Dividends of the Good Life

This is a quote from Sigurd F. Olson, a legendary outdoorsman/wilderness advocate/nature writer with whom I share a birthday (though his came nearly seventy years before mine):

It is hard to place a price tag on these things, on the sounds and smells and memories of the out-of-doors, on the countless things we have seen and loved. They are the dividends of the good life.

I love this river, this bank. Over the years I have stood here many, many times, in all hours of daylight and dusk, in every season, in just about every kind of weather. Alone or with company, including five different dogs. Today, while Bucky tore around in the bushes I watched a large heron wading the opposite bank, slowly and carefully. Then a bald eagle soared overhead. I was cranky when I arrived, but not when I left. Dividends, indeed.

The Solitary Bee

This is an excerpt from a piece called “The Natural State” by Emma Marris, appearing in issue 02 of Beside magazine.

“We keep the outdoors wild by remaining humble and aware, by embracing the wildness all around us, by fighting to protect nature both remote and nearby — by feeling awe not only for the grizzly bear but also for the solitary bee.”

At this point in my life, the majority of my encounters with “wild” happen in places far removed from what we traditionally consider to be wilderness. Not that I’ve abandoned the broad, remote places on the map. I long for them. But I also love my views from my front porch, and from my bird feeder. From the banks of the river running through the heart of Missoula, and from trails shared with joggers and dog walkers. They are all equally wondrous to me. They are where I am always, as Jim Harrison writes, “in search of small gods.”


Looking For Some Grass

I headed up the Rattlesnake Saturday because the story is the beargrass is blooming this year, and I figured I knew exactly where to find some. To my recollection it is the first time I ever went out into the woods specifically on the hunt for some kind of plant or flower. I found it, along with many other blooming, beautiful wildflowers. The smell in the largest concentrations of them was intoxicating. It was a perfect day outdoors; several hours of sunlight, shade, and the sounds and smells of the natural world. It is a kind of soul work, have no doubt.

As for beargrass, this is from the wonderful reference book Rocky Mountain Natural History: Grand Teton to Jasper by Daniel Mathews:

Once you’ve seen beargrass in bloom you will have no trouble ever recognizing its wonderful flower heads again. But the flowering schedule is erratic. You often see only the bunched leaves. Communities of beargrass may go for years without one bloom — and then hundreds bloom at once. That often happens for several years in a row after a fire that reduces the tree canopy but leaves the soil cool enough for the beargrass roots to survive and resprout. Like the century plant, beargrass clumps grow slowly, accumulating photosynthates for years before venturing a flowering stalk. Having flowered, the clump dies, but its nutrients are siphoned off through the rhizome to a new offset clump.

Spring’s tender leaf bases figure in bear diets, hence “beargrass’; but the neatly clipped leaf bases you see here and there are more likely the work of a “brushpicker” gathering foliage for the florist trade.

By summer the leaves are wiry and strong. Native Americans wove them into baskets and hats.

Mathews writes more, but you get the idea. Speaking of hats, it was the trial run of my new Filson hat, which I think is quite snappy. Here are some shots from the outing, including the initial, post-tag removal moments of me under my hat.

A Primal Urge to Move

From Song for the Blue Ocean, by Carl Safina:

Windy or not, a day this beautiful has to be lived. The day is bright and clear, the sky blue, and the dry air feels light. A northerly wind stirs a primal urge to move. The geese feel it, and so do I. Perhaps it is a last internal vestige from a time, long ago, when we migrated with the seasons across open plains, following the animals we pursued for food. Perhaps that is why the sight of migrating geese arrests our attention, why we feel the pull. We want to go, to travel in fresh or moody weather, taking in each newly revealed vista.