“How likely are we to see wildlife on the way?” asked someone passing through on the way to Yellowstone.
“You’ll certainly see deer,” I said. “You could also see some pronghorn antelope. Some locals see grizzlies on the Pass, but I’ve never seen one there.”
“What about moose?” he asked.
“Well, if you’re really, really lucky, and keep your eyes on the trees by the river, you might see one,” I replied. “I see them once in a while. But moose are pretty rare around here these days.”
A recent survey of visitors to Dubois showed that wildlife viewing is their second reason for coming here, after mountains and scenery. I know from talking to visitors and reading their posts on TripAdvisor that many people come to this area hoping to glimpse wild creatures at home in the wilderness.
It has taken years for me to appreciate one privilege of living here year-round — simple time on the ground, the opportunity to encounter the animals who share this neighborhood, as an ordinary part of my daily life.
City girl that I was, I still find pleasure in seeing cattle and horses every day. Driving down the highway toward town, I enjoy watching a hawk floating on the updraft, looking for prey. We have had to relocate the dog’s walk, because the neighbor across the road has seen the moose and her calf again. She lost last year’s baby in the spring flood waters, and he says she glared at him defiantly from his back lawn the other day, as if to say, “I’m not going to lose this one!”
Last week, I invited a friend for lunch. It being a beautiful day, we chose to sit on the back porch.
As we talked, we noticed a few white-tailed deer just across the fence. We enjoyed watching them graze on the willows as we munched on our salads a few yards away.
Walking the dog in the park behind the assisted living center, I encountered an old friend coming down the river walk. “Have you seen the goslings?” he asked.
We rounded a corner, and there they were, being herded by Mother Goose as we approached.
This afternoon, driving toward a hike up Long Creek Road, my companion said, “There’s an antelope!”
He sat immobile, not far from the dirt road. “It’s odd to see one all alone,” she remarked.
“I hope he’s not injured,” I said.
Farther along the road, she spotted more antelope in the valley, and beyond that, a few elk. I slowed the car to look, and there they were, dark against the green of the grass.
“I wonder what they’re doing here at this time of year,” she said. You’d think they would have migrated on, and moved up-mountain.
Driving back after our hike, we looked for the lone antelope, and argued about exactly where we had seen him before. “I guess he isn’t here any more,” I said. “That’s good.”
“There they are,” she said. A few antelope grazed on a distant hill, as a larger one stood nearby, looking out across the valley.
“I guess he’s the sentinel,” I said, glad to have come up with a reason for why we had seen him alone on the way uphill.
I may talk smart now, but to be honest, when we moved here from the city I couldn’t tell an elk from a moose. It was the landscape that compelled me, not the wildlife that live here. Later, I came to value the strong sense of community in our town.
With time, I’ve come to see these silent neighbors as an important part of that community. They may be elusive, and we rarely get to know them. Some of them (like the tourists) are only passing through. But we share a love of this place, and are glad when they return.
© Lois Wingerson, 2018
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