Up a Fork in the Cache National Forest

Up a Fork in the Cache National Forest: Cache National Forest Courtesy & © Patrick Kelly, Stokes Nature Center https://logannature.org
Cache National Forest
Courtesy & © Patrick Kelly, Stokes Nature Center
There’s a place I like to walk, when I don’t know where else to go, up a Fork in the Cache National Forest.
It’s got all that I want, and all my dog needs: good views and plenty of fast clear water.Up a Fork in the Cache National Forest

It starts off hot and dry, breaks you in quick, but soon the sun’s not so bad.
Walking along the way, helps my mind stray, and soak up right where I am.

The office, the traffic, the honey-dos and the chores all slip freely from my mind,
As I watch my dog sprint, over gentian and mint, and love being as free as the wild.

Being out there and free, helps me think and see, that I’m a part of instead of apart from,
This beautiful world, full of imperfect others, that with time are revealed as imperfect Thous.

This world, this here, this beautiful now, I choose and choose nowhen else,
Because today I see beavers, and grasshoppers, and eagles, and get to wonder when the ducks will again fly south.

My dog and I continue, to hike along the trail, until we come to the Cottonwood Graveyard,
There we stop, maybe stay, for a while and a bit, and she swims after sticks thrown in ponds.

After she’s had a cooldown, we keep hiking uptrail, into the thick of evergreen scents,
My calves start mooing, and my dog she keeps zooming, a bobsledder hot in the chute.

When the trees do break, and the land opens again, we cross the river one last time,
It brings us into a place, folks once knew back in the day, as the sawmill with the best oxen in town.

Me and my dog, we’ll linger there for a minute, and I’ll think how happy we are,
That this place was here, but isn’t any longer, or else the boon would not be worth the trial.

On our way back to the car, it’s hard work to keep your mind far, from the valley to-dos in the not far ahead,
But I remember why, I take the time to get out under the sky, in the wild to clear my over-civilized head:

You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink, but he also can’t drink unless he’s at that trough.
So even if today’s got you feeling astray, remember there’s good liquid if you’d like it not too far off.

So go out today, or tomorrow or Thursday, make it a formal appointment if it’ll keep you true,
Doesn’t matter the place, as long as there’s space, to keep an eye out for the moments which pull the awe to you.

And when you find them, because if you look hard you will, take a minute and breathe in the crackling air’s hum.
And remember that smell, and keep it deep in your heart, because that’s the wild wind that makes all it and us one.

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

Images: Image Courtesy & Copyright © Patrick Kelly, Photographer
Audio: Contains audio Courtesy & Copyright Friend Weller, J. Chase and K.W. Baldwin
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://logannature.org
Included Links: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Ohms, Sarah, Bridgerland Audubon Society, Logan Canyon Hiking, https://LoganCanyonHiking.com/

The Allen & Alice Stokes Nature Center, https://logannature.org
Included Links: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Kelly, Patrick, In the Eyes of a Bear, Wild About Utah, July 27, 2020 https://wildaboututah.org/in-the-eyes-of-a-bear/

In the Eyes of a Bear

In the Eyes of a Bear: Lone Bear Courtesy and Copyright Patrick Kelly
Lone Bear
Courtesy and Copyright Patrick Kelly
We call him Old Ephraim up here in Cache Valley. He's a tale known by just about everyone: one of the last brown bears in Utah, shot and killed by Frank Clark, in August, 1923. The account that's usually told spins the bear as both highly intelligent and dastardly, almost even sub-animal, of a creature who is the last because he is the most conniving and monstrous. His death came at the hands of a shepherd who had tracked the bear for nearly a decade, taking over 40 others in his pursuit, only to finally overcome the giant with luck and a repeating rifle. In Old Ephraim's death, he was skinned, burned, and buried. His hide was eaten by moths in the slope of Clark's barn. Today, his skull resides in an exhibit at Utah State University, and his bones have been long poached by treasure hunters. His grave holds no bear but that which we imagine.

What I take away from this story, though, is not what others have typically taken away when I read the accounts. For those long-past authors, it has always been of the glorification of Clark’s struggle; for overcoming the agent of a primeval, and thus incompatible, nature; for the noble easing of future fears by finally taking that monster bear. For me, I take away how Clark, years later, bravely chose to regret his choices, which at the time of their making were too far already decided by habit rather than concise intent. Clark stated about it, “Was I happy? No, and if I had to do it over, I wouldn’t kill him… I could see the suffering in his eyes…” That suffering had been passed on to him, it seems.

Blame for the end of Utah’s last great bear, though, cannot be placed upon the man, nor the firearm, nor the bear. Blame can only be attached to what bonded them as kin: that both man and bear had been dealt their hands by their being, and they played them the only way they had been shown, descendant of a long line of teachers whose most underlying motivation was honest survival. This is what connected the two in the moment of their struggle. They were united by fate because of what made them similar, not different.

In the Eyes of a Bear: Old Ephriam's Grave Marker, The height of the the old grizzley Courtesy & Copyright Josh Bolling
Old Ephriam’s Grave Marker,
The height of the the old grizzley
Courtesy & Copyright Josh Bolling
In his telling of his regret, Clark dared who he was, with who he strove to be, even in his later life. He was, after all, a self-professed lover of nature, and held holy the wild places where he spent dozens of summers. His regret was not a fault, but a truss of strength which honored this deeper value. He understood that, if you allow it, nature will take you to the great questions through flowers and birds and a strenuous life, if even for a small while, and even after you have erred. Nature is a hopeful place; an accepting place. Out there, “its” become “thous”, and the ego and all its fleeting impulsivities are surrendered to the ultimate authority of deep experiences within the land.

Hemingway said that, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” In this reflection, Clark’s story is not only about the fall of a great creature, nor a man who struggled to bring him down, but about how a man painfully earned the bravery and strength to see what he thought set him above, become reflected equal from him, in the knowing eyes of the last great Utah bear.

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

Images: Image Courtesy & Copyright Patrick Kelly, Photographer, all rights reserved
Audio: Contains audio Courtesy & Copyright J. Chase and K.W. Baldwin
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://logannature.org
Included Links: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Greene, Jack, Bears, Wild About Utah, October 22, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/bears/

Boling, Josh, Old Ephraim, The Infamous Northern Utah Grizzly, Wild About Utah, August 7, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/old-ephraim-the-infamous-northern-utah-grizzly/

Strand, Holly, The Bear Facts Old Ephriam , Wild About Utah, June 17, 2008, https://wildaboututah.org/the-bear-facts-old-ephriam/

Old Ephraim: The Legendary Grizzly of the Bear River Range, Digital Exhibits, Digital Collections,University Libraries, Utah State University, http://exhibits.usu.edu/exhibits/show/oldephraim

Old Ephraim: Utah’s most legendary bear, Lynn Arave, Standard Examiner, July 16, 2015, http://www.standard.net/Ogden-Area-History-Bin/2015/07/16/July-17-history-bin

Final resting spot of legendary grizzly ‘Old Ephraim’ worth a trip, Kate DuHadway, Herald Journal, Jul 9, 2011, http://news.hjnews.com/news/final-resting-spot-of-legendary-grizzly-old-ephraim-worth-a/article_0e974452-a9d3-11e0-8c09-001cc4c002e0.html

Old Ephriam’s Grave, Utah.com http://www.utah.com/bike/trails/old_ephraims.htm

A Moral Dilemma

A moral dilemma: Robin Courtesy & © Rob Soto Used with permission
Courtesy & © Rob Soto
Used with permission
I had a moral dilemma.

I was driving home from work on a small back road as I usually do to avoid traffic. As I was heading north, two juvenile robins swooped down across the road as they normally do in the path of an oncoming red truck. The first robin managed to cut upwards fast enough to dodge the truck’s hood, but the second broadsided the truck, hitting its door, and fell to the ground crumpled.

I slowed down and looked out my window at the bird writhing in the median of the road, and something inside of me happened that I cannot explain. I pulled over, went over to the convulsing bird, and quickly ferried him to a grassy patch on the shoulder underneath a tree. I hopped back in my car, and continued my drive home. The young robin passed from my mind.

As I arrived home, I decided to kick my feet up with my partner in the backyard and unwind by watching our young dogs play. We call it Dog TV. It’s a hoot. I saw a robin perch and sing on the roof of my garage, and the young broken robin from my drive home re-entered my mind.

I began to wonder if he was ok. I asked my partner if I should go back and check on him.

There were three options I settled on as to his state, and the need for my checking in. Perhaps he was just stunned by the impact and would’ve recovered quickly and wouldn’t be there, easing my mind. Perhaps he was in fact injured beyond saving and would not recover and so it was my responsibility to end his suffering myself. The last option was that he had already passed, and so I would take his body so that it could be buried, or at least given to the crows. I wouldn’t want to be left on the side of the road as a finality, and I doubted he would either.

I asked my partner: do I go and see to an end if any, or leave his fate be?

She thought about this for a moment and finally declared that I should let nature be nature, and to leave him be.

At first, this was not the response I had wanted. Inaction does not suit me, and so I argued this in my head. But am I not nature, too? Can I not act as that agent of nature being nature and choose to do my diligence, to either see that he survived, give him an end, or commit his body back to the world?

I took a breath and decided to pivot my reflection towards my inability to pass the bird by initially. Though the thought did occur to me to pass him by, I experienced that I could not from a visceral place, not the mind. I reacted, and the instinct of care I felt upon seeing this bird could not be suppressed.

I came to a conclusion. What was this instinct of mine but nature being nature? Why did it trigger but as a sign of my own agency as a natural being? Who am I to assume that only I could carry out being an agent of compassion? If this instinct was natural for me, then it is natural for others, and thus could be realized by anyone. This realization gave me hope.

I decided that I was nature being nature, a human being compassionate, and chose to trust the rest of the world to be so with gentle caring, too. I chose to see what I cannot control with goodness, and allow myself to remain abdicated of my control. I chose to have faith that, if I could be struck and pulled to empathetic action from my animal gut, others would too.

I broke my contemplation, and agreed with my partner that I would let nature be nature.

We turned our attention back to our dogs playing, and the robins kept singing. Life continued to be good, even in the face of the unknown.

I’m Patrick Kelly and I’m Wild About Utah.
A Moral Dilemma
Images: Images Courtesy & Copyright Rob Soto, Artist, all rights reserved
Audio: Contains audio Courtesy & Copyright Kevin Colver
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://logannature.org
Included Links: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Bengston, Anna, American Robin, Wild About Utah, January 18, 2016, https://wildaboututah.org/american-robin-160118/

Bengston, Anna, Robins in Winter, Wild About Utah, March 13, 2014 (Repeated February 2, 2015), https://wildaboututah.org/robins-winter/

Bingham, Lyle, Richard Hurren(voice), The Occupants on Robin Street, Wild About Utah, July 8, 2008, https://wildaboututah.org/the-occupants-on-robin-street/

Wildlife Rehabilitation, Bridgerland Audubon Society, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/birding-tools/wildlife-rehabilitation/

A Pretty Decent Salve

A Pretty Decent Salve: [Watching a] Bird Landing Courtesy & © Rob Soto, Artist
Bird Landing
Courtesy & © Rob Soto, Artist
I saw a bird miss the line the other day. I had never seen that before. Truth is, birds sticking the landing was so ingrained in my very concept of a bird that I had not even considered it before. It was pretty funny. [A Pretty Decent Salve]
The small black bird flew in hot to the powerline that runs next to my house, and came in just a bit too low. He couldn’t recover his trajectory, and instead of giving up, chose to use the chin of his beak to hang on like a feathered J hook. He kept flapping to stay on the line, perhaps because he didn’t trust his balance, but eventually the effort was too much, and he let his beak slide off backwards, and flew on. The whole thing only lasted a few seconds. I can only assume he stuck his next landing attempt.

Fledging Bird Landing Courtesy & © Rob Soto, Artist
Fledging Bird Landing
Courtesy & © Rob Soto, Artist
What struck me about the whole thing, aside from the comedy of a bird having a moment of failure at being birdy, was that he decided that hanging on trepidatiously by his beak was better than missing altogether. Why did he decide to do this? Was the urge to land by any means stronger than the urge to land with his feet? Was he embarrassed and in a reflex decided that some contact was better than none? Or was it a game of horse, where he dared the other of his lot to match his silly feat?

Whatever it was, I can’t say. What I can say is that it was funny. Now I’ll forever see birds differently, too, knowing that making the landing isn’t as unconscious as I once thought, and so I can watch a once-passive act with a bit more suspense for slapstick.

I saw another funny thing recently, too. It also involved birds seen from my home. What I know is that I was watching a dance, but I couldn’t for the life of me tell if it was a warning display, or a proposition gone poorly.

There is a small tribe of house sparrows that lives in some shrubs adjacent to my home. I was working out on my porch in the sunshine one day when I heard an unfamiliar song in a familiar voice. I looked up to the top of a dead crabapple tree and saw a male sparrow doing a funny little jig. He was orbiting a female sparrow also perched in the tree, hopping and spinning from branch to branch, singing his flittery song. His back was flat, perpendicular to whatever branch he was on, and his wings were held in L-shapes which ran parallel to his flat back. It reminded me of the robot somehow.

I know that some birds dance, but I never thought it of the sparrows I see everyday and had never seen dance before. I’ve probably seen thousands of those little guys, but none apparently as gregarious before with me in the audience. I don’t know if the male was brave, indifferent, or if I was just lucky and this sort of thing happens all the time. Either way, his dance looked beautifully silly. It made me laugh to imagine myself dancing like this in the future, and when people looked at me quizzically, I could just say that I learned it from a sparrow. I could imagine the puzzled faces, tilted heads, and eye rolls: my personal humor at their gentle confusion.

After a few short minutes, the female sparrow being danced at, who had the whole time remained on a single perch just watching perhaps as perplexed as I was, flew off. In the end, I guess it did not matter if the male was dancing as a warning of territorial infringement, or as a suggestion of spring tangos. Whether the male was successful or failed cannot be told. He was though, I’ll say, the best house sparrow I’ve ever seen dance. So there’s that.

In all, it’s been a good challenge for me to look for everyday things with a lighter touch. It’s also been good to take time to look at what’s here, to challenge myself to enjoy some sunshine moments, to drive myself to look at average birds with interest, to upset my assumptions and learn why they’re not so average after all.

In this time, where a lot of what we are all doing is looking to a brighter future, imagining going back to familiar ruts, I’ve at least found that there is something that brightens the present in challenging yourself to be present: to take a minute in the sunshine, to take a minute to watch a bird you’ve seen a thousand times, to still find good humor in a still good world. While everything isn’t perfect, and we may feel like that bird who missed the line, confused and in a panic to say the least from being in uncharted waters, having a little laugh and finding the buoyant joy inherent in the natural world that’s always been there, and can always be there, is a pretty decent salve. I recommend it.

I’m Patrick Kelly and I’m Wild About Utah.
A Pretty Decent Salve
Images: Images Courtesy & Copyright Rob Soto, Artist, all rights reserved
Audio: Contains audio Courtesy & Copyright Kevin Colver
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://logannature.org
Included Links: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Kubota, Taylor, What makes birds so good at sticking their landings?, Stanford Engineering, Transportation & Robotics, Stanford University, August 09, 2019, https://engineering.stanford.edu/magazine/article/what-makes-birds-so-good-sticking-their-landings

Stokes Nature Center, https://logannature.org