slowly than was ever possible with Beau, and paused more often, as if collecting fresh experiences, memories and scents to take home to him to remember.

The last walk before returning home to Montana was the hardest, knowing that the next time I visited, Beau would likely be gone. As with Beau’s impending death, I did not want to face what had happened to the spirit of these Virginia woods, which had ignited and fueled my passion for untamed places. I cried, not only for Beau, but for the loss of a once beautiful place, where kids and dogs could run and play in a landscape wild enough to inspire and enlarge their imaginations. I did not want to face the future, a future without Beau, without these woods.

I stopped to sit on a decaying oak log where we had often stopped to rest, wiping the tears from my eyes. A sudden flash and whoosh of red and brown and white caught my focus, as a red-tailed hawk landed on the top branch of a dying old oak tree. She perched there silently for several minutes, scanning for field mice, voles and rabbits, intently ignoring suburban distractions on the edge of her home territory a few hundred yards away.

In that instant, in watching that age old ritual, I felt a grain of hope. Beau would never return to these woods, but other rambunctious dogs and kids undoubtedly would, if we protected and connected what was left of them. I drove back to my Dad’s house and sat beside Beau, and told him about my walk and the hawk I had seen that day. I think he was listening. I think he understood. I think it made him happy.

The World of Yellowstone

A tour group I accompanied on a mid-winter trip to Yellowstone had been phenomenally blessed. We had seen bison, elk, moose, trumpeter swans, wolves, and many other wild creatures, and were treated to a major eruption of Grand Geyser, not too far from Old Faithful. It also snowed heavily for two of our six days there, turning the park into an even more deeply surreal winter wonderland.

As we departed the park for our final night together at a hot springs resort south of Livingston, Montana, one guest remarked aloud, “I wonder what’s happened in the world since we’ve been gone.”

“The world of Yellowstone?” I playfully answered.

She did not comment further until the farewell reception that evening, when recounting our exchange to the larger group and the other two guides. Receiving such an unexpected reply, she said, made her reflect upon her connection to wild places in a new and different way. The wild and the “civilized” worlds bring innumerable gifts to all of us, she added, but ultimately, their mutual survival is interdependent and intertwined, and far from guaranteed.

Later that night, she shared how much she already missed Yellowstone. I nodded and smiled and hugged her as she wiped the tears from her eyes, tears triggered by Yellowstone’s wild spirit, following and beckoning her home.

Welcome to YourLifeNature.

Welcome to YourLifeNature. As a former Luddite now embarking on a techno-savvy 12-step program, this site may take a while to evolve, so come back often to see what’s new in terms of ramblings, photos, links and other items. Tonight’s posting is my first blog entry, but to get a better sense of who I am and where I am coming from, click on the About section and read on…

From time to time I intend to publish a story from Yellowstone and other wild places rather than social commentary, nature notes, journal entries and other ramblings. The following, “Death Takes A Wapiti” was inspired by a mid-winter driving and wildlife watching trek  four or so years ago  in Yellowstone, the world’s first national park.


The early morning streaked and striated sky glows like a hearth of red hot coals against the winter blanket below. Several bull bison loiter in a roadside pullout, their exhalations heavy and steaming in the chill air. Eerie calm and quiet prevail. The only sounds are the clicking and croaking of a pair of mated ravens, the tapping of woodpeckers on nearby snags, and crunching noises made by boots on snow as I rustle around to stay warm. The crisp smell of freshly fallen snow on sagebrush pierces the air.

A massive six point bull elk, or wapiti, staggers toward the road after struggling up an embankment. Every step looks labored, deliberate. The bull looks left, revealing encrusted lacerations arcing from below his right ear to the top of his sternum. His coat is mangy. His eyes appear weary, as if autumns consumed by thwarting challengers from breeding cow elk in his harems were now fading behind him.

His injuries most likely stem from facing down the resident Leopold wolf pack, or perhaps the Nez Perce wolves, also hungering for vulnerable elk. Cackling magpies and gathering ravens stare from glacial boulders as the bull crosses the road to feed on a snow-free slope, the smell of impending death looming, luring the lone wapiti and the scavengers together.

I drive on, wondering whether by nightfall a 600-pound carcass will appear out in the sagebrush flats that will stave off starvation for other wildlife in Yellowstone. The next morning I scour the area from Lava Creek to Blacktail Ponds for telltale signs of death. No mobs of magpies or ravens lingering, no blood or bones or tufts of fur scattered in the snow, no coyotes nervously snatching chunks of meat while watching their backs for wolves.

Did the wapiti wander away from the road to die? Did he encounter the Leopolds a final time? Did he survive somehow, only to die another day or another season? More snow and the shifting of seasons will surely bury the clues to his fate. Yellowstone’s dance of death and life endures, indifferent to the concerns and dramas of its human observers.

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