DAY NINE - Tuesday, January 1, 2013

LESS EXPECTATIONS

As today is my last day, I decide to sleep in a bit. A light snow has accumulated overnight but it's so powdery that I just blow it off my windshield!

I said goodbye to Chloe & Becky last night and they are now headed back to Missoula.

I have a lovely drive into the Park, in good light, allowing me to admire the scenery all over again. There are elk grazing all over the Gardiner River flats at Chinese Gardens. It's a really beautiful sight.

The flocked trees on the road between Mammoth and Undine are also really beautiful. New snow has the effect of "tidying up" the open areas, and it also covers up old tracks, allowing the deposit of new ones.

I stop at Blacktail Ponds and spend a little time watching two coyotes on the frozen bison carcass. I see bison and elk close to the road at both Phantom Lake and Floating Island Lake.

I get all the way to Slough without seeing any wolf watchers, so I continue into Lamar. I meet Marlene at the Institute. She is scoping the rolling hills behind the buildings. She says there are weak signals to the north for the Lamars today, but they have not yet been seen.

Rick and Laurie pass me going west, but I decide to drive east to have a last look at Round Prairie.

I find Kara here, still holding on to hope of finding the pups. A light snow falls. One of the three bull moose from the other day is still here, stretching his neck to browse pine needles. A coyote mouses in the open meadow.

It's a cold 5 degrees. I look around the beautiful snowy meadow, remembering the year when the Druids raised pups here and how I saw them playing here, in the snow, once those pups were yearlings.

It's hard not to be sad. We just want to see them again.

But in the end I take my leave, wishing her good wolf luck. I tour slowly back through the valley, saying a prayer for the spirit of the 06, hoping her offspring will find their way back home before Wyoming takes any more of its vengeance.

All my friends are spread out, trying hard to find the few wolves left on the northern Range. As I meet up with each one I say my goodbyes, until I find myself back again at Blacktail Ponds.

A single coyote tugs away, back legs balanced precariously on the carcass itself, front legs, head and neck deep inside the frozen cavity, gnawing and pulling for all he's worth. I have to admire his tenacity.

I stop again at Chinese Gardens. The elk I saw this morning are no longer grazing but bedded in the flats. Between their coat color and the high grasses, they are well camoflauged.

In a tall conifer, an eagle flies in and perches on a branch, plaintively calling. I notice what could be a nest in this tree and make a mental note to check this spot again come spring.

There are a few ducks in the frigid water and a group of pronghorn resting in the yellow grass, chewing their cud.

I sit in the pullout and talk with Allison. I tell her that almost all of my journeys to the Park have been joyous occasions, but this trip has been one of uncertainty. For the first time since I started coming here, I am worried for the future of wolves.

I know how rescourceful they are, and how hardy and capable. I realize that my real concern has to do with people. It seems that the states of Wyoming, Idaho and my own Montana are going backwards, ignoring science, giving in to hate and small-minded grudges. How do you convince people who seem to relish backwards thinking that balance is achievable?

Allison doesn't answer.

But Nature keeps going, so I guess I must, too. I need to recommit myself to advancing wildlife issues and make my voice heard.

I stop again in the great big lot just inside the gate, where I find 25 bighorn sheep: rams, ewes and lambs. As I head out of town a bit of wind has come up, along with some light snow.

I take Divide Road to Trail Creek and discover it is a shorter (and much less bouncy) road. I think it will become my default route except in very wet weather. I am glad to skip the Pass, as it looks cloudy and scary.

My last wildlife sighting is a gorgeous skunk by a fence post on Trail Creek road.

TODAY I SAW: bison, coyotes, mule deer, bald eagle, elk, 1 moose, bighorn sheep, a skunk and the spirit of Allison




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