Tom Clyde: Nature gone wild
I hope you all had a wonderful 2nd of July holiday. If you missed it, you can celebrate the 5th of July in Oakley. Very confusing.
A couple of days ago, my dogs woke me up very early to go out. It’s usually the Aussie shepherd that starts pounding on my head. That day, it was the lab. When the lab, who is fat and lazy and more than willing to hold it than make the trip downstairs, starts pounding on my pillow, there’s usually a good reason. So I got up at a completely indecent hour and let them out. When I looked out in the yard, with the first morning light filtering through the trees, it looked like it had snowed.
This year, nothing would surprise me, but snow at the end of June, when it’s been so hot and dry, didn’t seem likely. But the yard was covered in white just the same. The cottonwood trees have gone wild, and there is cotton blowing in the air. The slightest breeze sets off a blizzard. It had accumulated over night in drifts in the yard. The cotton blizzard has lasted for several days now, and there’s no sign of it letting up.
The bark beetles killed off the lodge pole pines. Then the spruce beetles got about half of the spruce trees. The aspens have aspen bore in them. The whole forest along the river bottom is looking pretty sick at the moment. Except for the cottonwoods. They are thriving. Nothing will kill a cottonwood. Years from now when climate change had turned us into a high-altitude version of the Mojave Desert, the cottonwoods will still be there, along with the cockroaches, flooding the air with cotton balls. It gets sucked into the air intake on the farm machinery, clogs the window screens, and the dogs track it inside. The Roomba chokes on it every night. Nature does its thing.
In celebration of its eightieth birthday, I fired up my John Deere tractor and took it out for a joy ride around the ranch. Nobody cared about either safety or ergonomics then, and it’s a very uncomfortable machine to drive. There’s really no place to put your feet, and there are exposed flywheels spinning next to you, waiting to grab a shoelace. The seat spring is 80 years old and sagging, with the end result that I always feel like I’m falling off the back end.
From the vantage point of the tractor seat, sagging but still high up, I saw a flock or herd of baby killdeer scampering across the field in front of me. The mother was ahead, shrieking and doing the “injured wing” distraction dance. On foot, I wouldn’t have seen the babies. From above, I could see the parched grass moving, and got a great view of a half dozen or so little ones. Their bodies weren’t much bigger than large grapes, with ridiculously long legs and wings attached. Never seen that before.
My sister-in-law reported seeing some kind of weasel in her yard, running around with a mouse in its mouth. The mouse was almost as big as the weasel. I’m used to seeing them in the winter when they are snow white except for the tips of their ears and tails. The next day, I was on thistle patrol and saw a pair of them. They were very curious about what I was doing, and kept poking their heads up from behind a log to check it out. I think they are long-tailed weasels. My sister-in-law is pretty sure they are stoats. We both went on line. Utah weasels have their own website, probably some kind of multi-level marketing scam, and it appears there are a lot of different kinds of weasels. They all look alike.
The drought has forced the deer out of the high country and right down to the river level for water. The end result is the highway is more or less lined with carcasses. The turkey buzzards put on quite an air show for me. UDOT doesn’t make much effort to clean them up, though I guess that would be a difficult job to fill. The other day there was one right next to my mailbox. Somebody had hit it during the night. I scooped it up with the front-end loader and was driving down the road to find a spot where it wasn’t going to stink up somebody else’s house. A car coming the other direction slowed down to gawk. While they were gawking at me, another deer slowly walked out into the highway, and they smacked it. The poor thing was really smashed up. It somehow managed to jump the fence and get up the hill where it will have met a painful end. I suspect we will find the remains of that one with the hay mower.
Slow down and pay attention, people. Nature is right in front of us, and not operating any closer to normal than anything else. Watch it, enjoy it, and try not to wreck it.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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Tom Clyde was not impressed with Jeff Bezos’ recent trip to “space,” though it does make him wonder if space tourism should be in Park City’s future.