Animal magnetism

Nearly 20 years ago I had my very first encounter with a bear while living and working at a canoe base in Northern Minnesota. The camp is on located on an island and one summer day a black bear swam the channel, then lumbered its way too close to the communal kitchen.Screen Shot 2013-09-14 at 9.13.02 PM

Much of the summer programming at this camp was devoted to taking inner-city kids on nine day trips across very remote terrain. These kids were so out of their element that encountering a bear might have traumatized them for life (as if the cyclonic clouds of mosquitos hadn’t already). Then again, it could have been the most amazing treasured experience. Either way, the bear needed to go.



Some sled dogs lived nearby and the owners agreed to let them loose on the island with the idea of chasing the toothy fur-ball away. I don’t know whether it was learned behavior or instinctual, but within moments of being let go, the dogs were off!

I, in utter exuberance and admitted foolishness, launched into a full sprint after the lot. Bear, huskies, and freshly-initiated-into-wilderness-20-year-old-Josh all crashing through the brush with complete abandon and total disregard for life and limb. It might be the most alive I’ve ever felt. Very primal.


Mama moose in Glacier National Park

That summer I had intimate meetings with beaver, moose, bear, walleye, heron, eagle, the haunting loon, and an irridescent dragon fly landing on my ajna chakra, or third eye.

With the North Cascades as my stomping grounds for the past ten years, I may have had only as many wildlife sightings in total as I did that entire summer. Its kind of odd when you think about it.


Herd o’ Bighorn Sheep


Two rams showing off

In contrast, during a recent trip to Montana’s Glacier National Park, my wife and I viewed grizzly, bighorn sheep, moose, marmot, mountain goat, bull trout, ptarmigan, whistle pigs, and various wild birds. It is so expected that you meet wildlife on those alpine trails that all hikers could technically be considered armed and dangerous given how much pepper spray was slung at their sides.


Glacier’s Grizzly

So, it begs the question: why are some areas more conducive to healthy herds of large animals? Is it that no dogs are allowed in National Parks? Judging by the way my border collie has chased a ten point buck into a split-rail fence or careening herself into a boulder and losing a toenail in the process of trying to nab a marmot, I’d say there could be something there.


Montana marmot

I think it has much to do with open corridors of land; land not chopped up and fenced off. In Montana there is free ranging cattle. No surprise there right? Along with Wyoming, it is quintessential western cowboy country. But what I didn’t realize until this trip was that the cows are literally grazing right up to the edge of the road. This gave me quite the startle in the dark from behind a bug splattered windshield!Screen Shot 2013-09-14 at 9.36.01 PMHow refreshing, really, to have a “proceed at your own risk,” atmosphere. In other words, “don’t be an idiot!” Also, refreshing for the cows, to have a lack of barbed wire or electric fence. If I were them I’d rather be “at large” than confined in a feed lot!

The geology of Montana’s mountains is layered to say the least. In climbing terms it would be called rotten as you never quite know which hold is solid and which could give way. Because of this, many of the slopes follow an angle of repose, or somewhere between 30-45°. This uniformity and the broad glacially swept U-valleys (a la Yosemite) also allows for better wildlife spotting.GPuvalleyIn the Pacific Northwest, there is an effort to clear streams of blockages so that the native salmon can run up river and safely spawn. It will be a good day when we restructure our boundaries to live in coexistence with the large migrators and predators once again.

4 thoughts on “Animal magnetism

  1. p.s. We spent 4 days at Glacier at the beginning of August. Incredible. Lots of wildlife, like you said. Hiked up to Avalanche Lake, which reminded me a lot of Upper Copper Basin, and also up the the lookout over Mirror Lake above Logan Pass. Lots of mountain goats up there.

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