Wild Idaho #4

Red-Winged Blackbird

Yellow-Headed Blackbird

I see you.

Lizard. Do you know my name?

These pictures were taken at Derkies. We walked back to a marshy area and our ears were filled with the songs and chattering of these two beautiful blackbirds. There is something about black contrasted with a flash of bright color – stunning! Swallows were dipping back and forth across the water, and some sort of water loving, sleek brown mammal was scurrying within the reeds, never letting us get more than a glimpse of it. Lichen covered rocks. Craggy cliffs. The green of spring. A nature walk right in town.

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North Cottonwood Creek – Again

Another post from May – all part of my catching up because I’m a very bad blogger.  Bad blogger. Bad.  Anyway, more from North Cottonwood Creek.  Beautiful!  I just love the sweeping views of land and sky.  Many people are sure to think these photos uninteresting and nothing out of the ordinary – but that’s not the point here.  This is my backyard.  Your backyard if you’re from Idaho.  And your backyard if you look at the world as an open adventure for all to take part in.  These views of sagebrush, hills, basalt, willows, sky for miles – this is familiar to me, it’s comforting, and it’s beautiful.  Enjoy!

More:  North Cottonwood Creek

More:  South Hills

© 2008 Idaho Explorer

Long Time, No Write

Wow, I can’t believe the last post is from May!  Sorry for the unplanned absence.  All I can do is get posting again and hope I keep it up!  If you’re at all interested in what’s going on in other parts of my life, you should go to Media Knits.  I post there semi-regularly. 

So for lack of knowing where exactly to start,  I’m going to travel all the way back to May for some pics taken at and around Shoshone Falls (Snake River, Mule Deer, Unidentified Reptile) – so many photos taken of that place, but it’s never not beautiful. Enjoy!

A Bit of Here & There

 Here’s a few of the places we’ve been as of late:  Boating on the Snake River by Hagerman (mid April)…

 complete with beautiful waterfall.

 A windy day at Milner (early April) – just part of a drive while Collin snoozed in the back.

 Complete with Oregon Trail ruts (gives me chills!)…

 …and little graveyard with weathered wooden tombstones (gives me chills of another sort).

A day out at North Cottonwood Creek in the South Hills (one of a few already) – end of April. 

 A burst of red.

Greening up. 

 That burst of red again with a crumbling creekbed behind it looking in poor health.

And complete with a big black widow in a hole in the ground with its metallic blue pray in the bottom left-hand corner.  I’ll admit it, my hands trembled a little as I took this picture, and for some reason, I wasn’t aware that they lived right there on the surface – in the top of a hole in the ground.  Made me look twice before I took each step.  Black widows are quite beautiful looking, though, with their glossy almost plastic looking bodies.  One time, we found one living under our couch – that gives me chills too!

 More:

North Cottonwood Creek in the Fall

Everything South Hills Related

Everything Snake River Related

Everything Hagerman Related

© 2008 Idaho Explorer

Snake

Here’s what we found in our backyard at the beginning of this month.  It’s a gopher snake (a.k.a. bull snake).

Unfortunately our dogs found him first.  They were barking like crazy at something, but weren’t getting near it.  Chase and I, with Collin in tow, went outside and got the dogs in the shop.  The snake was very scared (poor thing) and had a tooth mark hole a couple of inches from the back of his head.

Chase managed to get him in here (quite impressive considering snakes make him a wee bit nervous).

And then in here for safe transportation.  We got in the truck and drove around ’till we found a suitable place for the release.

Bye bye snakey.  I hope he lived.  I have no idea how serious that sort of wound is for a snake.  It was pretty crazy to have him in our backyard.  I mean, he’s pretty big and we do live right in town.  He must have surpassed a lot of obstacles before the dog encounter.  It’s always good to remember that wildlife is all around, even in our own backyards.  What sort of encounters have you had?

Want to see more wildlife?

Wild Idaho #1 – American Goldfinch

Wild Idaho #2 – Mule Deer

Wild Idaho #3 – Red-Tailed Hawk

Tracks in the Snow

Winter Birds

© 2008 Idaho Explorer

Rock

‘Melon Gravels’ by Riley Creek at the Hagerman National Fish Hatchery

I just love these basalt rocks that litter much of the landscape near and in Hagerman.  They were deposited by the Bonneville flood (so interesting!).  Collin and I meandered through the rocks looking at red ant hills, lichen, moss, rockchucks, and of course the melon gravels.  Chase, meanwhile, was sturgeon fishing with a friend of ours – no luck this time.

© 2008 Idaho Explorer

Ice

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Yesterday was a beautiful, sunny day – albeit an icy wind.  My mom suggested we take a drive to the Salmon Tract, visit old haunts.  I grabbed my backpack and filled it with the usual things:  binoculars, mittens, diapers, field notebook, first aid kit, snacks for Collin, and enough field guides to way it down more than necessary.  Into the car goes Collin and I and we head down a few blocks to my mom’s. 

We pull up to the front of her green, Dutch Colonial Revival, shaped sort of like a barn.  A weather-vane sits on top, a whale with it’s East and West incorrectly placed.  My mom is kneeling down on her sidewalk, cleaning out the flowerbeds in anticipation for spring.  Her crocuses are in full bloom – yellow, purple, and white.

We head out via Blue Lakes South (the only name I’ve ever know for it).  It’s a familiar road in many ways – present and past.  I can see my younger self in a red Nissan Sentra, my mom at the wheel.  I am either sitting shotgun or in the backseat with my sister Dana filling up the vice versa.  It seems like a world ago, sort of like I dreamt it up. 

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Here we are though, in my Subaru Outback, winding around the road, a left turn and it all comes into view – a fragment of our history.  For my mom it fills up a much longer time-frame.  A right turn and we’re passing my Aunt and Uncle’s house, a bit further down the road is a white house.  I lived there when I was just one year old with my seven siblings and a dad and my mom.  We moved not long after my first birthday, but there we were. All together. A family.

A little further down the road and a rock house comes into view, surrounded by trees.  A pumice driveway leads up to the house.  The rock and pumice all come from the hills.  The house belonged to my Grandpa and Grandma.  My mom and her three siblings grew up there.  It was also ther, that my mom, Dana, and myself would return to in 1994 from Arizona.

I was eleven, but I had a second childhood out in the open spaces that surrounded this house.  Back in the city, were some siblings I was separated from, but I was also removed from family turmoil – now left to melt on the desert floor among the saguaros.  I felt a sense of freedom, of safety, of simpler times.  There were moments when I hated this isolated place paved with gravel roads.  I sometimes craved the city lights and sounds through my window – soothing me to sleep.  But with time, that all faded, and the starry night and coyotes became my lullaby. 

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In a clearing among a patch of trees, there lies an animal graveyard.  It’s dedicated mostly to orange cats with the name Gatsby – Gatsby I, Gatsby II, Gatsby III. 

There was a blue robin’s egg in an abandoned army bus serving as another sort of graveyard for broken copier machines.  My uncle Ellis was a brilliant tinker-er, and these were his, some of many that filled an even larger graveyard in which there were also old farm machines, old cars, and other related farm parephinilia spanning many years and lives – now a part of the landscape.  I held the fragile speckled egg in my hands, then gently placed it back in its nest.  I learned soon after that the mother bird would now abandon this egg laced with my human scent.  I felt forever guilty until I learned even later that this was a myth, probably told by mother’s who didn’t want their children touching things that could carry diseases.

I remember purple plums hanging from trees.  Orange apricots laying on the ground.  Fuzzy, yellow caterpillars covering the porch.  About a hundred red tulips circling a large box elder tree.  Peeling white bark on a cutleaf weeping birch.  Red crabapples hanging over a “secret” garden.   

There was a white owl who lived in a long stretch of trees that I imagined was a forest, as it was thick enough not to be able to see the fields stretching out to the right.  I believed that the owl was a snowy owl, but I have since learned that they’re pretty rare around here.  I still believe that’s what he was.  One time, in 2004, I got permission to go out there and collect owl pellets for an Ecology class in college.  I was all by myself inside that little forest.  I heard a rustling up above, and there, outstretched above me was a large snowy white owl taking flight.  He was so close overhead, I felt the wind from his wings sweep my face.  It was if it had happened in slow motion.  My chest swelled as adrenaline pumped through my veins.  There he was the owl of my youth (or a descendant) letting me know that some things stay the same. 

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The house now belongs to a cousin of mine and his family.  I can’t help, but sometimes feel like it belongs in a small way to me still, and that I belong to it.  We left it though, in the summer of 1999.  We had a need to leave.  We just couldn’t be there at that time. 

In September of 1998, Dana celebrated her 18th birthday – a senior in high school.  That December, seven days before Christmas, she was killed in a car accident.  Shock.  Disbelief.  Emptiness.  Sorrow. 

In January, my Grandpa (Papa) passed away.  A struggle.  A farewell to a long life.  A passing of knowlledge and history.  A young girl and an elderly man.  We left the house, we left the Salmon Tract, and we moved into town. 

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When we drive down that road now, the floodgates are opened.  We don’t say much about it though.  The feelings are too intense and any conversation might get too heated.  For my mom, it goes further back, this being where she grew up – where her mother lived.  We reach the end of the road, and with a right turn, we move on.

***

I seek nature.  I had planned on getting to some place out there the whole time.  My mom, on the other hand, was just thinking about a little drive.  We head to North Cottonwood Creek road, but it is closed until the 15th for the sage grouse and mule deer.  So we go instead to Salmon Dam to see it in its icy splendor.  It’s beautiful of course.  Brown sand, blue water, then white ice – the sun reflecting off of its shiny surface.  Big rocks and snow covered hills surround the reservoir.  Red-tailed hawks and ravens soar above us as we climb around the rocks.  Dark-eyed juncos flit around on the ground.  The icy wind stings our ears, but the sun shines warmly.

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The ice is melting.  There are cracks breaking its surface and ice chunks floating by the shore.  Spring is coming and soon boats will be navigating the ice free water.

Winter is moving on. 

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We head home, distancing ourselves – if only physically – from a space in time.  From our past.  From a part of ourselves. 

© 2008 Idaho Explorer

A Snowshoe Adventure – Our First!

Chase Looking Like a Seasoned Snowshoer

 

Me, Surviving the Cold

There’s a quiet solitude in the snow covered backcountry. One experiences a feeling of isolation as sound is muffled by a thick white blanket of snow. The only noises to break the silence are the “caw caw” of a ravens silhouette, and the eerie creak of a lodgepole pine bending to the will of an icy wind. On a recent trip to the backcountry however, I was not alone at all. Trekking through the snow with me were my husband, Chase and our dog, Bruce on our first time walking with snowshoes.

These snowshoes were gifted to us – by us – for Christmas. I was very excited about this purchase as it would enable me to explore areas that I wouldn’t be able to get to otherwise (considering I don’t have cross-country skis, nor do I own – or have any wish to own – a snowmobile). My favorite thing about being outside is simply that – being outside. It thrills me just to be looking, observing, walking about or sitting still. There’s lichen spreading out on the surface of a volcanic rock. Sculpins feeding on the bottom of a turbulent creek bed. Bees buzzing around lupine and buckwheat, while sage wrens flush out of a community of sagebrush and greasewood. So much beauty to wonder and be amazed at.

I can’t help that the aforementioned nature occurrences tend towards warmer weather enjoyment. The truth is, I’m not a snow bunny, as it were. The cold has never been my friend, in fact, I think it’d be fair to say that I hate the cold. This is perpetuated by the fact, that if in the cold for a very short time, I am quickly utterly miserable. Let’s use the walk from my front door to my car for instance. This is a short distance, perhaps a whole 12 feet at most. By the time I’ve reached the car door I am frozen, like water into ice. My fingers redden and sting as they transition into numbness, causing me to fumble my keys as I try to get the dang car started and the heater going to thaw me out. Chase attributes this to me just being a wuss (he does work out in the cold after all) and you may think the same. But I stand by what I say – I hate the cold.

I blame the bulk of my wussitis on having lived in Glendale/Phoenix, Arizona from the ages of five to eleven. The bright sun with its warm rays must have seeped into my bloodstream. When I returned to my birthplace of Southern Idaho in 1994, I had only one pair of pants – some blue jeans with a rather large Mickey Mouse on the front of one leg. I was doomed to suffer the cold from the start.

So back to snowshoeing. You’d think that with me being a cold phobic that spending a few hours trudging around in the snow at the height of winter would so not be for me. But as I stated earlier, I love being outside. Snowshoes would allow me free reign out in the South Hills that I cherish – a great opportunity to see the changes that winter has made on a once familiar area. You can see from these past adventures (here and here) that we have been to the hills in their snowy splendor, but without the means to explore further, we weren’t able to venture far from the road. Snowshoes make that possible.

We headed out to the Rock Creek Recreation Area and chose the first trail we spotted, as the roads were covered in a thick sheet of slippery ice. Whalstrom Hollow (topo) was the trail that became the testing grounds for our first snowshoeing adventure. Chase made sure I was bundled up under many layers so as not to get cold. He carried a heavier than necessary backpack that I filled with binoculars, a bird book, a mammal field guide, a tree identifier, my field journal, hand/toe warmers, extra layers, compass, ponchos, snacks, emergency blanket, water, pocket knife, first aid kit, carabiners, pencils, neck warmer, safety whistle, flint, signaling mirror, waterproof matches, GPS, camera, toilet paper, and no doubt more! We only used a few of the items so I suppose I need to learn to pack lighter – the field guides really add weight! We strapped into our snowshoes as Bruce wrapped his leash around our legs attempting to trip us up and pull our arms out of our sockets with his eagerness to get going. Once we headed up the trail a bit, we set him loose to his own devices.

The trail is a nine-mile loop that zig zags uphill. Here’s an excerpt from Ralph Maughan & Jackie Johnson Maughan’s Hiking Idaho to give you an idea of all it has to offer:

Extraordinary desert stream to mountain habitat with volcanic rock formations and beaver ponds. The South Hills were created by volcanic action, and this hike takes you through welded volcanic ash deposit formations (tuff) that have eroded into hoodoos and pinnacles. These ash deposits are capped with black basalt cliffs at the top of the loop. Consequently, there is not only interesting geology but a variety of flora and fauna as you start out in willows and sage, top out in subalpine fir, descend through aspen and beaver ponds, then drop back to the trailhead through red rock and hoodoos.

Of course all of that was covered in about two feet of snow or more, but beautiful all the same.

The hike proved to be quite a workout for the both of us (especially for out-of-shape me), but the snowshoes were very easy to use. They felt like a normal extension to the feet and I could hardly even tell I was wearing them. We both got tripped up once or twice though, by getting our own shoes crossed or stepping on each others (totally unintentional :). The worst fall was of my own doing. On the way back down, with momentum set to work, I somehow just barely crossed my shoes and ended up laid out flat against the snow without even knowing what was coming to me. I laid there, head at a lower angle than my feet, surprised that I wasn’t upright – it happened that fast. We had a good laugh at my expense. Indeed, we shared many laughs as we romped around in the snow like children – throwing snowballs and sliding down hills. We only ended up going a half mile up and then again back down (the descent being a lot quicker of course). We were getting pretty close to spent endurance-wise (terrible I know) and we needed to get home to our little one.

It was so great to be out of doors in such an amazingly beautiful setting. Snowshoeing is the perfect activity and I can’t wait to go again! I plan on completing that loop and getting to many other places as well. And if you’re wondering how I fared in the cold – you might be surprised to know that I was actually warm, in fact, even hot at times. Though a bit of snow blown onto my cheeks quickly reminded me how cold it truly was. But I can handle it.

More from the South Hills

© 2008 Idaho Explorer