Sunday, June 13, 2010.
A walk across the prairie and up the lower slopes of Porcupine Butte. The shorebirds—long-billed curlew, marbled godwit, upland sandpiper—seem to be many fewer this year. Or are they just later? Other birds are still arriving, the latest being eastern kingbirds and nighthawks, both of which have just shown up in the last couple of days.
Flowers were many:
Cerastium arvense: field chickweed
Zigadenus venenosus: death-camas
Allium textile: textile onion
Linum perenne: flax
Delphinium bicolor: low larkspur
Astragalus drummondii: Drummond’s sweetvetch
Helianthella uniflora: little sunflower
Tetraneura acaulis a.k.a. Hymenoxys acaulis: stemless sunflower
Antennaria neglecta: field pussytoes
Gaillardia aristata: blanketflower (not really quite blooming yet)
Penstemon eriantherus: hairy penstemon
Lupinus (sericeus?): some damn lupine, you tell me
Phacelia franklinii: Franklin’s phacelia
Hymenoxys acaulis: stemless sunflower
Cryptantha celosioides: miner’s candle
Oenothera caespitosa: gumbo evening-primrose
Draba sp.: cushion draba
Draba sp.: taller
Leucocrinum montanum: sand lily
Erysimum asperum: wallflower
Cryptantha interrupta: bristly cryptantha
Senecio canus: silvery groundsel
Prunus virginiana: chokecherry
Balsamorhiza sagittata: arrowleaf balsamroot
Erigeron speciosus: showy fleabane
Erigeron compositus: cutleaf daisy
Lomatium cous: cous biscuitroot
Lithospermum ruderale: western gromwell
Geranium viscosissimum: sticky geranium
Ribes sp.: some gooseberry
Viola nuttallii: Nuttall’s violet
I made it to what I considered the last reasonably achievable rimrock, getting on top of which involved a very steep stairstep cowpath defile between cliff faces (behind Elizabeth, I should add)—and worth the effort, for the sensational view of the Absarokas, the Beartooths, the Belts, the Snowies, the prairie; and, to me most rewarding, just underfoot, the young and vigorous limber pines amid the many old ones killed by blister rust, as well as a few just-starting Douglas-firs.
Elizabeth wanted to climb around the next bend, scouting for a possible way to the top for our next venture up this way (a route I consider, on the basis of the topo map, impossible), and she came upon a…bear! A dark one, possibly one of the two we saw on the grassy, open, easy northern slope of the butte last year (the right and only way to the top, in my opinion).
Porcupine Butte does not seem like proper habitat for Ursus americanus. There’s not enough forest, and black bears are forest bears. Well, aren’t they? And what about connectivity? If they’re going to reproduce, they’ve got to be in touch with the larger population—which would mean, at a minimum, the Crazies, which I imagine support not very many bears. It probably also means some genetic linkage to the Cayuse Hills to the south and beyond them the Beartooths and the Absarokas and therefore the whole Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. And it’s possible that there’s a link to the north as well: If they can make it across the grasslands to the Belts, then there’s a reasonable chance that there’s gene flow all the way up, to the northern limit of black bears in Alaska. And the ranchland north of here is mighty lonesome country.
So: proper habitat? What makes this possible is not so much forest as peace and quiet. The amazingly low human density around here allows Porcupine Butte’s few (two?) bears to stroll across ranches by night, maybe even to travel up and down stream corridors at dawn and dusk, and thereby to remain part of the metapopulation of the northern Rockies. Wow.
And of course the butte itself offers an abundance of bear food—grass, forbs, roots, bugs, rodents, carrion—that is available to them only because of the nearly total lack of disturbance by humans. They walk around in the open in the middle of the day, as Elizabeth’s encounter shows. That bear, by the way, was not in the least freaked out. It had a look at her and just ambled off. No panicky run for the trees.
As we came back across the prairie, where the grass thanks to the rains seems to have grown a good foot in the last week, we saw a brown something moving in the green, and then a pair of little muley ears: It was an infant mule deer fawn, commanded by its mother to lie down flat but too new at the game to know that when hiding it is best to include the ears. She herself was entirely invisible—ears flattened—though certainly nearby.
I then proceeded to ruin a perfectly good organic and local pork shoulder steak. I thought, Well, shoulder, it needs some cooking, so first I tried to braise it in some weird organic barbecue sauce I’d bought at the Bozeman Co-op, with vinegar, but it smelled so bad once heated that I threw it out, rinsed off the pork, and began again with white wine; and the longer I cooked it, the stiffer it got. After an hour and half, starving, we (“we”) gave up. I threw it on the grill, as I had always planned to do at the end, and though this hardly seemed possible, it got stiffer and drier yet. I also had cooked collard greens, and overdosed them with both garlic and vinegar to such an extent that they were downright repulsive.
Elizabeth had gathered many morels, however, the day before, and, richly buttered, they saved our dinner from utter uneatableness.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010.
And Elizabeth is already gone, back to venture capital and software. I'm quiet, I'm lonely.
One of my least favorite painters, at his worst, painted clouds like these, ranks of edgeless gray smudges across the azure night sky, El Greco. For once an evidence in nature of whatever it was he saw in his lost-in-labyrinths out-in-the-out-there-too-long San-Geronimo mind.
Thursday, June 17, 2010.
O a blessing, a benison! At what I call in my mind now Antelope Pass, not a pass at all but just an up-wedged shale-bed and its companion moraine over which one comes for the last mile to this place and where there are nearly always a particularly imperial pronghorn buck and his varying harem of does and now fawns: Not thirty feet up, white wings beating, long necks outstretched, unimaginable in these parts anymore but unmistakable, and magnificent, a pair of trumpeter swans! The biggest birds, by weight, in North America, and not long ago nearly lost to toxins and slaughter. They must be nesting on one of the glacial pothole lakes up towards Two Dot.
This, this is why we come here, and stay, and watch, and are so deeply grateful.
Sunday, June 20, 2010.
Imagine my delight at finding one of these in the kitchen sink this morning:
And moving very slowly. Naturally I took it to be one of Satan's favorite tick species.
In fact it is a pseudoscorpion. Which is not an insect, not a tick, not a spider. It is an arachnid, but not a spider. It is a member of an order all its own, the Pseudoscorpiones. There are more than 400 genera of pseudscorpions, comprising some 3300-odd species, with more being discovered all the time. They live all over the world, and all of them are entirely harmless.
That fact is by now moot, of course, because I killed the little motherfucker on sight.
Evening: a slow-rolling storm in the deep-bass timbre of Hendrick Hudson and his crew bowling ninepins in Rip van Winkle’s Catskills sky: Wouldn’t you think it would be hard for bats to fly in such a steady dense rain, with those leathern wings? Well, they do it