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Hoodoo Basin…an Eerie Place and a Story

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View from a peak in the Basin

It was June of 2012 when a man approached me on the top of Dead Indian Hill asking for directions to Parker Peak. At first I was perplexed where this Peak actually was. There are a lot of famous Peaks in the Greater Yellowstone that people come to climb. Parker was not one of them. Then he explained it was at the end of Sunlight road in the Park and I knew it was in Hoodoo Basin. He had a strange urgency about him, and seemed driven by an unseen need to get to this insignificant peak. 

The hike to Hoodoo Basin, where Parker Peak and Hoodoo Peak form part of the bowl, is epic. I’ve been wanting to do it for ten years from the end of Sunlight Road., and finally completed it this week. It’s six hard uphill miles and 2500′ gain to the Park Boundary. Then another five miles of high meadows and up and down to the campsite below Parker Peak. The Peak is just a ‘run-up’, nothing special, except this year the only water source was a small pond generated by the last bits of a snowfield. The pond edge was laden with tracks of elk, deer, sheep and bear.

In the shadow of the eerie formations of the Hoodoos, I told my companions the story of the driven man who needed to get to Parker Peak (emphasizing Paaarr-ker said in an ominous voice). Based on some observations at the top of Parker, below is what I imagined his story might be….

See my notes on the Basin at the end of the Story…

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Parker Peak

Parker Peak….

I heard it held a mysterious Presence, a palpable vibration, an unmistakeable aura. Where I heard this, I do not remember. But it all began with the dreams.  The first dream was of a mountain made of crystals, a mountain that could heal. On the very summit of the mountain peak I saw, in my dream vision, a large petrified stump. I touched the stump and found its top was broken. I pushed the lid aside to reveal a hole that went deep underground. So I climbed into that dark hole, deeper and deeper, till I was within a maze of tunnels.  Almost spontaneously a little person appeared. I had no fear. It was if I knew this person, yet I’d never seen him before.

“Come, follow me” the little person said. He guided me through the underground passage, and although it was dark, a soft greenish-blue light emanated from his body, illuminating the tunnels. The little man stopped at a shaft of light that shone from an opening above. On the ground before us were bones, big piles of bones. A natural trap cave where animals had fallen inadvertently into from high above.

“Do you know whose bones these are?”

“No” I answered.

“Bones of animals past that once roamed these mountains. You were once here, hunting Short-faced Bears and Cheetahs.”

We continued on till the cave passage opened wide, revealing extensive views of deeply cut valleys and steep ravines.

The little man pointed. “This is the Center of the World, formed by Fire and Ice.”

I looked out over the land. It was dry, smoke was blowing in from different fires. The air was hot.

It was then I awoke in a cold sweat.

Using the Internet as my guide, I came to the conclusion that what I saw that had been formed of Fire and Ice was Yellowstone Park, and my viewpoint was Parker Peak. Parker Peak held a mystery meant for me to solve. Now I had to go there.

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June. I packed up my car and drove the twenty hours from Chicago to Cody. From my research, the shortest route to Parker Peak was from the end of a dirt road called Sunlight. It looked easy from the map, maybe ten miles. I planned on a day hike. I’d take some water and a lunch, hike in an out during the longest day of the year so I had plenty of daylight. Now just to find Sunlight Basin. I inquired at a Cody, WY gas station and they directed me to Chief Joseph Highway. The highway climbed out of the high desert into the mountains.

This must be it. I thought as I approached 9000 feet. I turned onto a dirt road near the top of the summit. I knew Parker Peak was around 10,000. Easy climb in and out I figured. The road ended after a mile and I saw a distinct trail. I parked and began my hike. It was then I saw two locals hanging around a sign that said ‘Wilderness Boundary’.

“Is this the Sunlight Road?” I enquired of them.

“No. Sunlight Road is another seven miles down the mountain.”

I told them I was off to Parker Peak from the end of the road for a day hike.

“You have to get past the Bear Gate, but that’s not open to cars for another month. So you’ll have an extra 5 or 6 miles of hiking to the Hoodoos. Why do you want to go there.”

“Just need to get to Parker Peak.”

“Well, you can’t make it in a day hike. Do you have bear spray with you?”

“Huh? Do I need that?”

“Big grizzly area back there. Lots of other peaks around here that are nicer and accessible now. Why don’t you go to the Beartooths? Or climb some other peaks in the Park? Parker is just a walk-up. Not that interesting.”

“Just gotta get to Parker Peak.” How could I tell them. They just wouldn’t understand the magic of this mountain. “I’ll come back in August.”

It’s been three years since that day in June and I still haven’t made it to Parker. But the dreams keep coming and someday, someday, I just know, I’ll get there.

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At the top of Parker Peak there is a large petrified tree stump. And the summit has rock striations made of clear crystals.

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The Hoodoo Basin is laden with chippings of obsidian flakes everywhere. My friends hiked up Hoodoo Peak, a scramble on talus which I do not like. Then they easily walked the ridge about 1.5 miles to Bootjack Gap, the passage between the Crandall drainage (Papoose trail) and the Park. Large obsidian pieces were scattered all over the ridge. Hoodoo to Sunlight and Miller Creek to Crandall Creek were hard-trodden Indian trails for thousands upon thousands of years. Native peoples traveled to Obsidian Cliff (and other cherished spots for stone to work) in spring to obtain new material for atlatls and later for arrowheads. Just like the deer and elk, they ‘surfed the green’ or followed the green-up, gathering roots and plant material. In the fall, they probably stayed in Hoodoo Basin to gather pine nuts from the Whitebark Pines there.

Today about 70-80% of those Whitebarks are dead, stricken down by beetles. (See photo below). The native peoples are gone, but the grizzlies are not and they are dependent on these nutritious high-fat nuts to make brown fat for the long winter. It was terribly sad to see so many dead trees, and once again made me think about the future fate of the grizzly with a delisting and subsequent hunt so close to being approved.

In addition to obsidian material everywhere, I understand there were at least forty wikiups observed by Superintendent Norris when he visited the Hoodoos or ‘Goblin Land’ as he called it.  These wikiups are no longer standing but still visible. I searched for them but was unable to find any, although I saw one that looked like a possibility. The wood would be down in a pile and very old. According to Orrin and Lorraine Bonney’s classic ‘Guide to the Wyoming Mountains and Wilderness Areas’, in 1880 when Norris and companions explored the Hoodoo area they

…found on the North side of [Parker Peak] a favorite campsite of raiding Indians with its commanding view of all approaches and handy striking distance to the high passes of Crandall Cr. He also found gory remnants of border raids–white folks’ blankets, clothes, china, bedding in & around the 40 rotting lodges. 

In the four days we were in the Basin, we did not see another person. The country was very dry, so this usual summer feedgrounds for elk were barren of elk and deer. Only old scat was around. We did see evidence of one grizzly bear and bighorn sheep. I also had an experience with five Short-eared Owls flying low over my head that rates among my top ten wildlife encounters.

It was an amazing journey. Worth the hard work.

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Park Boundary Line. Looking out into the Lamar Drainage

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Some of the Hoodoos in the Foreground. Hoodoo Peak in the background

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The Headwaters of the Lamar River. Smoke from fires makes the haze.

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Dead Whitebark Pines in the Hoodoos

The Mystery of Stockade Lake

Stockade Lake in the Beartooths is along a National Recreational Loop. At over 10,000 feet, the lake is crystal clear and very beautiful. Last year, a new friend 80 years old, a retired Forest Service employee, offered to show me an old stockade that lay in the trees on the southeast corner of the lake. In the 1980s the Service asked him to investigate, photograph and map the ancient enclosure.

Stockade Lake

Stockade Lake

All the Beartooth maps show a trail to Stockade via Loosekamp Lake. But there is an undocumented use trail that’s only a mere 2 miles directly to south Stockade Lake. We took that route and hopped the outlet.

In 1891, Benjamin Greenough, a cowboy from Red Lodge, Montana, stumbled upon this dilapidated wood and stone structure. Surrounded by remnant glacial lakes, the structural remains were assumed to be that of an old stockade. This observation was based on the roughly circular shape of the enclosure, the large, heavy logs used to form the walls, and the ax-cut notches carved into the elevation logs for rifle ports.

Ax cut end

Ax cut end

In 1907 John K. Rollinson, a forest ranger and friend of Greenough, and Harry W. Thurston, the then Supervisor of the Shoshone National Forest, visited the site. His narrative below talks about his discovery of the stockade.

On the way back to my camp I traveled a new route which was previously not accessible, due to old snowbanks. I passed a long narrow lake, and as I had been told of an old log stockade or enclosure there, I soon located it. I do not know what it had been used for. It was quite badly rotted down, but it had been a rectangular affair, about eight feet high, built of a double wall of rather light logs, with an eight- or ten-inch space between the two walls which had been filled in with rocks. Three or four old rock fireplaces had once been in use there. All the ax marks were those of a hand ax or tomahawk, as the cuts showed the tool had had a narrow bit. I concluded that squaws had done the work. On a line running due north and south, through scattered pine timber, all the trees had been peeled halfway around up to a height of about five feet. North of the stockade the blaze was facing north, and south of the enclosure the blaze faced south. Each line ran a distance of about a hundred yards. Some trees had been belted and were therefore dead.

Rollison believed that the structure was likely the remains from a party of white trappers and Indian women who were trapping beaver on the Plateau and had built a defensive structure to protect against a hostile Indian attack. He also felt the structure would date to the late 1860s or earlier based on the level of decay.DSC01354

In 1991, the site was recorded by several archaeologists. They reported seeing five culturally modified trees around the stockade.DSC01352 (1)

In 2009, a group of archaeologists, historians, and members of the Park County Historical Preservation Commission hiked to the stockade and collected tree-ring samples from trees and logs at the site. They located more than a dozen culturally modified trees. Their samples consistently produced two separate dates: 1806-1807 and 1861-1862. After this ‘preliminary’ report, Larry Todd returned the following summer, collected a few more tree samples, and so confirmed the later date, just as Rollinson had predicted.DSC01355

When my Forest Service friend was at the site in the 1980s, he told me the gunsights were visible on the logs, and the log enclosure stood about 3 feet high. But today the stockade is almost fully decayed. You can still see the circular outline and in a few places the enclosure still is two or three logs in height. The ax cuts are visible and young trees are growing in the center area.

Young trees inside Stockade

The stockade sits just a few 100 feet off the main trail, but is very easy to miss. In fact, I encountered two backpackers that had spent the night right near the enclosure and had no idea that it was there.

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Koda enjoys the shade near the enclosure

Take a lunch and bear spray (last year I encountered a young grizzly near here at the lake) and enjoy the stockade while you contemplate what happened here 150 years ago.

Trail sign. What does an 'F' mean? Anyone know?

Trail sign. What does an ‘F’ mean? Anyone know?

 

Muddy Creek, the Beartooths, and Grizzly lore

Muddy Creek is an access trail to Granite Lake in the Beartooth Mountains on the Wyoming side. Although I have done a lot of hiking and backpacking in the Beartooths, I have to admit I haven’t been to Granite Lake, a 228-acre subalpine lake, among the largest in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. Most people approach the lake through Clay Butte, which is also a trail into Martin Lake Basin and the Beartooth backcountry. Yet since I heard that Granite Lake is a popular horse, fishing, and camping area, I’ve avoided it. Maybe this summer I’ll do the 9 mile roundtrip hike there.

Muddy Creek is one means of entry, and mostly because of its apt name, I haven’t been on that trail either. This being a drier year, I thought I’d try it for a day hike. This is not a trail description entry, but some observations along the stretch I did. But for those interested, the trail is flat, skirting an extensive meadow, until it reaches the mouth of the canyon to Granite Lake. At that point it begins to gently climb into the narrow drainage. I turned around at the incline point and end of the meadows.

This is a beautiful hike that enters the wilderness boundary in about .08 miles from the trailhead and stays in the trees and shade.

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Wilderness boundary. Muddy Creek

Muddy Creek used to be a popular trail in the day. You can see old logging cuts throughout, before the area became Wilderness. I’ve read old records where some old-timers considered Ghost Creek (just south of the highway) and east Muddy Creek (north of the highway where the trail is), their private hunting grounds. In fact, I was going around some downed timber when I discovered, about 2 miles up and on the trail, an old trapping snare.

The meadows, in reality, are a wetland full of willows. Fresh moose tracks are everywhere–prime summer habitat for them. But the real surprise is the amount of grizzly bear scat. I’m used to hiking in bear country, but I’ve never seen so much bear evidence as there is on this trail. In the first mile through forest, I’d safely guess that there was a large pile of bear scat every 20 feet and most of it fairly fresh. In fact I saw the freshest pile I’ve ever seen on a hike, one that was still wet and steaming.

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Front foot with claw marks

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Bear scat still wet and steaming

I started looking for bear rubs along the trail and found many. Called rub trees, it’s unclear why they use them. Probably as a way of scenting and getting a good back scratch at the same time. Once you’ve seen a rub tree, you’ll know how to look for them. Most I’ve found are on or near human trails. Bears use human trails too. I’ve found several where a trail blaze is in the tree and a bear scratches or rubs that tree. You know who is The Boss then.

Rub trees will have a smooth side to them and will not have lichen there. Look from the side and you will see the bear’s fur. Cattle especially also rub trees so learn to distinguish the fur. Ungulates, especially elk, will sometimes rub and horses as well. But once you’ve seen bear fur, you’ll know it.

Ungulates have hollow hairs. When bent they are stiff and form a sharp bend. Bear’s have finer fur. Try to distinguish which side of a hair is the root. Then look at the opposite end. Most grizzly hairs will have a light tip to them–thus the ‘grizzled’ look. Here is a good photo from USF&W.

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It’s more likely that your rub tree fur will look like this:

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Some of the fur I pulled off the tree

View from about halfway up the vast meadowsDSC01325

A few blooming flowers:

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New flower for me. Wood Nymph Moneses uniflora

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One of my favorites. Thalictrum occidentalis. There are many beautiful Thalictrums in the landscape market.

A real plus for the bears is that I can see this will be a super berry year. Last year all their fall foods were lean and so people were seeing more bears on the edges of the ecosystem. This year my Chokecherries will have a bounty year, and all the flower evidence for Raspberries and Strawberries indicates a boom cycle. In addition, I have not seen any Buffalo berries on plants for many years. But this year the beginning of the fruit is evident.

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Shepherdia canadensis. The berries are tiny green now. Red in the fall and I like the taste

And finally, my plea once again for the Great Bear. We are in the midst of a USF&W delisting process for Grizzly Bears which means the states will be managing and hunting them. Walking on the Muddy Creek trail, seeing so much bear sign, is not an indication, as some people have expressed, to be scared and hunt bears so they will avoid people.

Instead, the Great Bear is a mnemonic, a reminder to stay alert and awake. His presence signals I need to hike as a ‘walking meditation’, being fully Present in the moment. Thus, the grizzly is a Spiritual Bear. Let us all honor the Grizzly bear in that manner.

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Grizzly Bears are sacred to the tribes. We need to all think about them in this manner.

 

The Cave Video: A year’s review

Several years ago I came across a small rock cave in a narrow drainage high up near a sheer rock face. There was cougar scat outside in a large cougar latrine. I crawled inside and peeked around. At the very back of the cave, some animal had made a nice bed out of soft debris. You could see the large rounded depression where the animal had rested.

Over the years I sometimes passed by this cave and wondered if a cougar might have used it as a den. I showed a photo of the rock enclosure to Toni Ruth, cougar biologist. She speculated that probably it had been used by many cougars as a resting place, but did not look like a den site normally does.

The cave sits high above a small valley used by many hunters in the fall because of it’s easy access and good game. Yet the placement of this rock site was too steep, and obscure, for humans to pass by. The only reason I happened to find it was because sometimes I hike in crazy and steep places just for fun, and I like to follow deer and elk trails.

After several years, in the spring of 2015 I decided to place a trail camera on the cave. I was deeply involved in a personal cougar study, and wanted to settle once and for all–den or lay. I hiked to the spot in May of 2015, placed one camera, and didn’t return for several months. What I found completely surprised me.

During the summer our elk,deer and bear travel into the high country and the predators follow. The valley is fairly quiet then and so my camera recorded lots of squirrel, pack rat and rabbit activity. In the winter, this particular area is closed to human presence. Before the closure, I hiked to the cave once again, and place my best trail camera, a Reconyx that takes film and stills, at the site. The camera sat till the reserve opened again in the spring.

I put together this short film that documents a year at the rock cave. Enjoy.

A Mountain Speaks. The Sacredness of Naming

This is the first part of a longer essay that I thought I’d share. This essay embodies my ‘beef’ with many European place names for North American landscape features.

A Mountain Speaks

October 2013

I’m musing again over the name for the impressive mountain that looms above my cabin. “It has no formal name, but we all call it Mt. Herman,” a neighbor told me when I moved here. ‘Mt. Herman’ is a placeholder only, a bookmark in contemporary time, a way to name a mountain in conversation. From old records about this valley, Herman Ellsbury was the first white baby born here. He also happened to be the original homesteader of this property and the man who was commissioned to build the cabin I now live in.

Although I feel Mt. Herman deserves a moniker that acknowledges its dominance and, in my opinion, spiritual significance in this landscape, others take the more traditional route. One of my neighbors, native Wyomingite, Park employee, and scientist, feels history is imbued in the name, a visible fossil of the past and it’s deeds. Yellowstone Park history is communicated in the names of mountains and rivers—Norris, Lewis, Washburn, Haynes, Lamar. Names must be consistent, he tells me, so that they can be found on maps and agreed upon by the general public, or even First Responders. Of course, now we have GPS for communicating an actual location he reminds me.

Another neighbor tells me, in jest, that she is renaming Mt. Herman after her deceased husband. I imagine petroglyph graffiti by white people who scrawl their initials with a date next to ancient images of sacred animals. And if she were serious, she could name officially any unnamed mountain, gap, or other feature formally through a legal procedure that goes into the public record and soon onto maps.

The ritual of naming requires more than a nod to someone we loved or considered influential. Places themselves have power and in a name that power is concentrated and expressed.

“A place must be properly named”, says Laurens van der Post in his novel A Story Like the Wind. In van der Post’s book, all the different tribes in an area in the African bush agree: in order to be protected “against all the negative aspects of the forces of magic” in the surrounding landscape, a place name is necessary.

Samyama is a term described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. It was an expression used extensively by my former teacher. Samyama involves active listening, studying, contemplation, and intuitive awareness. My teacher also referred to this process as a ‘consideration’. I understood it to mean deep, open awareness, contemplation of an issue or a thing or a person or anything, until you beheld its essence. In other words, you’ve ‘considered’ the object of your attention from every possible angle and have now come to understand it through direct knowledge. Robert Heinlein, in his book Stranger in a Strange Land used the word ‘grok’ –an expression of understanding a thing completely through intuition and empathy. Samyama or consideration is the means by which you come to grok something.

 

Today’s forces of magic in my little valley might be described as many human disturbances encroaching upon the landscape. With the coming of a finished paved road over the mountain in 1992, traffic has increased. And with the increased traffic have come more powerful machinery such as off-road vehicles in the summer demanding more access through new roads deeper into the mountain terrain; hunting no longer done much on horseback, but on ATV’s that drive up and down the dirt roads; trapping all winter long for pelts sold overseas to Russian and Chinese buyers; incessant noise from snowmobiles using the paved road to head into the Beartooth mountains; January helicopter darting of wolves for collaring and counting; fly-over elk counts in winter; logging trucks followed by individuals who buy the slash-piles for firewood sale; summer cattle trucked up to graze on surrounding forest lands. A year round onslaught of noise and landscape disturbance that, taken together, describes a whole host of negative forces that wildlife must contend with year-round. So maybe the real and true name of this stalwart mountain that guards my valley entrance is necessary to discover.

Shaped like a wedding cake melting off to one side, the mountain rises up in deeply wooded layers. As the soil gives way to pure scree, massive boulders scatter the division between tree and rock high above. The mountain’s uplift is so steep no life can take hold. There, a multi-colored prominence, like the hull of a great ship, leans eastward, framing the rising moon. Colored layers of biscuit, cream, deep reds and grays adorn the treeless buttresses of rock one thousand feet above.

A mountain made of limestone allows water to carve fissures and crevices. Snowmelt seeps into the mountain’s soil. I’ve dug by hand into this earth. Making even a small hole unearths dozens of limestone rock. This is not a mountain made of earth, but of stones. Millions of tonnage of rock creates passageways and dark tunnels where water flows change, move, travel. Near the mountain’s base is where all this water emerges, and not coincidentally, is where wildlife moves through. “From the rock, the mountain weeps” my neighbor tells me. So true.

In that way I began my consideration of my mountain’s name. I’ve admired this mountain for over eight years, but this is the first time I asked it to reveal its true name to me.

Today I remembered a phrase from Aldo Leopold –‘Thinking like a Mountain”. Leopold coined the phrase to mean the interconnectedness of all things. When no wolves live on the mountain, the deer overgraze and overrun it, eventually starving them to death.

How do you ‘think like a mountain’? I pondered this yet I am not sure of the answer. My mountain, like the mountain Leopold might have been referring to, is home to almost all the wildlife in these parts, with the possible exception of mink (who live in the river below that this mountain streams feed), the eradicated beaver, lynx (although they’ve occasionally been spotted here) and fisher. There are badgers in the sagebrush at its feet, and red squirrels, chipmunks, voles and mice in the spruce-fir forests. Long-tailed weasels hunt the meadow/forest edges, while martens prefer to mingle amongst the thick terraced slopes. Bobcats watch for snowshoe hares, cottontails, and jackrabbits. Mountain lions stalk the numerous deer. Grizzly come and go spring through fall, digging for roots, eating berries and rose hips, tearing apart rotten logs for grubs. Moose browse the willows and dogwood where riparian areas hold the mountain’s run-off, and wolves travel through, making the resident coyotes nervous and watchful. I have yet to see a lynx but the snowshoe hares are plentiful enough to feed them, and I’ve caught on camera a wolverine once. Great Horned, Boreal and Great Gray owls are my neighbors, along with Bald and Golden eagles. Chickadees and nuthatches are among the few small birds that brave the winter cold. Many other hawks, warblers, and small birds spend their spring and summer in the shadow of my mountain.

This mountain is a cradle of Life containing all the necessary pieces to make the whole, a complex and complete recipe to feed all the parts. Thinking like a mountain, like this mountain, must have that as a main component—holistic thinking. And yet, a mountain, by its sheer immobility, its impressive features and toughness, implies no thought, only the present moment.   It will take an open, clear-eyed, receptive, intuitive approach—a reverent approach—to receive my mountain’s name. This is not just a mountain, but also a life support system.

_________

 

Herman Ellsbury built my cabin for Doc Firor. Ellsbury owned a sawmill farther up the Clark’s Fork Canyon. In 1957 Firor, the new owner of the property wanted a summer home. Ellsbury, whose father originally homesteaded this parcel, which was much larger at the time, knew the area well. He knew where the winds blew from and when. He’d studied the arc of the sun during all the seasons. He could map out the path of the game, where the snows drifted into impenetrable mounds, or follow with a pointed finger where shadows would cast during the winter solstice. These secrets of the Land, and many more, were as comfortable for him as a favorite coat might be for a city dweller. Many people come to my property and comment, “Why don’t you build on the ridge above? That’s the best view.” But Ellsbury had the natural smarts that I always advocate to my clients when I tell them “Live in your house for a few years before you create a garden”. He had that wisdom which comes with living close to the land, observing nature’s rhythms year after year. So he built Doc Firor’s log cabin at the base of a bank, not on the ridge above. He faced it east, what people today might call perfect Feng Shui though this idea probably came from ancient tipi rings in the area, whose doorways always faced the rising sun. By this perfect placement, the cabin avoids our fifty-mile per hour winds that blow frequently in winter. The wooded hillside behind provides just the perfect buffer since the trees create a natural snow fence, and an old irrigation ditch testifies to how he used my creek to gravity-feed the cabin. Because Herman Ellsbury was the first white child born here, the locals saw fit to give this mountain his name as a way of honoring their own settlement, the habitation of what they saw as empty country.

Of course these lands were only empty because the native peoples had been driven out before the homesteaders arrived in the early 1900s. The Crows, who once claimed this area as part of their territory, are now living on a reservation northeast of here; and although in the late 1800s it was part of their reservation, the discovery of gold, the creation of Yellowstone Park and the influx of new settlers shrunk the reservation drastically. Sheep Eater Shoshone Indians, who also called these mountains home for thousands of years, lived a nomadic life, traveling between the Absaroka Mountains and today’s Yellowstone Park. The Park removed them, their way of life shattered by the hoards of miners who diminished their food sources and gave them diseases, the few who remained were moved to the Shoshone and Bannock reservations south and west of here.

Clearly, my valley was inhabited for over 10,000 years. Evidence still surfaces, from native dwellings to the occasional arrowhead. The entire spring outflow, and the swamp created by its emerging waters, was a favorite bison wallow as well as a butchering site for native peoples. In my mind, an injustice was being done with place names that told only a white man’s story, barely a hundred years old.

There is a lesson in the Badger-Two Medicine roadless area that sits between Glacier National Park, the Great Bear and Bob Marshall Wilderness Areas, and the high plains of the Blackfeet Nation in northwest Montana. This wild area is sacred to the Blackfeet, and unlike the rest of the Bob Marshall country, the Badger retains its traditional Indian place names. Why? All the country surrounding the Badger has white man contemporary names, but the Blackfeet fought this tradition and, in 1915, sent a group of Blackfeet chiefs to Washington D.C. asking to retain their spiritual names. The names retain the magic of the area, and it’s long history.

There is one other element to naming that might be peculiar to me. As long as I can remember, I’d had trouble recalling the names of people that I do not know intimately or personally. So, for instance, when I try to remember a valley next to mine named Russell (obviously named after Osborne Russell, one of the few trappers who could write, kept a diary, and trapped the Yellowstone in the 1830s), my mind needs to search for a while. The name Russell does not describe landscape features, but sits like a dangling participle, a reference to nothing that is being observed, nor remembered, as the features of the place. Naming a creek or a mountain after a person signifies a complete disconnect from the Earth and its features.

Between this land’s rich human history, and the nourishment my mountain provided for the abundant wildlife, I was certain my mountain had a name of its own. But what was it?

Charlie Russell, the Grizzly Whisperer

I am listening to a wonderful interview podcast, in two parts, of Charlie Russell on the Grizzly Beat, a blog by Louisa Wilcox. If you haven’t heard of Russell, this is your chance. Russell tells stories of raising cubs in Kamchatka Russia along with sitting on a log in a Canadian forest with a well-viewed female grizzly. I learned more about how to behave around bears by watching Russell’s body language than any book.

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Charlie Russell in Kamchatka

Russell candidly talks about how North American wildlife bear management long ago decided the best way to have bears around was to teach people to be afraid of them, and likewise to instill fear in bears of people. But Russell was interested in what bears were really like, and knowing that bears have personalities, he wanted to understand them. Russell spent ten summers in Kamchatka raising bear cubs and living with over 500 bears in the area. He is the only person to have successfully re-introduced cubs into the wild.

Russell’s story is told on these podcasts as well as his video East of Eden. Bears are highly intelligent. If they are treated peacefully, in general they act peacefully towards humans. They know, Russell says, that humans control the habitat that they need. Living with bears is something people can choose to do. It’s not a bear problem, but a people problem Russell say. If a person decides to live in bear country peacefully, the bears will respond in kind. Given that, Russell advices when hiking in bear country to carry bear spray, especially where bears have been taught to fear people. If and when hunting begins in the Northern Rockies, Russell says, this will only exacerbate bears distrust and dislike of people.

Sleeping grizzly

Grizzly minding his own business

Russell’s comment on how bear management today is about fear is something I’ve long thought about. All the available literature on bears, especially grizzly bears, is about bear attacks. The Park requires every backcountry overnight camper to watch a 45 minute video on bears (which is good). The video is all about protecting oneself from bears and what to do in a bear encounter. People management is a good thing (bear spray, food storage, posturing around bears, hiking in groups, making noise, etc), but none of this is about bears, but about fearing bears. We don’t really try to ‘know’ bears. Our present culture is just about separating ourselves from the natural world and fearing bears.

My own closest encounter with a bear took place in 1972. Not a grizzly, but a very large black bear. I was in high school, during summer break, hiking in Waterton-Glacier International Park from the Canadian side. I tell that story here in detail and why I wasn’t afraid. It’s a good lesson in how people and bears can read each other.

Personally, I feel that Russell is one of the few people today that truly understands bears. He is not a scientist, but more of an old fashioned naturalist. Russell owns a ranch next to Waterton Park in Canada that was homesteaded by his grandfather. Long ago he pioneered putting out dead cattle on his side of the Park border in the spring to give hungry bears emerging from dens some much needed protein. Neighboring ranchers feared that the bears would adapt to eating cattle. But instead of this happening, the fed bears moved on and cattle depredation decreased. Soon the wildlife managers were putting road-killed deer and elk carcasses instead.

Please listen to this amazing Bear Whisperer. Enjoy.

 

 

New Product to Protect DG

I received an email recently from Tony Damico with Wheeler Zamaroni about a new product to use with Decomposed Granite paths and patios. This is a sealer from TerraKoat International that has been extensively tested by WZ for efficacy for over a year.  I have not personally used it but want to pass along this information to my readers. Here is a quote from Damico:

I wanted to let you know what WZ’s take was on the product. Because Wheeler Zamaroni is a landscape supply company we sell a lot of Decomposed Granite, Decomposed Granite with dry stabilizer and Decomposed Granite with liquid stabilizer. (the liquid stabilizer TerraKoat EX is leaps and bounds better than the dry stabilizer) It is the customers that decide to use the dry stabilizer or no stabilizer at all that benefit most from this product.

As you can see from Tony’s quote above, if you used a dry stabilizer or no stabilizer during your installation, you should consider using RainKoat for winter preservation.

Here are the simple instructions:

  1. Remove any loose debris from the DG surface
  2. Using a pump type garden sprayer apply DG RainKoat at the rate of 100 sq. feet per gallon
  3. For high traffic areas or additional protection a second coat can be applied.

For more information call Wheeler Zamaroni 650-271-2099

Or see this website of TerraKoat International