A Refuge From “Grinding Realities”

Not the most comfortable place to make a living, but an exceptionally fine place to make a life.

FirepotPrescott, Arizona. It’s our annual spring get-away, an opportunity to do things we couldn’t do in Dubois.

We try out new hikes in different places. We purchase the items on our long-saved list for big box stores.

We have terrific meals in specialty restaurants that probably couldn’t survive year-round in our tiny, remote village in the wilderness.

We see different views. The vistas back home are spectacular indeed, but there’s nothing anywhere to match the  Grand Canyon–and it’s a mere day trip from here.


It’s lovely here, and we enjoy Prescott a great deal. It’s cosmopolitan. It’s a college town. We meet many long-term residents who love this more crowded and developed town as much as we love Dubois.

They also tell us how the population has exploded in the past few decades, and how many of the lovely houses are rentals or second homes. (Could this be a vision of Dubois in the distant future? Would that be good or bad?)

This getaway is also a chance to consult with medical specialists of a kind that are few and far between back home, so I take the opportunity to chase down the source of a small matter that has bothered me for some time.

My vitals taken, as I wait in the consulting room, I leaf through the stack of random old editions of People and WebMD. Deep in the pile, I’m startled to find a copy of Wyoming Wildlife from April 2011. It contains a long essay about the bargain geology bestowed upon Wyoming: Scant population, in trade for the survival of native wildlife that was gradually exterminated elsewhere, as settlers moved west.

“Even today, it’s not the most comfortable place to make a living,” wrote the author, Chris Masson, “but it is an exceptionally fine place to make a life.”

WyomingWildlifeToo true, I think, and ponder our good fortune in having settled there. Reading on, I find myself reminded why we treasure the same isolation that sometimes motivates us to leave briefly, for an escape to denser places.

“At the heart of that life is the land,” Masson wrote. “It provides resources that have faded away in most other parts of the country: herds of pronghorn, deer, and elk, bighorn in the high country, cutthroats in the creek, transparent water and air, and unobstructed view of the far horizon. Most of it all, it gives us a refuge from the grinding realities of checkbooks and emails, a place we can to savor the silence.”

Every animal he mentioned, every pleasure of that high and unspoiled country, is a description of our valley. Of course, he didn’t describe everything.

Last evening, coming home from the theater in Prescott, I looked up at the sky and was a bit dismayed to see a display of stars whose number it would actually be possible to count. Not what I’ve become used to seeing at night!

I leaf back to the front of the magazine to read the photo credits, and am in for another pleasant surprise. Cover image: Michael J. Kenney, Dubois, Wyoming. My friend and neighbor, the head of the phone company, who has given us our splendid Internet service.

Every once in a while I have delightful little moments of grace, like this one. Well put, Chris Masson, whoever you are. Thanks for the reminder.

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Signs of Life and Death, as the Snow Melts

Has the winter’s heavy snowfall hastened growth in the scorched soil?

SheridanSlushFor many weeks, it’s been like this up at Sheridan Creek, one of my favorite hiking spots:  A slow and steady slog through the slush. Not much fun. Good exercise.

I would soldier on, hoping to see whether the creek was still snowed under. The dog enjoyed digging in the snow for buried bones, but would lose enthusiasm long before we reached the creek. Any time he ventured off this surface tamped down by snowmobiles, he’d be buried up to his chin. No fun for him either.

In the valley, most of the trees are still green. But as you head uphill — a point I never reached in the heavy snow, on the other side of the creek — you come to the region of the uncontrolled burn from last summer’s big fire.

Looking ahead to that landscape of black vertical trunks, I wondered what I would find as spring came in. Would the extraordinarily heavy snowfall of the winter just past hasten the growth of life in that scorched terrain?

SheridanCreekDeadTrees042217Don’t count on it, someone said recently. Fire that hot sterilizes the soil for a long time.

But what is the start of spring, if not the dawn of hope?

BearPrintsToday, the dirt road was nearly dry, with a stream of snowmelt running along the side.

My companion, who is fascinated with tracks and always vigilant, quickly noticed that someone large had gone lumbering out that road as we went in.

(A note for readers who live elsewhere: These are not the prints of a barefoot man. They’re the prints of a man-sized bear.)

Immediately we both reached around to locate our bear spray bottles, even though this walker had been headed in the opposite direction. It looked to us like he or she had wandered off toward the willows beside the river, not long ago.


Measured against the size of my hiking boot, this is the track of a brown bear, not a grizzly. It’s a true sign of spring. Time for caution; they’re out and about. (Here we were relatively safe, because the vista is open and sight-lines are clear.)

We headed toward the creek, and the place beyond where the road begins to rise uphill. At last, it was nearly clear of snow, and we could walk without much effort.

We crossed the black and red debris of wood-cutting, as well as trees that were felled, not fallen. Obviously the foresters have been out bringing down the dead wood so that hikers like us can pass without fear of being felled ourselves.

The ground beneath the blackened trunks was mostly bare of snow in many places. At last, I could look for signs of new life.

GreenShootsClose to the road, these were easily visible. We saw blades of new grass and sprouts of fern beginning to peek up from the soil.

But as I crossed to where there had been woods last spring, the dirt underfoot was darkly black beneath the bare, standing trunks. The scene was bleak. No signs of green emerged from below.

BurnedTreeWithLichenInstead, I noticed fronds of white extending toward the soil from many of the fallen trunks. I saw these bands of powdery white around the base of many of the dead trees that were still standing.

I’m no microbiologist, but my guess is that this is some sort of fungus. No evidence of new life here. These are signs of decay.

I walked back to the road and on uphill. Turning around to look back, I clearly saw a gray figure about 8 inches long and sleek slithering quickly between the dead trunks and disappearing. A weasel? A stoat? Who knows, but certainly something lively.

GooseTracksAnd who had walked downhill before our dogs came trotting uphill to add their tracks? I guessed it was a goose. (That’s a bear spray bottle to the left, for perspective.)

Two live ones had just swooped past, noisily, not far overhead.

Farther on, my friend saw a gopher and tried to point it out. But I couldn’t spot it. We returned home without seeing any other creatures, except our own lively dogs.

I spent the rest of the beautiful afternoon pulling weeds in the garden beside the house. It took a long time, because there were plenty of them. I was very pleased to rediscover a hollyhock that I thought had been lost in the hard winter. The columbines are back.

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Kickstarting Tumbleweed, and Other Joys of Spring

I’d rather leave spring to Nature, and be surprised.

WindRiverSnowAvoiding the dreaded “mud and slush” season, we would always head back East about now. Just in time to see the crocuses popping above ground and the trees turning spring green.

Brooklyn positively erupts with spring, all at once it seems, the small patches in front of old brownstones suddenly cluttered with daffodils and irises planted the previous fall. The flowering trees make a bright palisade of the streets. Allergies burst forth too.

I’m not missing it. Not at all.

Staying here, I can watch as the Wind River slowly emerges from its blanket of snow. The massive drift in our driveway dwindled, day by day, to a few tiny white mounds under the gravel.

Most of my go-to hiking spots are closed to me, because the back roads haven’t yet been plowed. My old stand-by was passable this week, a combination of dry dirt road and snow-cone slush — heavy to walk on, but packed solid enough by armies of snowmobiles that are now long gone. I wonder how long it will take to disappear.

BennyRibAs we gain access to formerly snowbound spots, we make great discoveries. The dog found a whole ribcage, probably elk, that was nearly large enough for him to walk through.

Over the coming days it was pulled apart, and he later found individual ribs buried deep in the snow. I let him enjoy one of them until he had chewed it all down. It looked like it had just come out of the freezer (as I guess it had), the bone pure white and the marrow still red and clean.

My own best “find” (so far) is a shelter made of branches pulled over a fallen tree, complete with fire pit, in a tiny patch of public land near our house. We hadn’t been in there since the Great Snowfalls, because that bit of back road had not been plowed. I found the shelter when the snow shrank back enough to walk in.

ShelterandFirepitThere was no sign of charcoal on the stones, so there may have not been a fire. But I could see that those pine branches would have made a dandy hut, when they were still green with needles. And the structure is very solid. It will be interesting to see how long it stands. I’m sure nobody will be motivated to take it down.

Who built this hut in a tiny spot of forest, behind an abandoned house, in the dead of winter? Did someone actually sleep here? And why? I doubt I’ll ever know.

More discoveries await as the bare ground heaves up objects long buried by erosion and blown dirt, then covered by snow. These may be only interesting rocks, but ancient arrowheads or grinding stones might also pop out. This was once the Times Square of the West, after all, criscrossed by countless natives long before they showed the trails to the Europeans.

SpringSnow033117This morning we awoke to a typical spring surprise: A few inches of wet snow. By mid-day it was gone, and the sky was mostly blue. That’s spring for you: Nothing if not fickle.

What a difference from yesterday morning, when I walked the property lines with the dog, enjoying a heady mild March breeze and the satisfaction of walking over bare ground.

And the sudden riot of birds! The bluebirds, as bright as chips of the sky itself, out house-hunting once again. The raucous cries of the geese muscling their way past overhead, busy going somewhere.

As I completed my circuit, I noticed with a sudden sense of disgust the line of tumbleweed plants on both sides of the driveway. In summer they are a pleasing diaphanous green and purple, but by autumn they’re ugly, and prickly too. In the spring, they seemed an insult.

I kicked at the base of one, and off it tumbled, freed from its roots. I spent the next hour liberating all those tumbleweeds, giving each one a kick-start over to Nebraska. I carried them all, one by one, to a flat spot where they would blow right across the valley, rather than piling up at the base of the little ridge.

How satisfying! Good exercise, leaving behind a lovely clean border on the driveway and an open space for grass and sage to occupy. So much more rewarding than kneeling in the dirt to plant bulbs in the autumn, when all I would want to do was drink cider and eat popcorn.

I’d rather leave spring to Nature, and be surprised by the results.

© Lois Wingerson, 2017

You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Deaths and Disappearances in Dubois

Our neighbors are under threat, for reasons known and unknown.

Sheep060816_5Bighorn sheep have been the talk of the town all week. Our treasured species is under threat for unknown reasons, and their numbers seem to be dwindling.

As if to add injury to insult, three ewes met a gruesome death under the wheels of a car last week at one of their favorite hangouts, beside the red rocks at the reservation boundary. Presumably the driver didn’t know enough to watch out for the curly-horned beauties at that location. Or just ignored the warning sign.*

One day last spring, traveling westbound, I ran across (not into!) this small group of them at the same big curve, right where the highway drops and bends toward Dubois. Troubled by the speed of traffic coming toward me (and them), I stopped the car and tried to herd the sheep over the fence and back toward the hills.

Foolish waste of time. I knew they’d return the moment I got back into the car and went on.

The herd around Whiskey Mountain declined last year by more than 100 from a population of 800, according to a report at the annual meeting of the National Bighorn Sheep center last month. The herd numbered nearly 1,000 five years ago.

This should have been a good year for them, with lots of forage. But the ewes were generally thinner, and very few lambs are on the scene. Nobody knows why.

SheepCountThe folks in this picture, most of them volunteers, aren’t trying to rescue and airlift an injured sheep. (If only we could do that!) They had captured it for a quick physical exam, as part of a sheep count last year.

Another count is under way up-mountain as I write these words. Everyone hopes that the biologists merely missed some in their last survey, and that today’s count will be more encouraging.

We always slow way down when rounding the curve by the red rocks, if only in hopes of catching a glimpse of the elusive sheep. I’ve also learned the spots where the deer hang out to graze by the highway on either side of town. Driving near sunset, you always have to strain your eyes all the way from the red rocks to Stoney Point to avoid hitting deer that might suddenly decide to cross the road.

We’re always watching for game anyway. It’s a very popular pastime here, especially during this heavy winter when we have seen many moose picking their way through snow up to their knees. Many conversations begin with an account of which animal or herd one has seen recently (or this time last year), and exactly where and when.

MountainLionWe not only enjoy seeing our neighbors on the hoof; we also like to keep track of the tracks that show where they have been. It’s only good sense to know who’s ahead of you when you’re hiking, after all.

Some people even install webcams out back to see who has visited at night. This mountain lion turned up just across the highway a few months ago. We’d never see him in the flesh, of course.

At dusk few weeks ago, already alert for deer as I headed westbound back from town, I came up behind a car that was barely crawling around the curve beside the roadcut at Stoney Point. As I got closer, I saw that the driver was following a herd of deer, headed by a buck which (I wrote “who,” and then changed it) was marching the others smartly up the middle of the highway, toward the blind curve.

The speed limit slows from 70 to 55 just there. It’s the first slowdown for cars that have sped down the pass coming from Jackson. Whether it’s the approach of journey’s end, or haste to get on with the drive, we know that many drivers go quickly around this sharp curve.

With great courage and selflessness, the driver in front of me had pulled partway into the left lane at the blind part of the curve, obviously hoping to herd the deer off the road onto the right side. By the grace of God, no one was coming in the opposite direction, and he succeeded. The herd climbed the steep slope to the right, and I pulled off to turn on my flashers, hoping to keep the deer uphill and to alert oncoming drivers.

DuboisEastbound030116Another fool’s gambit, of course. I had to get home, and I can’t spend my life protecting my four-footed neighbors. But I’m very pleased to learn that WYDOT, Game & Fish, and a bunch of nature and wildlife groups are hosting Wyoming’s Wildlife and Roadway Summit in Pinedale in late April “to address the effects of roads on wildlife and to minimize wildlife/vehicle collisions.”

It’s none too soon. Already we’re seeing signs of spring, and tourist season is just around the … well, the corner. And traveling fast.

© Lois Wingerson, 2017

You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

*POSTSCRIPT:  Our local Game & Fish warden got back to me with details after I posted this. The vehicle was a semi trailer-truck. The driver was the person who called it in. He said that there had been traffic approaching in the other lane, so he couldn’t swerve at all. Just after the cab passed the ewes, for some reason they bolted and got caught under the wheels of the trailer.


City Girl Spends Holiday Week in Winter Wilderness Wonderland

wintersunriseHolidays in the city were crowded with strangers and the nerve-jangling noise of false holiday cheer in background music. Here, there was the crunch of snow, and abundant visits from animals we seldom see, who for a change came down to where we live.

It seems to be the time of year to count creatures. With the hunters gone, Wyoming Game & Fish has been out scouting for deer, and reports that the deer herd in Dubois is healthy and growing steadily. (We could have guessed; they seem to own the highways, to know how to look both ways, and often strut across with the you-slow-down-fella insolence of New York jaywalkers.) The mule deer population outnumbers the town’s by 50%.

A new pair of (human) friends who are also spending their first full year in Dubois stayed outdoors all of New Year’s Day in Crowheart  counting birds, as part of the Audubon Christmas bird count.

“It was wonderful,” my friend said the next day.”We saw 20 different species, and a lot of waterbirds I’d never seen before, as well as bald and golden eagles and two kinds of hawks.”

audubonThis was the second Audubon Christmas bird count in the area; another one took place a week before Christmas.

I see that the Audubon web page features a child from Wyoming.

The large four-footed beasts may get more press, but Wyoming has been in the forefront of protecting birds. It was the first state in the nation to adopt legislation to protect songbirds, according to an article in last month’s Wyoming Wildlife.

I too have been keeping track of birds. Here’s my unofficial count:

  • One hawk, seen today soaring just above the riverwalk in the town park. “Where’s he going?” asked my companion.
  • Three ducks, who startled me as much as I startled them while walking beside the river. (Despite all the snow and subzero temperatures, the river is still warm and steaming, thanks to an upstream geyser.)
  • Many geese, seen grazing along with the cattle and the deer in the field just west of town.

mooseOn Christmas night, after playing Yahtzee with some friends, my husband gasped as he walked out the door ahead of me. Strolling past in the driveway was a huge, young moose.

He ambled silently past with the arrogant gait of a teenager in ski boots, ignoring us completely.

I didn’t have a camera or the presence of mind to take a picture, but Ree Brown Beavers of Wind River Property Group did the other day, when a similar fellow came into her back yard. He looks a lot like the one we saw.

You don’t normally mess with moose, and I’ve never seen one so close.

Another impressive visitor had turned up a few days before Christmas, early in the morning. We heard an unfamiliar, repetitive noise coming from the valley. It took us a while to spot him.

aspensA lone wolf stood facing west, toward this barren aspen grove, howling piteously. We assume he had been tossed out of his pack and was out in search of a new mate. It’s that time of year for wolves.

We don’t mess with those critters either, and this is the first wolf I have ever seen here. We don’t ever hear them, either, but we hear about them, and not often in a sympathetic way.

This fellow did tug at my heart strings, but those were not the ones he wanted to reach. After a while he gave up and trotted on up the valley.

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Why I’m Dreaming of a Wild Christmas

A cowboy, not a fashion model, it sucks it up and holds on.

christmastree122216Here’s our first Christmas tree in Dubois.

It’s anything but perfect: a bit lopsided and tippy, with lots of gaps between branches and not many of those in the first place. We had to run two guy-lines away from the trunk to keep it stable.

It’s so sparse because you’re not supposed to cut pine trees in the forest that are standing alone, which of course are the ones that are thick and symmetrical. This one was in a group of four, so what looked dense from a few feet away turned out to be the branches of all four trees, intertwined.

We paid the princely sum of $8 for the Forest Service permit, and then headed off toward the woods–stupidly leaving our snowshoes behind. “I’m hip-deep here!” I called out to my husband, after clambering over the bank left there by a snow plow. “I know!” he called out from close behind me.

We realized quickly that our chosen tree did not have all the branches we were seeing, but we were already too cold to change our minds. He sawed it off near the base, and then had to lug it back for about 30 feet through hip-deep snow.

For the first time in my decade here, I had a scintilla of understanding for the tie hacks who worked in these mountains all winter a century ago, felling and processing huge pines trees to make railroad ties. Not for the first time here, I pondered how easy we have it now.

brooklyntreeHere’s the last tree we had in Brooklyn. It looks like a fashion model in comparison to the rangy, lanky specimen we have in Dubois. But it dropped needles like crazy. This year’s tree sucks it up from the tree stand like beer and holds on like a cowboy at the rodeo.

All those trees we bought in Brooklyn were dense and beautiful, farmed like carrots or potatoes and then trucked down to the city from somewhere in New England. Choosing one was just another shopping experience: You’d have the guy with the gloves rotate one after another until you found the one you liked best.

Every year for more than a decade, in a tradition started by my daughter as a child, I’d deliver hot chocolate or tea every evening to Luke and Anners from New Hampshire, who were selling the trees at the church up the block. We got to be good friends. Luke would always give me a break on the cost of the tree, which could get close to 3 figures retail, if it was tall.

tiehackWhen we got our less-than-perfect tree into the Wyoming house, snow was still falling from the branches and there was ice on the trunk. Of course we had to re-cut the trunk. I got on the other side of the saw, and pulled ineptly, holding onto the trunk as we sawed through about four inches of sticky, sappy wood.

I felt a bit ridiculous doing this in our warm living room, as I thought again of those valiant tie hacks. (Thanks to the Dubois Museum for the poster.)

A tie hack would fell a suitable tree without assistance, using a one-man crosscut saw, write Robert and Elizabeth Rosenberg in wyohistory.org, and then remove the limbs with a double-bitted ax. Finally, he’d hew it to the final dimensions with a seven-pound broadax. He would drag the finished tie to the logging road using a tool with a metal point on one end, and add it to a stack.

A good tie hack could do this 25 times in a day. Assuming an 8-hour day, that’s about 20 minutes to topple a huge tree, limb it, slice it up and drag it to the pile.

In my heated living room, I used my large pruning shears to “limb” our tree at the bottom, so I’d have greens to add to the ornaments on the mantel. I also nipped some extra branches from fallen pine trees near our house. The greens this year are free. In Brooklyn, the garland I used in my living room cost about $10 a foot.

As I said, my wreath in Brooklyn got a “free” bow from Anners, for the price of all that hot chocolate and tea. I did shell out a little last week in Dubois: I bought a few fancy bows and a pine-cone wreath from Sandy’s great pop-up shop downtown.

sandysshopwithcaptionThe house looks and smells wonderful inside, and there’s a winter wonderland outside. Since we put up and decorated the tree, I have seen through that back window behind it two moose, a rabbit, many deer, the usual cattle, and a lone wolf crying out to find a mate.

Have a very merry Christmas, or whatever you celebrate this time of year. Thanks so much for sharing my pleasures.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

The Beauty of Our Favorite Beast

Why open your pockets to pay homage to a mere sheep?

bash2016Last Saturday, I finally had the chance to show off some of what I brought here from New York: the slinky black trousers, my hand-painted jacket, and my fancy necklace. We had two of the 200 tickets to the sold-out Bighorn Bash, which is probably the hottest gala in town.

The minute I got through the door at the Headwaters Center, I realized what I’d left behind: My good sense. Nobody cares about my big-town duds. In Dubois, it doesn’t matter what you wear. What matters is who you are.

buckleAgain this year, I asked myself what it is that creates the wonderful clamor at the annual Bighorn Bash (which supports our own home-grown educational institution, the National Bighorn Interpretive Sheep Center). The meal ticket alone is $35, a fairly hefty sum for many people here. But the goodwill in the big room at the Headwaters is palpable during that event.

The Official Speakers orate over the hubbub, and people gasp and roar during the live auction, as bidding escalates beyond the point of reason for items bearing the image of our favorite elusive animal. Leigh paid thousands for a smallish wall hanging (and then donated it back). The anonymous $1900 bid for the little box with a ram’s head carved on ramshorn was officially deemed to be unsatisfactorily low. A few pounds of fresh-caught seafood went for hundreds.

lucasbox“I wish I was that rich,” said someone at my table. I knew she didn’t mean she really wishes to be wealthy. She meant she wished that she too could afford to bid outrageously high for the benefit of the Sheep Center.

Not only did I not get why this particular event is so popular; the bighorn sheep was never very high on my list of things to love about Dubois. We joined the Sheep Center out of general goodwill, but I have always focused instead on the incredible scenery here, the history, the geology and archaeology. On individual residents and the community spirit in general.

Why do they get so excited about a mere sheep?

The next morning, waking to yet another stunning Indian summer day, we decided to go out beyond the reach of hikes in our ATV. “I’m going to take you somewhere you’ve never seen,” said my husband, who spends more time on the four-wheeler than I do.

gorgeHe drove me out to the East Fork, that wonderful region far on the other side of town where I first fell in love with this territory, while staying at a dude ranch. We climbed up beyond the undulating red rock hills to a nearly barren, windswept ridge where we were higher than the eagles fly.

When the rocky track petered out, he turned off the engine and led me out to a precipice. As John Denver once eloquently sang, I saw everything as far as I could see. The river was way down there, dizzyingly far below my feet.

“It doesn’t get any better than this,” I said, but he didn’t hear. He had already walked back to the ATV and turned it around.

Almost as soon as we started off, he turned the engine off again. Instantly, I understood what had escaped me before.


There, directly ahead, was a lone ram. He stood silent and erect, wearing his elegant pair of heavy horns like a crown.

He turned and looked at us for a moment, then strode off across the track and down the slope on the other side. He had the bearing of a landowner graciously ignoring two trespassers.

He and his family roam easily the places where I can venture only with great difficulty, or not at all. This landscape we love with such passion is his kingdom. That’s why.

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Close Encounters of the Herd Kind

How do you know it’s spring in Dubois WY? You see neighbors that don’t usually turn up nearby.

Sheep060816_4How do you know it’s spring in Dubois?

The animal neighbors turn up nearby, joining the livestock to sample the new grass.

Later on, most of them will vanish up-mountain. But for now, we get to enjoy their company.

Many of the creatures we are delighted to see are quite young. It’s that time of year too.

Last week, returning from Fort Washakie, I passed a herd of 17 bighorn sheep right beside the highway, just west of the red rocks.

This was a red-letter day for me. In nearly a decade here, I’ve only seen these wild sheep once or twice, and then only one or two at a time.

ISheep060816_3t was also troubling, because they were within feet of the highway. I pulled off to the shoulder and tried to motion passing cars to slow down.

When it was safe, I pulled a U-turn, got out of the car, and herded the sheep over the fence by approaching them. They say it’s not possible to herd bighorn sheep. Maybe I’m just a really scary person.

Of course I knew that when I continued on toward Dubois, they would leap back over the fence and keep grazing.

Calves2Last Thursday, heading toward town for a meeting, I was startled to see several calves wandering toward the highway near town, spilling out from a road that led into one of the fields. Slowing, I could see that the gate had been left ajar.

Again I pulled a U-turn, and again I got out and shooed the creatures back to the safe side of the fence. This time, after closing the gate, I could be certain I’d left them safe.

Two evenings ago, my husband called me to the window to watch two eagles and another large bird, perhaps a hawk, hovering over the aspens. Then he gasped as one of the eagles took a plunge toward the treetops.

BeaverTreesThe other, considerably smaller, bird was attacking the eagles repeatedly in mid-flight. Eventually the eagles  descended into the land beneath the grove. We wonder whether they found the hawk’s nest, or just gave up.

Yesterday on a hike in Long Creek Valley, we never saw any beavers. But we certainly saw what they had been up to.

As we stood contemplating the perfection of this lumber work, wondering what led the animals to stop midway, one of us turned around and spied the work in progress. What an engineering feat!

Sad to think, as someone remarked, that the Game & Fish people are sure to disassemble this. How lucky we were to find it!


A few weeks ago, we saw hundreds of elk loitering uphill from our house, easily visible, en route up the Dunoir Valley back toward Yellowstone, thick as aphids on a leaf.

I don’t have a picture of that. I just couldn’t tear my eyes away.



Volunteers Help Free Sheep Caught by Muggers

Guest columnist Karen Sullivan recounts a unique adventure, her reward for being in the Dubois area during the “shoulder season.”

BighornSheepStudyRecently, I had the unforgettable opportunity to help study some of the bighorn sheep and mule deer in the Dubois area, up close. It was an incredible experience!

Along with several other volunteers, I assisted in a joint project of the National Bighorn Sheep Center, the University of Wyoming, and the state Game & Fish Department to monitor the body condition and migration patterns of these wonderful animals. Our job as volunteers was to help collect the sheep delivered by helicopter, and to protect both the biologists and the animals by holding them still while they were being examined.

Last year, several ewes were collared in order to track their movements and recapture them annually for physical examinations. A helicopter crew from New Zealand was hired to capture the sheep and bring them to the exam area near Dubois.

BighornSheepStudy1The crew used a helicopter and net gun to catch the sheep. Once the sheep were caught in the net, two muggers (yes, that is what they are called!) jumped from the helicopter to blindfold and hobble the sheep. They also wrapped them in a sturdy tarp for transport to the exam area.

The helicopter pilot’s skills were impressive, to say the least! He very gently laid the sheep on the ground, where volunteers picked them up and carried them to the biologists who would examine them. Each animal had an extensive examination, which included measuring their body fat, checking for pregnancy using an ultrasound, and collecting blood, ear, nose, and throat swab samples to test them for disease.

BighornSheepStudy2Most of the sheep were surprisingly calm throughout the process, especially considering that no tranquilizer was used.

The collars were then adjusted or replaced as needed. After this, the sheep were moved to an open area, where their blindfolds and hobbles were removed and they were set free. Volunteers were also able to help with freeing the ewes.

Once released, the ewes did not waste any time running to rejoin their herd. They are amazingly fast runners.

BighornSheepStudy3The collars on the ewes allow the biologists to track them and their lambs throughout the year and to monitor their health as well as their migration patterns.

As a new part of this ongoing statewide project, several mule deer in the Upper Wind River Valley have also been caught, examined, and collared with the same objective.

I would not have imagined that I would ever be able to get so close to bighorn sheep or be able to actually help with a project like this. I hope that the long-term results from this research will help ensure the health of these magnificent animals, and increase their population.

© 2016 Karen Sullivan. Image credits: Karen Sullivan (top), Nick Dobric (remainder)

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