Nature’s Splendor

I’ve charted a four mile course along some pristine tracks on Hastings Mesa (which is around the corner and a forty minute drive from Telluride, and about twenty miles up Highway 62 from Ridgway), which meander among groves of Aspens (the largest living organisms on earth [no it’s not the blue whale] whose roots interconnect in a subterranean superstructure many square acres in size), some of whose leaves are already turning yellow (my favorite color), as well as old growth Ponderosa Pines, and spruce and fir, and expansive meadows of brilliantly lime green grass, which forms a symphony of coordinated movement, wave after wave, at the behest of the ever-present northeast winds.

But it’s not just organisms with roots that tantalize the senses; it’s also the things on hooves. Every day without exception I run into ‘The Boy’s Club’, the endearing title given by locals to a guild of seven bucks (whose membership has increased by one since last year, as the locals are happy to point out) with very impressive antlers (in a month or two they’ll need to set up camp behind a bush with a large girth, when those guys with orange caps invade their territory). Six of them ‘high-tail it’ (do we get this expression from deer, whose little knob on their rear, called a tail, points high to the heavens whenever running away in fright?) when they see yours truly approaching at the lightning speed of three miles an hour – except for one, the biggest one, which stops, looks me straight in the eye, turns his head to and fro, as if to say in perfect deerish: ‘Have you ever seen a multi-pointed rack like mine?’ I ignore him, not wanting to encourage arrogance.

It’s a little sad that very shortly this group with such a tight fraternal bond will be jabbing at each other’s throats, all because beauty has shown up on the doorstep in the form of the female of the species. Of course, that’s not much different from humans: whose heart isn’t put in his throat by the appearance of a lovely damsel?

Speaking of which, yesterday I ran (lumbered) into a doe and her two fawns, still sporting spots. I stopped (what a good excuse for a rest) and watched the mother guide the young away from danger (me), and I thought, not only how beautiful the sight, but also how encouraging the reward – to see a mother’s hard work compensated by the survival of both progeny from the prior Spring.

But, then, there aren’t many large predators in these parts, apart from homo sapiens, wolf packs having long ago gone the way of the bison. Cougars, yes, but they are relatively few and widely dispersed. Coyotes are too small, and good only for waking me at three in the morning with serenades of random wailing (actually, I love the wild calls).

The absence of predators also explains the size of elk herds grazing on high meadows – a few weeks ago I drove right through the middle of a herd of at least two-hundred elk. And, yesterday, as I was running, a herd of thirty or so were watching me from the left and, then about twenty minutes later, were watching me from the right, as my path took me, circuitously, right around them. Doubtless the more intellectual members of the group were laughing at the low intelligence of a creature who runs a peripheral route rather than save distance by cutting through the middle.

At night, the female elk cry outside my window with their high squeals, and the bulls shatter all tranquility with their hysterical and guttural screams, the better to attract the ladies, a matter of urgency at this time of year, as they round up their harems (these blokes don’t go to church). But who would be drawn to such belching and bleating? I was taught (by my wife) that the more romantic method is whispering in the ear.

There’s a long stretch, passing the meadow, where every day I seem to run into the same pair of kestrels, and one of them invariably has a mouse dangling from its talons. I wonder how it can cling to the same decomposing piece of vermin day after day – just, it seems, to show off his dexterity as a hunter. Or does he catch a new mouse every day?

Last week, only a hundred yards from the cabin, I ran into an anomaly: a snake coiled up and basking on the warmth of the sun-drenched rocks on my running trail. An anomaly because snakes are cold blooded: how could such a creature make a go of it in the icy temperatures of ninety-five hundred feet? Now if you know me, such an encounter was a moment scripted in heaven. I held the fascinating serpent for a few minutes, then set it back down on the trail and ran back to the cabin to find an enclosure. Upon returning, the snake was in the same spot (not a very smart snake with a herpetologist in the vicinity), and I snatched it up for some company. I’m happy to report that the newest resident of the cabin has made itself very much at home, having already eaten a fuzzy.

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