Tom Clyde: Nature in the Wild
Hope you all had a wonderful July 2nd vacation. If you missed it, you can celebrate July 5th in Oakley. Very disturbing.
A few days ago my dogs woke me up very early to go out. Usually the Australian Shepherd starts hitting me on the head. That day was the lab. When the lab, who’s fat and lazy and more than willing to hold him rather than make the trip downstairs, starts pounding my pillow, there’s usually a good reason. So I got up at a completely indecent hour and let them out. When I looked out into the yard, with the first morning light filtering through the trees, it looked like it had snowed.
This year, nothing would surprise me, but the snow at the end of June, when it was so hot and dry, did not seem likely. But the courtyard was still covered in white. The poplars have gone wild and there is cotton blowing in the air. The slightest breeze sets off a blizzard. It had accumulated overnight in snowdrifts in the yard. The cotton blizzard has been going on for several days now, and there is no sign that it is fading away.
Bark beetles killed lodgepole pines. Then the spruce beetles got about half of the spruce trees. Aspens have an aspen hole in them. The whole forest along the bottom of the river looks pretty sick right now. Except for the poplars. They thrive. Nothing will kill a poplar. Years from now, when climate change turns us into a high-altitude version of the Mojave Desert, the poplars will still be there, along with the cockroaches, flooding the air with cotton balls. It gets sucked into the air intake of agricultural machinery, clogs window screens, and dogs stalk it inside. Roomba chokes on it every night. Nature is doing its job.
To celebrate his 80th birthday, I turned on my John Deere tractor and took it out for a ride on the ranch. Nobody cared about safety or ergonomics back then, and it’s a very uncomfortable machine to drive. There’s really no room to put your feet up, and there are exposed flywheels spinning beside you, waiting to catch a shoelace. The seat spring is 80 years old and sagging, with the end result that I still feel like I’m falling from the back.
From the perspective of the tractor seat, sagging but still high, I saw a herd or herd of baby killdeer scampering across the field in front of me. The mother was in front, screaming and doing the âinjured wingâ distraction dance. On foot, I would not have seen the babies. From above I could see the withered grass moving and have a wonderful view of half a dozen cubs. Their bodies weren’t much bigger than big grapes, with ridiculously long legs and wings attached. Never seen this before.
My sister-in-law reported seeing some sort of weasel in her garden, running with a mouse in her mouth. The mouse was almost as big as the weasel. I used to see them in winter when they are snow white except for the tips of the ears and tail. The next day I was on a thistle patrol and saw two. They were very curious about what I was doing and kept raising their heads behind a log to check. I think they are long tailed weasels. My sister-in-law is pretty sure they are stoats. We both went online. Utah Weasels have their own website, probably some sort of tiered marketing scam, and it looks like there are many different types of weasels out there. They all look alike.
The drought has forced deer out of the high country and down to river level for water. The end result is that the highway is more or less lined with carcasses. The turkey buzzards gave me quite an air show. UDOT doesn’t put a lot of effort into cleaning them up, although I guess that would be a tough job to complete. The other day there was one right next to my mailbox. Someone had touched him during the night. I picked it up with the front loader and was driving down the road to find a place where it wasn’t going to stink up someone else’s house. A car coming the other way slowed down to be speechless. While they were gaping at me, another deer slowly came out onto the freeway and they hit him. The poor thing was really crushed. He managed to jump the fence and climb the hill where he had a painful end. I suspect we’ll find the remains of that one with the hay mower.
Slow down and be careful, people. Nature is right in front of us and does not function any closer to normal than anything else. Watch it, enjoy it, and try not to destroy it.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.