Category Archives: Wild Animals

Oh Deer!

Here on Whoopie (Whidbey) Island, I have no garden space.  It’s the first year in 25 years I haven’t actively lived and breathed through my garden.  I finally decided I HAD to have something, so I planted about 10 containers, with just the right (researched) soil mix, planted and waited through the weirdest summer weather I can remember in my adult life.  Finally, after way too long, it produced…beans, sunchokes, leafy chard, peas, herbs, and the tomatoes were hanging off the vines…and all of this was on my deck, not 3 feet from my front door.

Went to work one Thursday morning and visited all the plants on my way out the door. They were lookin’ good — full, lush. I was finally going to get a harvest!  Came home that evening and everything, and I mean everything (except the sage, rosemary and parsley) was eaten down to about 3 inches of stem.  All the beans, chard, peas, tomatoes and plants, chokes…the whole shebang…chewed off by a mamma doe and her two frisky fawns who’ve been hanging around, and who I NEVER thought would come within 3 ft. of the front door to steal the garden goodies.  Sigh.

With nice summer weather being so sporadic and fall already beginning, and no harvest, I feel like I’m in some kind of time warp.  Leaves are already turning on the maple outside my window.

Horseback Tours Denali National Park

I had a rare treat last Wednesday, the privilege of driving back into Denali National Park on a private bus, back into the depths of a wonderland of animal, plant and geological diversity that has few rivals on earth.

180px-Mount_McKinley_and_Denali_National_Park_Road_2048pxThe park is the size of the state of Massachusetts. The only road goes a mere 94 miles in, but a wild and winding, cliff-hanging dirt road, passing Denali, and ending finally on the banks of Moose Creek. Closed to the public unless they have a special pass, one must take a bus to avoid harassing wildlife, who conducts their daily activities within full view of passers-by since they are not hunted or chased.

We saw 2 sow grizzlies and their twins foraging for vegetation and voles, a lynx, moose, caribou, a golden eagle, beaver, an assortment of ducks and raptors. All under a vivid blue sky with the towering white hump of “The Great One,” more aptly named by the indigenous peoples here than a US President, McKinley, who had never stepped foot in Alaska.300px-Grizzly_Denali_edit

I was privileged to have worked as the wrangler at the end of the road at a remote lodge that offered horseback tours into the Kantishna Hills, a mere 20 miles from the north face of Denali, years ago. For 5 summers I took small groups of adventurers up a creek and into the hills, where no one else ever went. We often passed grizzly tracks and a few munching off the trail, my heart pounding but keeping a steady pace with my guests behind me. My favorite part was climbing out of valley with a fast moving creek, moving steadily up past treeline and into the alpine tundra, while Denali peeked from behind another hill and then came into full view, filling my field of vision with the enormity of the highest mountain in North America, and the tallest mountain in the world from base to top. I entered a cathedral of such grand proportions anything man-made was totally insignificant by comparison.

konjourneydenali1997 copyThe horses stretched out as we climbed higher, my hands in their mane,
my entire body alive and connected. I loved sharing this sacred place. At the top the horses would rest and we’d eat lunch in the tundra, small plants entwined in an ecological dance of harmony: berries, flowers, grasses, mosses, lichens, dwarfed trees, with the north face of Denali facing ours.

E-e-e-gads! Snakes…


We have a snake. Rattler. 5 tics. Molly pointed it out last night as it was lounging beside the deck. She was rather emphatic that we had a pending emergency and that we should move very quietly but somewhat urgently to remediate the situation. Her expression was unlike any I’ve seen her wear. I walked over to where she was pointing in kind of a Lassie sort of “Look, Timmy! Look! Look what Lassie found. Careful, Timmy, Careful!”

So I checked it out. And then I got a rake with a LONG handle and a 40 gallon garbage can and scooped the snake into the can, set the lid on it and set it on the tractor. In the morning, my friend Betsy and I went about our chores and after loading the truck with garbage, we placed the snake in his can on the back of the load, secured all, and drove a couple of miles down the road where we stopped at a pull-out, tipped the garbage can over to release the snake… and never saw it hit the ground.

Where the hell did that snake go anyway?????!!!!!

We looked around (somewhat passively) and decided it must have gotten away undetected.

Or it was still on the truck somewhere.

In the garbage? In the bumper? On the differencial?

So off we went to the dump. No snake.

And then we went to the Post Office. No snake.

And then to Nultons where we loaded 60 feet of squiggle black 10 inch irrigation tubes into the back of the truck. We never heard a rattle.

But then, hours after we got home, we heard a strange sound, a sort of chittering near the rabbits. We wondered if they were feeling threatened about something and went to investigate. Armed with a flashlight with a failing battery, we climbed into the rabbit pen. We flashed all the rabbits. All were fine. We climbed out of the rabbit enclosure and heard the distinct sound of a rattle. And there, beside my truck was our snake.

After locating the rake and shoving another garbage can my way, Betsy retreated to the bow of Calypso, my truck. She shined what pathetic beam streamed from the flashlight onto the snake while I tipped the garbage can over and flipped it in. Then with the can right-side up escorted the snake to his quarters– the bucket of the tractor where he spent the previous night in deja vu conditions: in a 35 gallon garbage can suspended above the ground in a nook created by a tractor’s bucket with a lid inverted on top of him.

“I’m Popeye the Sailor Man,” sang Betsy, “I live in a garbage can…”

Molly (short for Molecule) is my Jack Russell terrier who has more energy and curiosity than any life form ismolly entitled to.  Here’s a picture of her, focusing on small game.

Fires in Alaska

Kathy here.  The smoke from the two major fires in our area in the interior of Alaska, the Wood River and Minto Flat fires, rolled in last night so thick the wilderness was like a packed bar loaded with smokers. Visibility down to less than 100 feet, this in a land of broad vistas and big sky. Continual dry days (.44 inches of rain in July, driest on record) and high temperatures, in the 80’s and sometimes 90’s, and no end in sight, have fanned the flames of these fires, one within 20 miles of Fairbanks, to immense killers. The Minto fire, as of a few days ago, was already 350,000 acres, or 600 square miles, across the Nenana River from the small Athabascan village of Nenana where I spent 26 years. The effects on wildlife are  incomprehensible: birds too young to fly away, moose calves too small to run through the thick brush. Fox,lynx, wolves, bears, squirrels, all with young. The beavers can at least dive down into the lakes, but their lodges, their protection, could catch fire. And no rain in sight.

But the wild blueberries and raspberries are ripe and ready early, an important part of our food supply, Mother Nature’s yearly  free giveaway. Yesterday afternoon friend Pam and I went into the hills north of here and found large patches, but the odd thing was that the ground was so dry it broke off the branches of the berry bushes and lichen as we searched with our little buckets. Instead of a moist sponge, the tundra crackled with every movement. Uncovered ground was hard and split open like the photos of African droughts I’d seen in National Geographics.

Horrified I apologized to the little plants that should have sprung back, never having seen this in 35 years in this country. Many of the berries were small, after sitting in the hot, relentless sun and 24 hours of daylight since they formed. But our buckets were full when we left. Kept our eye out for a large black bear seen in the area, my .44 strapped to my hip, but he was thankfully feasting elsewhere.

Without rain the few hay farmers in our area are suffering, along with the horse owners. Each horse up here needs about 3 tons of hay per horse for the year. The oil based fertilizer they use cannot disintergrate and nourish the grass plants without water, which has never been a problem in the past. So no one uses irrigation. At the first cutting in July, bales per acres was about 20 % of the normal amount. I was shocked when I took my flatbed trailer into my favorite farmer’s fields and left with 15 bales instead of 65. The grass was just too short.

The changes we are seeing here are extreme, as last summer with constant, record rain and finally flooding. My life depends on the weather: hay for horses, salmon for the sled dogs, adequate snow for sled dog tours in the winter, and for the last12 or so  years we have seen changes beyond what is considered normal for this far north. Excessive snow this past March closed many of the trails to even snowmachines.In the backcountry snow would be up to the top of my legs in many places, and I am 5’10” with my boots on. On one trip I had to turn a 10 dog team around in a narrow trail, and found the leaders on top of me as I stepped off the trail and fell into the deep snow, my legs cemented into place. Chaos !

All of this tells me to be flexible, do not assume and predict. Just when I am at that age when I would like to settle back a bit, cozy in my knowledge of a land and it’s rhythms. But the dance has changed, and I better learn some new steps.

Mottle’s World

I asked Mottle, the dainty little, mostly-feral tortoise shell cat that has lived in my backyard jungle for 7 years now, if I could write about her.  She agreed — but only if I didn’t divulge her true location on any given day.  She prides herself in being illusive.

Mottle came to live in my compost when she was young and so skinny that she disappeared when she turned sideways.  She loved the compost (it was warm) but was hanging out with a new boyfriend (an unsavory looking fellow) and wouldn’t be lured into shelter until she was full of kittens and autumn was on its way.

I named Mottle after a cat in Timothy Findley’s book Not Wanted On the Voyage which is a dark comedy and fascinating retelling of the old story of Noah and the arc.  In that story, Noah is portrayed as a quintessential patriarch.  His wife, who has no other name but Mrs. Noyes, has a cat named Mottle and both of them can only just barely tolerate the old man (he’s mean).  In preparation for the voyage, Mrs. Noyes brews gin, bottles it in quart jars and hides it in the rafters of the arc.  Once the rain begins and the voyage is underway, Mrs. Noyes and Mottle sneak down to the animal deck each night,  crack open a jar of gin and spend the evening teaching the sheep to sing. I loved that.

So when I told Mottle how she got her name, she chuckled and murmured under her breath as she strutted by on the way to the raspberry patch….”I love to sing!”