Tom Clyde: Waiting for winter
A neighbor asked if he could cut firewood from our ranch. There’s an endless supply of bark beetle-killed pine, and I was very happy to oblige. He reported getting a truckload of firewood, and coming across the carcass of a deer killed by a mountain lion.
Well, that’s a little different.
If you were going to look for a mountain lion, the canyon across the street from my house would be a good place to start. I’ve seen tracks up there off and on for years, and there were some very clean tracks in the mud a week ago when it was still in the ‘50s.
In all the years I’ve lived here, and all the time I’ve spent outside on the ranch, I’ve only seen a mountain lion once, and that was from a distance. The guy from Fish and Game pointed out that it was probably not the only time a mountain lion had seen me.
They normally seem to pass through after a few days. It’s a little unusual for them to hang around. My neighbor, who is into hunting, tracking, and kitchen table taxidermy, said there were actually two lions, probably an adult female and a cub that will get booted out next spring. That’s in addition to the usual assortment of coyote, fox, and bobcat tracks. Traffic around the carcass was as busy as Kimball Junction.
I walked up there a couple of days later and found another deer carcass. Actually, it kind of found me. I would not have seen it but for a swarm of magpies squawking around it, and suddenly a golden eagle flew up from it. I couldn’t make out any of the tracks around it because of all the rocks. But I have to assume it is the mountain lions, and that they have decided to spend the winter.
I’ve got mixed feelings about that. First, it would be really cool to see it. The minute I got home I ordered a trail cam to set up, and began actually hoping that somebody would hit a deer on the road so I could move it up the canyon and stick the camera next to it. The deer ate the entire second hay crop this year. If the lion wants to snack on them, I’m happy to provide the condiments. But it does put an element of unease into a casual walk with the dog. He’s absolutely stupid enough to go try to engage the lion in play if he found it. I don’t feel completely comfortable walking out to the mailbox after dark.
On another carcass inspection trip, I came home with a pair of huge birds flying a figure eight pattern overhead. I couldn’t really see them in detail against the bright sky, but they had a distinctive white spot under each wing. They looped around in their figure eight pattern, nearly touching at the center point, and gradually drifting the whole performance in the same direction. Thanks to Google Images, I was able to figure out that they were young golden eagles.
I don’t see many golden eagles here. There has been a bald eagle roosting in a dead tree across the river from my house for years. It’s been there almost every winter morning I can remember. It hadn’t shown up this year (nor had winter). The other day, there was another big bird in the same spot. It looked like a dirty bald eagle. The white feathers on the head and neck looked like an oil slick eagle. Again, Google taught me that it was a youngster, about 4 years old, and had not fully turned white yet. I’m not sure what kind of probate process eagles have, but this one seems to have inherited the roost. There are other bald eagles along the river, but never in that tree.
The cold weather froze the river ice this week for the first time. I was at the computer, and my dog kept running downstairs, growling and barking at nothing. I couldn’t hear it until I went outside, but the river ice was breaking up as the morning warmed, snapping in loud cracks. The dog was sure it was the end of the world. He’ll get used to it.
Skiing is off to a slow start. Deer Valley has a few steep runs open, with good coverage and surprisingly good, mid-winter conditions. Park City has had only a couple of flat runs open. The cold weather will let them make snow finally, and by this weekend, there should be more open. It’s been fun to get out for a while, but it’s hard to make it last very long. We’ve had winters like this before. The snow will eventually come. In the meantime, there are lion tracks to look for.
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.
The ivory-billed woodpecker is long gone, an iconic creature driven to extinction because of indifference.