Wandering Home

Wandering Home: Naomi Ridgeline from the Mt. Magog Summit Courtesy & © Josh Boling, Photographer
Naomi Ridgeline from the Mt. Magog Summit
Courtesy & © Josh Boling, Photographer
There’s a map in my head lined with the topography of memory and time. The landscape has a rhythm, the cadence of muscle memory when enough boot prints have been tracked across it. Earth’s geometries are as familiar as my own. Wandering Home

Annapurna region of the Himalaya; Nepal
Annapurna region of the Himalaya; Nepal
Courtesy & © Josh Boling, Photographer
George Mallory, when asked in 1923 why he would attempt to climb Mt. Everest, replied, “Because it’s there.” Those now immortal words have been uttered by nearly every adventurer seeking some sort of tenable logic for their quests big or small. Mallory’s words rattle in my brain when I endeavor to do much of anything outside; but those words are only half the answer. Yes, we climb mountains, paddle rivers, and explore canyons because they are there, but also because we are here. That, I think, is the most tenable logic of all.

“…[T]he living world is the natural domain of the most restless and paradoxical part of the human spirit,” wrote E. O. Wilson. “Our sense of wonder,” he continues, “grows exponentially: the greater the knowledge, the deeper the mystery and the more we seek knowledge to create new mystery.”

Blue John slot canyon, Courtesy & © Josh Boling, Photographer
Blue John Slot Canyon
Courtesy & © Josh Boling, Photographer
Everett Ruess was still a child in 1931 when he began wandering the red rock canyons of southern Utah with a burro and his art supplies. He scaled cliff bands and steep canyon walls with alarming abandon, and I thought him reckless when I first read his letters and journals. I still wouldn’t follow his lead; but I wonder now if I had judged him too harshly at first. Mysteries are known and knowledge is gained through perspective; and some perspectives are acquired with requisite risks.

They say there’s a gene that separates the restless wanderers from those more content. Perhaps that’s true; or perhaps it just identifies the tendency with which we gain perspective. I’ve often wondered if I have that gene; but I don’t think it matters in the end. We all wander—into the backcountry, the hinterlands, the backyard. I think it’s the mysteries we seek that are different, and, therefore, the knowledge gained—of ourselves and the places we call home.

Jardine Juniper trail, Courtesy & © Josh Boling, Photographer
Jardine Juniper trail
Courtesy & © Josh Boling, Photographer
So, I wander my home range: the valley floor with its winding, braided, willow-choked streams; the hills adjacent to my neighborhood; the glaciated peaks of lime- and dolostone that stand sentinel in the alpenglow. A decade ago, it would have been for the rush of adrenaline and the surge of blood in my veins, for the same perspectives sought by Everett Ruess. Now I do it for the deeper mystery of unknown corners of places I once thought I knew—for the knowledge that lies within.

There’s a map in my head, lined with the topography of memory and time, shaded by the knowledge gained and the mysteries still yet to be revealed.

I’m Josh Boling; and I’m Wild About Utah.

Cache Valley from Naomi Peak ridgeline. Courtesy & © Josh Boling, Photographer
Cache Valley from Naomi Peak ridgeline
Courtesy & © Josh Boling, Photographer
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
Sound: Courtesy & Copyright Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text: Josh Boling, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Lyle Bingham

Sources & Additional Reading

Edwards, Mo, Top 10 Slot Canyons in Utah, Utah.com (Utah Travel Industry Website), July 26, 2017, https://utah.com/top-10-slot-canyons-in-utah

Mount Naomi Wilderness, Wilderness Connect (University of Montana) https://wilderness.net/visit-wilderness/?ID=378

Mount Naomi, Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, USDA Forest Service, https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/uwcnf/recreation/wintersports/?cid=fsem_035454

Hike Mt. Magog, The Outbound Collective, https://www.theoutbound.com/utah/hiking/hike-mt-magog

Ohms, Sarah, Sinclair, Jim, Logan Canyon Hiking, Bridgerland Audubon Society/Cache Hikers, https://logancanyonhiking.com/

Cache County Trails, Cache County, https://trails.cachecounty.org/

Hiking Trail Guide, Cache Valley Visitors Bureau/Logan Ranger District, Wasatch-Cache National Forest, https://www.explorelogan.com/assets/files/brochures/hiking.pdf

Cache Trails, A hiking guide for the trails of the Cache Valley, Bridgerland Audubon Society, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/our-projects/publications/

Beaver Tail Slap

Beaver Tail Slap: Beaver swimming Courtesy NPS,  J Schmidt, Photographer
Beaver swimming
Courtesy NPS,
J Schmidt, Photographer
When I first saw a beaver in Cache Valley I thought I’d seen an alligator. I was sitting in the front of a canoe when a large head shot past the bow followed by a black tail that flew into the air and came down on the water with a resounding slap

“What was that?” I asked
“I don’t know,” my friend answered
“I think it was an alligator,” I said
By then then creature had disappeared and we paddled on.

I found out later that tail slapping is a common beaver behavior. Its a warning shot before the beaver dives for cover.

Intrigued, I set out to learn more. It came as a surprise to me to find out that when a beaver builds a dam, it is actually building a home. Inside a sturdy wall of sticks, rocks and mud, the beavers build a living space above the water line. It’s dry – and its safe because it can only be entered by swimming through underwater tunnels. Not a problem for a beaver who can swim underwater for as long as 15 minutes.

When the surface of the pond freezes over, the females will give birth. Its an extended family life – an adult pair, the yearlings, and the new kits. When winter is long, and with so many mouths to feed, the beavers have perfected their food storage. Hauling their favorite food, aspen , back to the lodge, they jam it into the muddy bottom of the pond. There is stays, fresh and crisp like any refrigerated food, until its needed.

When fur trappers arrived in Northern Utah in the 1800’s, European hat makers had discovered that felted beaver wool made the very best hats. Bear Lake became a hot spot. The historical marker just north of Garden City tells us,

“Donald MacKenzie, Jim Bridger, and a host of famous beaver hunters operated here. Two major summer frolics and trade fairs brought plenty of excitement to Bear Lake in 1827 and 1828.”

Trappers were harvesting up to 500 lbs a year. But by 1840, the beavers had become almost extinct. European fashion in hats moved on to silk – a good thing for the hat makers as well because the mercury used in the felting of beaver wool caused all kinds of neurological disorders. Its no joke the Hatter in Alice in Wonderland is mad.

Back in northern Utah, the beaver population slowly rebuilt, but the human population also grew and conflicts arose. Recently a farmer in Benson became irate when beavers began to redirect the flow of water through his irrigation canals

Beaver Health Exam Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Becky Yeager, Photographer
Beaver Health Exam
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Becky Yeager, Photographer
It’s the job of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to live trap and relocate these beavers. I was lucky to be allowed into the loop at this point.

When I picked up one of the smaller beavers, I could feel its heart going a mile a minute under my fingers. But it settled down as I sat in a chair holding it against my chest while it got a quick physical checkup.

Holding the beaver close, I had a good look at the nibble fingers on its front feet, the webbing on its back feet that can paddle along at 6mph, and the marvelous flat tail, a good rudder for swimming, a prop for standing on land, and perfect for slapping the water’s surface.

Take my word for it, once you’ve seen this slap up close, you won’t forget it.

I’m Mary Heers and I’m Wild About Utah.

Photos: Courtesy US NPS, Yellowstone Collection, J. Schmidt, Photographer
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers
Featured Audio: Courtesy Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text & Voice: Mary Heers
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster

Additional Reading

Leavitt, Shauna, Beaver in Utah’s Desert Rivers, Wild About Utah, July 6, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/beaver-in-utahs-desert-rivers/

Leavitt, Shauna, Proposed Beaver Holding Facility in Millville, Utah, Wild About Utah, September 3, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/proposed-beaver-holding-facility-in-millville-utah/

Goodwin, Jim, Riparian Zones and a Critter Quiz, Wild About Utah, January 22, 2015, June 15, 2015, https://wildaboututah.org/riparian-zones-and-a-critter-quiz/

Strand, Holly, Beavers: The Original Army Corps of Engineers, Wild About Utah, April 29, 20-10, August 16, 2012, https://wildaboututah.org/beavers-the-original-army-corps-of-engineers/

Kervin, Linda, Huddling for Warmth, Wild About Utah, February 3, 2011, https://wildaboututah.org/huddling-for-warmth/

Beaver Monitoring App, Utah Water Watch, Extension, Utah State University, https://extension.usu.edu/utahwaterwatch/citizenscience/beavermonitoringapp/

Pollock, M.M., G.M. Lewallen, K. Woodruff, C.E. Jordan and J.M. Castro (Editors) 2018. The Beaver Restoration Guidebook: Working with Beaver to Restore Streams, Wetlands, and Floodplains. Version 2.01. United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Portland, Oregon. 189 pp. Online at: http://www.fws.gov/oregonfwo/ToolsForLandowners/RiverScience/Beaver.asp
also https://restoration.usu.edu/pdf/2018BRGv.2.01.pdf

Macfarlane W.W., Wheaton J.M., and M.L. Jensen. 2014. The Utah Beaver Restoration Assessment Tool: A Decision Support and Planning Tool. Ecogeomorphology and Topographic Analysis Lab, Utah State University, Prepared for Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Logan, Utah, 135 pp. Available at: http://etalweb.joewheaton.org.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/Downloads/BRAT/UTAH_BRAT_FinalReport.pdf

Wheaton JM. 2013. Scoping Study and Recommendations for an Adaptive Beaver Management Plan. Prepared for Park City
Municipal Corporation. Logan, Utah, 30 pp. http://etalweb.joewheaton.org.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/Reports/Beaver_Management_Plan_Recc_Park_City_%20Report_FINAL.pdf

Beaver Reintroduction Looks Positive for Stream Restoration
in Northern Utah, Utah Forest News, USU Forestry Extension, Utah State University, Volume 18, Number 3, 2014, https://forestry.usu.edu/files/utah-forest-newsletter/utah-forest-newsletter-2014-3.pdf

Muffoletto, Mary-Ann, Dam Good! Beavers May Restore Imperiled Streams, Fish Populations, Today, Utah State University, July 07, 2016, https://www.usu.edu/today/story/dam-good-beavers-may-restore-imperiled-streams-fish-populations

Native Grasses

Native Grasses: Indian Ricegrass Achnatherum hymenoides Courtesy Wikimedia & US NRCS
Indian Ricegrass
Achnatherum hymenoides
Courtesy Wikimedia
In recent years, there has been an emphasis on ornamental landscape plants that provide bee and butterfly habitat. But did you know that you can also choose landscape plants to support Utah birds and other wildlife? In particular, ornamental grasses can provide both food and cover for birds and other wildlife and also materials for nest building.

A few ornamental grasses that you might consider planting in your landscape are Indian rice grass, blue grama grass, little bluestem, Indiangrass, and Miscanthus.

One of the most attractive native grasses, and the state grass of Utah, is Indian rice grass. This native, cool-season grass grows from 1 to 2 ½ feet tall. Widely adapted in Utah, it is important in foothill and semi-desert areas of the state, providing forage for both livestock and wildlife throughout the year. It has a lovely, airy texture and the seeds are an important food source for many birds and small mammals.

Blue grama grass, also native to Utah, is a warm-season grass with seed stalks standing 6 to 20 inches tall. In the wild areas of Utah, blue grama grass grows on plains, foothills and woodlands and tolerates a variety of soil conditions. In home landscapes, the distinctive seed heads of blue grama are very attractive and are sometimes described as resembling eyebrows.

Little bluestem, a warm-season perennial grass, grows from 1 to 2 feet tall. This drought-tolerant, native grass grows in many Utah plant communities including desert shrub, ponderosa pine, and pinyon-juniper. In ornamental landscapes, little bluestem transitions from blue/green colored grass blades during the growing season to a reddish color after the first frost, providing lots of winter interest in the landscape as well as food and cover for birds.

Indiangrass is a native, warm-season perennial grass with tufted stems reaching up to 5 feet tall. This grass is found in the hanging garden plant communities of southern Utah where annual rainfall is low but flooding from runoff water is common. It may also be associated with other riparian plants such as sedges, rushes, and willows. A tall, upright grass, Indiangrass has showy, golden bronze seed heads in the fall that provide seed for songbirds.

Though not native to Utah, Miscanthus is another ornamental grass that provides food for birds. This large grass, growing up to 6 feet tall, has flower plumes above the foliage in the fall and you may see birds searching the ground underneath throughout the winter looking for leftover seeds.

Hopefully you have one or more of these grasses in your landscape already, but if not, fall is still a good time to plant them. And don’t cut these grasses back as we head into the colder months of the year. They provide a great deal of color and interest to the winter landscape and will continue to provide food and cover for birds and wildlife throughout the season.

As our weather warms into spring, birds will be particularly focused on the dried-out grass blades that remain, using coarse blades for the main wall of nests and finer blades as part of the softer, inner lining.

So, go ahead and try some ornamental grasses in your home landscape or maybe plant more. You’ll be well on your way to attracting and supporting birds and other wildlife.

I’m Kelly Kopp with USU Extension’s Center for Water Efficient Landscaping and I’m Wild About Utah.


Images: Courtesy & Copyright , Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/
Text:     Kelly Kopp, PhD, Plants, Soils & Climate, Utah State University https://psc.usu.edu/directory/faculty/kopp-kelly
Additional Reading Links: Lyle Bingham

Additional Reading:

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center:
Indian ricegrass, Plant Database, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=achy

Blue Gamma, Plant Database, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=bogr2

Little bluestem, Plant Database, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=SCSC

Indiangrass, Plant Database, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=sonu2

Missouri Botanical Garden
Miscanthus, Missouri Botanical Garden, http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?taxonid=250962&isprofile=1&basic=miscanthus

Miscanthus, Plant Finder, Missouri Botanical Garden, http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderProfileResults.aspx?basic=miscanthus

Morton Arboretum

Miscanthus sinensis, The Morton Arboretum, https://www.mortonarb.org/trees-plants/tree-plant-descriptions/chinese-silver-grass

USU Extension Range Plants of Utah
Indiangrass, Range Plants of Utah, Utah State University Extension, 2017, Indiangrass

Little bluestem, Range Plants of Utah, Utah State University Extension, 2017, https://extension.usu.edu/rangeplants/grasses-and-grasslikes/little-bluestem

Indian ricegrass, Range Plants of Utah, Utah State University Extension, 2017, https://extension.usu.edu/rangeplants/grasses-and-grasslikes/indian-ricegrass

Blue grama, Range Plants of Utah, Utah State University Extension, 2017, https://extension.usu.edu/rangeplants/grasses-and-grasslikes/blue-grama

Sagers, Larry, Ornamental Grasses, Utah Cooperative Extension Service, https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2342&context=extension_histall

Roger Banner, Roger, Pratt, Mindy, Browns, James, Grasses and Grasslike Plants of Utah, A Field Guide,, Extension, Utah State University and Utah Partners for
Conservation and Development, 2011 (2nd ed), https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2188&context=extension_curall

Wheaton, Adrea, Rupp, Larry & Caron, Michael, 10 Low-Water Ornamental Grasses, Ideal for Water-Efficient Landscapes in Eagle Mountain, Utah, Extension, Utah State University, , https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2875&context=extension_curall

Gunnell, JayDee, Goodspeed, Jerry L., Anderson, Richard M., Ornamental Grasses in the Landscape, Extension, Utah State University, June 2015, https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1739&context=extension_curall

“Greetings puny earthlings”

Download Pre-broadcast audio

Greetings puny earthlings: Raven, Courtesy & © Rob Soto Used with permission
Courtesy & © Rob Soto Used with permission
What does it mean to speak and not simply talk? Does it mean you croak back with ravens? Or does it mean that ravens croak back with you?

I have spent many hours on many days for many years speaking with ravens. It’s not easy though to learn a new language, and their patience with my workshopping is not high on their honey-do list. Nevertheless, I work on it every chance I get, and they humor me with free lessons and bountiful harvests of humility.

Before you can speak though, you must first listen. Hear what dialect they speak because they do differ. Do their calls sound like mercury dropping into a still pail of clear cool water, or a porcupine purring as a trusted one scratches an old itch with gentle trepidation? Perhaps this raven growls in fours, fives, and sevens. Perhaps it mimics the locking door beeps it learned from the untrusting cars at a dusty desert gas station. Any way they call though, don’t forget that they do so without lips. When you call back, remember to curl yours back to show your own black beak. It also helps if you look friendly, so maybe give them a smile, too.

What I’ve learned from years speaking with ravens, is that they enjoy engaging with us wilderness tourists just like how I imagine the French mock Americans who ask simple questions through their noses while in berets at the Eiffel Tower. The ravens, still like how I imagine the French, will chirp or croak or clop back at you, but always faster than you thought you had tacitly agreed to. Can’t you hear that I’m not a native speaker, and can’t you respect that I’m at least trying? Oh, they can and they don’t. That’s the humor.

Sometimes they’ll throw new words your way, too, and always with a gleam in their eye. Just as you’re learning how to hock “hello,” they’ll pop quiz you and bleet back, “howdy,” “hey there,” and “greetings puny earthings,” just to smile to themselves at your dense bones and plucked, useless wings. To you, they may all sound like new noises. To them, they’re new jokes. Even when they start to cackle at my attempts, in time I’ve learned to cackle at myself, too. The lessons go on.

So next time you’re high in the mountains or deep in the desert and find yourself startled by a raven asking what life is like from way down there on the target range, listen first. Hear for the intonation, the subtleties in rhythm and iridescent syncopation, and their sandstone timbre. Then simply repeat after them. Curl your lips back, clench your larynx, and croak. Taste a new language. Harness the moment as a shared moment. Allow yourself to be the wild echo of a wild raven. Soon, you’ll find that when you speak the right language, ravens will give your own wild echo back. So now the question arises: will allow yourself to continue learning to speak with ravens, or will you simply settle to talk amongst your fellow puny earthlings?

I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah

Images: Images Courtesy & Copyright Rob Soto, Artist, all rights reserved
Audio: Contains audio courtesy Davyd Betchkal, NPS Audio
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://logannature.org
Included Links: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Boling, Josh, Josh’s Raven Encounter, Wild About Utah, June 11, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/joshs-raven-encounter/

Boling, Josh, The Language of Ravens, Wild About Utah, February 19, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/language-of-ravens/

Strand, Holly, Crow vs. Raven, September 15, 2011, Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/crow-vs-raven/

Strand, Holly, Cache and Retrieve, Wild About Utah, January 19, 2012, https://wildaboututah.org/cache-and-retrieve/

Kelly, Patrick, As a Child I Loved Nature, Wild About Utah, April 29, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/as-a-child-i-loved-nature/

Raven Sounds:

Max Ushakov, A huge raven making weird sounds in front of a crowd at the Tower of London., YouTube.com, July 14 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7jgjovK5lY

ESL and Popular Culture, Raven ~ bird call, YouTube.com, Dec 12, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DDv_PlrBg14

Common Raven, Animals, National Geographic, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/c/common-raven/

Bird Note, How to Tell a Raven From a Crow, Oct 22, 2012, Audubon, http://www.audubon.org/news/how-tell-raven-crow


Ravens, Arches National Park, National Park Service – NPS.gov, Last updated: February 8, 2017, https://www.nps.gov/arch/learn/nature/ravens.htm

Common Raven, Zion National Park, National Park Service – NPS.gov, Last updated: January 31, 2016 https://www.nps.gov/zion/learn/nature/raven.htm