Bicycles and Rodents

Road to Sky Ranch

   Sleep was sound, and good. Something in the mountain air does that to a person. I woke sore, but refreshed. The previous day's bicycle ride had somehow turned into a 55-mile round-the-park venture. Being out of bicycling practice and running the entire thing at 7,000 ft had whipped me. Thank god for steak dinners.

   I'd met Jamie Cornelius at the Murie Center the day before. We'd both been tipped off to one another's presence and talked shop awhile. She was knee-deep in some Red Crossbill tracking, but took the time to show me some data sets and even one of the tiny transmitters she used to locate the birds. She offered to take me out tracking, but I declined. After the last five months, I was feeling pretty well-steeped in the art of bird-inspired bushwacking.

   Thick clouds were building by the time I'd finished breakfast, but I set out north from the cabin toward Static Peak. The notion of setting out on foot from one's own yard was heartening, reminding me of my childhood wanderings in my own neighborhood back east. The trail went sharply up, following the stream that feeds Phelps Lake. Pikas ran across the rocks, shouting out in oversized voices. An occasional marmot appeared, looking like sturdy mountain beavers. The tower of clouds finally broke as I reached the top. I put on my blue poncho and meandered slowly down.

   A hot shower and strong black tea revived me. I sat drinking tequila and listening to Kestrels and Western Tanagers on the porch. Nate flipped through an atlas of geographical trivia, occasionally calling out impossible questions. "How many countries of Africa's 47 are landlocked?" (15).

   The cabin had the a perfect scent, that mix of pine and fireplace-smoked wood. From the porch one could almost always spot elk and moose crossing the meadow. The place was near perfect, and had kept me longer than I'd planned. In the morning, the light would creep over the valley and into my room, spreading across the bare wood floor. It would be time to go.

   Back to the lonely glamor of the road. On to Yellowstone, and Bozeman, MT.

Sky Ranch


Sky Ranch

Approaching the Tetons
   A place of tremendous appeal. The mountains rise like high cavalry against the flatness of the plains below. Six triangular titans of the west, slate-jacketed and crowned in white. They almost pierce heaven with the boldness of their verticality. Below their boundaries, down three small back roads is the Sky Ranch, my temporary residence. Frankie lives here among the Park Staff ("Parkies"), working a seasonal post with the service.

   I'd had a moment today where I felt the weary familiarity of the road and its beauty. I had felt through-and-through, jaded almost, with the splendor of the natural world. How perfect is this place for alleviating such a feeling. Under the mountains I can see it was only the feeling of veiled loneliness. Amazing, the forms it can take, how powerful it can be. Now, here, I am among the company of real friends after so long, and it has thrown many of those shadows away.

   The bike had nearly toppled over on the way in, catching its wheels in the gravel pits along the road. Riding off road on a street bike is rarely fun. I stopped on the way in to watch a Sandhill Crane (my first) and it's awkwardly-new fledgling.

   Frankie and I sat on the front porch with a couple of IPAs, trading histories and admiring the land. A deep howling chorus suddenly poured from the hills, growing thicker as more voices joined. These were wolves, I knew suddenly, true wolves, and they were singing. I could hardly believe it, having always wanted to hear the music of wolves in the night.

   On and on they went. We ran to town for a late dinner and one more beer. The wolves were there when we returned, still pouring their song into the dark. I sat captivated, letting it die into nothing before finally getting off to bed.

Frankie makes some life-saving steaks

Front Porch Pine
The meadow