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Grizzlies and other wild news

The second edition of The Wild Excellence is out.  With ten new photos and updated information on grizzly bears, I’ve included below a piece from the new preface. Order direct from Amazon and tell your local bookstore to please order from their distributor for in-stock local availability.

In October 2018, my new book on mountain lions, Ghostwalker, will be available.  Ghostwalker: Tracking a mountain lion’s soul through science and story is an account of my personal journey to understand as much as possible about this elusive, secretive animal. To that end, I conducted dozens of interviews–with cougar researchers, conservation organizations, wildlife managers, houndsmen and trackers. You’ll find the latest, cutting-edge research explored in the book. More info to come later.

GhLrg2lines

Below is an excerpt from the new preface of The Wild Excellence.

“His cowboy boots are probably still sitting there.”

 

Jim was relating the story of J. K. Rollinson, the first Forest Service Ranger in the valley where I live. Rollison helped build a government cabin in the Beartooth Mountains in 1908. My new friend Jim, a slight man in his mid-80s yet still in excellent shape, had guided me the week before to another historic Beartooth site—a crumbling stockade from the 1860s hidden within a copse of spruce. Jim grew up in the Big Horn basin where he worked in an array of outdoor jobs throughout his life, including with the Forest Service. The cabin, he said, if it’s still there, was at Sparhawk Lake.

 

I knew the Beartooth Range pretty well, but hadn’t heard of Sparhawk. Jim said the lake was named after Ranger Frank Sparhawk. Sparhawk, along with Rollinson, used the cabin as a summer refuge while overseeing livestock operations in this high alpine environment. The small cabin saved the rangers a ten-mile rugged horseback trip from the Crandall Ranger Station. I was curious if any remnants were left. Pouring over a map, I found the tarn not far from Sawtooth Lake, a large body of water wrapped at the base of a mountain bearing the same name. A rough dirt road off the main highway leads to Sawtooth’s lakefront. The road is in good shape for the first mile and a half, then turns into a rocky, rutted mess. I pulled off where the road loses its shape and walked the final two and a half miles to the lake.

 

Spruce and whitebark pine forest, interspersed with verdant meadows of high alpine wildflowers, make this scenic dirt access road a popular weekend ride for off-road vehicles. The course is along a ridgeline overlooking a U-shaped wetland of marsh and lakes. The adjacent eastern ridgeline, visible at times from the Sawtooth road, is also a popular route. Called the Morrison Jeep Road, it’s an historic trail used as a connector route from the 10,000 foot Beartooth Plateau down to the desert mouth of the Clark’s Fork Canyon. The local ATV club was anxious for a loop trail joining Sawtooth Lake with the jeep trail. To accomplish that, the Forest Service would have to build a new road into and through the marsh up to the opposite ridgeline. That was another reason I wanted to walk this road. I had to see what kind of habitat damage that would create.

 

A few hundred yards before the final approach to Sawtooth Lake, I encountered a parked Toyota 4-Runner with Montana plates. That last stretch is too rough and eroded for even the toughest vehicle. I also heard gunshots. It was early September, not yet hunting season, but these fellows were using trees for target practice on the far side of the lake. I couldn’t see them, but sure could hear their antics. No one else was around, and thankfully the route to Sparhawk was in the opposite direction.

 

A small jewel hidden within dense tree cover, I found the remains of Sparhawk’s cabin by the side of the lake, along with a Forest Service plaque commemorating his service. Only the log outline of a tiny cabin, but no cowboy boots, remained. I ate lunch, then returned the route I came.  Walking the road back up the steep hill, I found the 4-Runner still parked on the small knoll. From this point, the road opens into a meadow edged with dense tree cover on its far side. Breaking the forest’s silence, a deep sonorous barking suddenly roared through the trees. I stopped and listened. The mysterious low-pitched “honk” came again, then again. I looked across the meadow just in time to see a large grizzly bear running through the woods, followed by a tiny cub. The barking continued and another cub ran to catch up with her bear mother. These little cubs, born last winter, referred to as cubs of the year or COY for short, were incredibly cute. All this raucous was far enough away, with me downwind, that I wasn’t afraid. Mom was headed for the lake at a quick clip. The barking continued, like an old man with a wheezy cough and a megaphone, and after a few minutes a third cub appeared.

 

Mesmerized by this scene, I momentarily forgot about the men still down by the lake who were probably fishing by now. Instead I reflected on the increasing use by grizzlies of this alpine area. The Beartooths are good habitat with intact whitebark pines—now a rarity in the rest of the ecosystem due to widespread beetle kill. Females who eat whitebark pine nuts are known to have larger litters. Here was a successful grizzly mother utilizing these resources.

 

When the bears were out of sight, I remembered the men. No chance for me to let them know those bears were on their way towards them. The quartet of bears would be at lakeside before I could even turn around. Hopefully the men would not run into them, or at the very least keep their cool….

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The Wild Excellence. A Review

Here is the review of The Wild Excellence:  Notes from Untamed America, in this month’s latest issue of High Country News. There is also a link to the review online on the top sidebar of this blog.  The print version has a nice photo.

August 31, 2015 issue of High Country News Magazine

August 31, 2015 issue of High Country News Magazine

The Heart of Wildness

….When Mabel McKay, a deceased Pomo basket weaver and doctor, heard somebody say that he had used native medicinal herbs but that they hadn’t worked for him, she responded, “You don’t know the songs. You have to know the right songs.” With no one to teach us, we don’t know the songs either.  The native practice of dreaming songs about the nonhuman world seems as valuable and elusive as a piece of pure bunchgrass prairie or the truth about the land. “Gardening with a Wild Heart”

Some say wilderness disappeared with Lewis and Clark.  We may still have wild lands, but true wilderness is gone.  Maybe once we finished mapping every inch, that was the final nail in the coffin.

Dad's Lake.  The Continental Divide looms in the background

Dad’s Lake. The Continental Divide looms in the background

Indigenous cultures once had their very identify, culture, and religion tied to the Land. The plants and animals were as familiar and knowable to them as our ATM’s and supermarkets are to us today.  They were Earth-based cultures. And although I consider our European cultures ‘Sky-based’–we identify with ideas i.e. ‘liberty and freedom’ or ‘God in Heaven’–there are still those of us who find sustenance and spiritual refreshment in Land.  And I would argue since all human beings are fitted to this earth, therefore the natural world and its wildness must resonate for everyone.  In essence, we are still Land-based peoples. Only our culturally-inherited earth knowledge has been diminished.

 

Swallowtail

 

In todays world, it is expedient and pragmatic for conservation groups to cloth their case in economic terms, whether it be for wildlife or land preservation.   Protecting wolves or bears becomes important because people like to view them, which brings in tourist dollars.  Setting aside elk habitat is good for hunters as they pay for the game agencies. The argument to preserve every ‘cog and wheel’ for its own sake has no power.

 

Coyote pups

Yet conservation groups are amiss to ignore this argument, for truly that is what is at the heart of the issue–we need these lands for our spirit; preserving the entire biotic community is important for its inherent value, not its monetary one.  The mysteries of this Earth spark our sense of wonder.  If all becomes mapped and pedestrian, where shall we look for awe, for beauty, for the surprise of diversity and difference.  Without these basic human needs met, we lose our compass in this world.

It is time to add this other dimension to our call for protection.  In my book The Wild Excellence I call this added element ‘The Sacred Land Ethic’.  Aldo Leopold’s land ethic states

A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.  It is wrong when it tends otherwise.  The land ethic simple enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.  A land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it.  It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.

To this eloquent and beautiful description of the way we should live, I’ve just added the word ‘sacred’ to include Land as a source of vision, spiritual awareness and sustenance.  Sacred includes all the plant songs we have yet to remember, and all the dances the animals have yet to re-teach us.  Sacred includes that moment when you stand in awe at the edge of the Grand Canyon, or the moment alone in the woods when you encounter a new-born fawn.

Moose and calf

All of us have resorted on many occasions to the natural world for restoration. So let us not hide behind the arguments of ‘monetary value’ of wildlife.  Let us speak the truth of why it is we are fighting to preserve what’s left of the wilds.

The Wild Excellence. What it means and why I wrote it

I thought now was a good time to do a post on my new book The Wild Excellence: Notes from Untamed America. The book has just been released in stores and online.  Kindle version is now available on AmazonThe Wild Excellence front cover lrg

The Wild Excellence title comes from a line in a Pablo Neruda poem, one of the last he wrote as an old man.

Without doubt I praise the wild excellence

That line, in a nutshell, describes my relationship to the fullness of the natural world.

When I moved from the Bay Area to the Absaroka mountains east of Yellowstone National Park, I found myself in the wildest country in the lower 48 and one of the last, whole intact ecosystems in the entire temperate world.

Doug Smith, Wolf Biologist for Yellowstone National Park says “country without wolves isn’t really good country. It’s incomplete. It doesn’t have its full spirit.” Over time that wild spirit of lands with grizzlies, wolf packs, large elk herds, wolverines, and cougars instilled in me a new perspective of our natural world and my place in it.

Grizzly mom with two cubs of the year near my house

Grizzly mom with two cubs of the year near my house

I’ve always been interested in Land so I began hiking to ancient Shoshone Sheep Eater sites, settler remains, learning fencing work and water development, but foremost learning how to be in tune with the wildlife here. Because of my proximity to the Park, wolf and elk studies were being conducted in the valley where I live and I had the opportunity to assist as a citizen scientist. ‘Bad’ grizzlies were dropped off at the end of my dirt road with the hopes they’d go into the Park.  Sometimes they ‘homed’ back to where they came from, yet other times they came to the nearby woods to dig for grubs or eat chokecherries.

Two adult cougars travel together

Two adult cougars travel together

With time, I became aware that a parallel internal process was taking place.  This wild landscape, with its full suite of wildlife, was having a healing effect on me.  And that healing seemed dependent on its expansive, untouched space and the play of predators and prey so abundant here.  That healing illuminated for me the sacredness of wildlands and their necessity for the human spirit.

Middle Fork Lake...the Divide

Middle Fork Lake…the Divide

My book, The Wild Excellence, is a description of many journeys–the science and the sacred, and what moves the Heart to want to protect all that is fragile and wonderful.  It is my sincere hope that this communication will inspire others to experience the mystery and wonder of wild places, and work with their vote and their voice to protect them. They are the last and fragile remnants of what Lewis and Clark saw over 200 years ago.
For updated information on The Wild Excellence  visit my facebook page

Narrating from the borderlands of Yellowstone National Park, Leslie Patten brings us vivid accounts of wolves, grizzlies, the seasonality of ecosystems and tales of prehistoric Indians–all written with a naturalist’s eye and woven in a personal network of modern day homesteading, dogs and community. There are times when the best reporting on national parks comes from voices just beyond the legal boundary, close enough for a passionate attachment to the beauty of the land but sufficiently distant for critical appraisal of governmental management. Leslie Patten is one of those voices.

— Doug Peacock, Author of Grizzly Years, In the Shadow of the Sabertooth and other books.

CONTENTS

Introduction

Chapter 1 A Dog and a Lesson 

Chapter 2 First Days 

Chapter 3 The Peoples Before 

Chapter 4 Close Encounters of the Wolf Kind 

Chapter 5 A Most Magnificent Animal 

Chapter 6 Woods, Water, and Wildlife 

Chapter 7 Bear Dreamer 

Chapter 8 Sagebrush Stories 

Chapter 9 Medicine Dog 

Chapter 10 Sacred Land Ethic 

Epilogue 

wolf

The Wild Excellence: Notes From Untamed America

My new book is finally available from Amazon.  The Wild Excellence:  Notes from Untamed America takes its title from a Pablo Neruda poem.

Without doubt, I praise the wild excellence

The Wild Excellence

Over 60 years ago, Aldo Leopold proposed a new way of looking at land. He called it ‘The Land Ethic’. This view is the model all conservation groups use today. In my book, The Wild Excellence, I propose to broaden that template to include another element: our ancient relationship to Land as source of vision, spiritual awareness and awakening–The Sacred Land Ethic.  This idea of mine did not come out of a vacuum, but naturally evolved from living in this wild ecosystem of the Greater Yellowstone.

In my book I tell the story of how I was transformed through direct connection with wildlands and wildlife:  I work on a wolf project; my valley is the center of an elk study that reveals very interesting data; I track bears, find coyote dens and search for evidence of first peoples–all in this unique ecosystem, living just a few short miles from Yellowstone National Park’s eastern border.

Observing wildlife and wild nature changes my views on the Land and how we must treat it.   From the Epilogue:

I walk out into the night air and the brilliance of the evening sky intrudes upon my feelings.  The celestial dome above me is packed with star light.  The local wolf pack is howling.  They’ve made a kill nearby and with their bellies full, they announce their pleasure into the blackness.  A rustling of hooves beats back and forth in the large meadow in front of the house.  I go in and grab a high beam flashlight.  As I shine it towards the pasture, a thousand eyes stare back at me. The elk herd has come.  Disturbed by my dog and the nearby wolves, they move restlessly as my beam tracks only their eyes, focused on me with curiosity and fear.  Something familiar rustles through my bones.  My flashlight becomes a torch, my house the village, and I sit with friends around a fire, ten thousand years ago, with this same sea of eyes staring from the darkness.  There is an eeriness to it, and a vulnerability.  And a rightness.  I feel my humanness and my place in the Universe.  I am grateful, once again, to be living here, in one of the last places on earth where all things are intact.  It is my home and without any doubt, I praise the wild excellence.

Some praise for The Wild Excellence:

Narrating from the borderlands of Yellowstone National Park, Leslie Patten brings us vivid accounts of wolves, grizzlies, the seasonality of ecosystems and tales of prehistoric Indians–all written with a naturalist’s eye and woven in a personal network of modern day homesteading, dogs and community. There are times when the best reporting on national parks comes from voices just beyond the legal boundary, close enough fora passionate attachment to the beauty of the land but sufficiently distant for critical appraisal of governmental management. Leslie Patten is one of those voices.

— Doug Peacock, Author of Grizzly Years, In the Shadow of the Sabertooth

 “The Wild Excellence” belongs in every library and personal book shelf. Leslie lets us enter her world of wilderness and all its beauty and wonder. Then encourages us to preserve all that is wild for future generations. Her words, “The grizzly bear’s gift to man is the Power of the PresentMoment” sums up the essence of this book.

— Dan and Cindy Hartman, Photographers Yellowstone Ecosystem Wildlife Along The Rockies

 

I hope you will buy my book, enjoy it, and be moved to love our remaining wildlands and wildlife.  If you do, please leave your comments on the Amazon page.  That will help more people find the book and read it.  My sincere hope is that all the million plus people who visit this Ecosystem every year will come to support this unique area with their voices and their vote to protect it for future generations.

Grizzly front foot