Monday, September 22, 2008

Making the Scene


The Woods Tea Company, from Vermont, is my favorite folk band, pulling off sea chanties, Irish tunes, and random goofiness with equal panache. They have had a rough couple years with the loss of two of their band mates, but they continue to make great music.

Several years ago, I learned the Robin Hood song from one of their CD's. It has been a perennial favorite of my kids at South.

So, the other day I was goofing around trying to learn to use some new recording software, and recorded my first graders' warm-up song. It was good for a chuckle. So I emailed it to Howard, the band leader, thinking they might get a kick out of it.

It appears that they did:

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Quick Draw at Silas Canyon

I take a break from painfully dull graduate studies to bring you the following overdue update.

Last weekend, Sarah and I went hiking into Silas Canyon. It's a fairly remote region where neither of us had ever been before. It was a suprisingly easy hike, though, and before long we came to Upper Silas Lake, about three or four miles in. We had the whole place to ourselves, and lingered long over a lunch of squashed peanutbutter sandwiches and cold water.

After a while the wind off the peaks got chilly and it was time to move on. We moseyed up the trail, gorging on grouseberries (insanely tiny but intensely delicious) and enjoying the forest. Ah, is there anything quite like the smell of a mountain pine forest in the sunshine? The mountains have air you breathe intentionally, slowly. It tastes different. The drought seems to have finally lifted, and I can't remember the last time I saw this many wildflowers in late August.

Soon the forest began to open up, the grouseberry began to give way to grass, the lodgepoles to fir as we neared timber line.

Crossing a small clearing, I abruptly became aware of the medium-sized, shaggy, black dog in the trail just ahead. I drew breath to mention this to Sarah, as we have had unpleasant experiences with uncontrolled dogs on trails elsewhere. In the moment it took for this to get from brain to mouth, the little voice in my head said, "Um, that ain't a dog."

There is only one critter that size and shape in the mountains, and this was a little one. I immediately started looking for mama, and in a couple seconds spotted a large patch of shaggy brown fur in the bushes. OK, must keep an eye on that one. (Alright, kids, listen closely: these were black bears, ursus amaricanus, which can be brown; furthermore, brown bears, ursus arctos, can be black. Everybody still with me? Good. On with the story) They were twenty, maybe thirty yards away. And about the time I spotted her, she spotted us.

Now, I had immediately grabbed for the camera, hoping to snap a quick picture of a cub before beating a judicious retreat. But when mama took a couple steps our way, it occurred to me (and to my lovely wife) that getting out the bear spray was probably a pretty nifty idea, too.

"It's OK, mama; we'll just be moving along; there's a nice carnivore," I said. Or words to that affect, letting her know what we were lest she should become curious and decide to investigate. One of the cubs had run up a tree; another was still standing in the trail staring at us, as kids are wont to do when they see odd things. Sarah says she saw a third cub, a brown one. Mama stuck her head out of the bushes to get a good look at us.

Now, some wild animals are big. Moose are big. So are elk. But there is a special category of big which relates only vaguely to actual size, a bigness reserved for animals in very close proximity which have both the means and the motive to work severe harm upon one's person.

As mama bear stared me down from a stone's throw away, it occurred to me that she was big.

Big, but fairly agreeable, as it turned out. Having confirmed that we were, in fact, merely annoying hikers, mama turned and started up the trail at a quick walk. Cub #1 was still in the trail staring at us; an annoyed "whoof!" from mom sent him up a tree, too, with exactly the same facial expression human children get when their parents bark at them for doing something stupid.

My picture? Yes, I got it. Here is is. It really isnt' that bad, considering that I was holding the camera at arms length in my off hand, going for the bear spray with the other, all while talking to mama bear and backing up a bolder-strewn trail. I think that oblong, dark blotch in the upper center might be cub #2. I'm not sure where mama is. The old west art of the quick draw in action.