Saturday, June 26, 2010

Morning Swim

I woke up around 6am and decided to go swimming in the cool morning air. The bullock’s orioles where nice to hear and see, they had nests in the cottonwood trees surrounding the pools. A western wood pewee was screaming his heart out nearby and several robins were perched. I talked to an older lady with knee trouble, then floated around the large cooler pool with a floaty and listened in on a Swiss German conversation between three very fit looking older people.

I went to shower off the algae from the natural water, but the water wouldn’t turn on! I wrapped a towel around myself and stepped outside. A man came out of the shower room next to mine and I asked him how the shower worked. He laughed and said I needed quarters, and he dug in his bag chatting in a heavy French accent from Canada, and gave me 50 cents for a 5 minute shower. I’m glad I had two quarters, because the water stopped at a time when I had soap everywhere, and with slippery hands I put the next quarter in. The little box hummed and my water came back. It brought up a good memory of an apartment that brown eyes and I had in Bonn, Germany were we had to pay for the shower in the basement of the building. The country just switched over to Euros, but the shower still took Deutschmarks. I kept asking brown eyes why we couldn't shower, and he said I had to wait. Then his landlord came one day with a huge bag of Deutschmarks from the shower and he gave him money for them.

Ayla and I later headed to Worland and ended up staying the night in a campground so I could use their internet. I don't like library summer hours, they close at noon, and I depend on them so much. The lady who runs the Worland Campground is so nice and takes good care of the place, and extreme opposite of that place in Lusk. The bathroom is so cute even with the gilded mirrors. More tourist families were excited to talk with me, it always starts like (sometimes them speaking in unison)...
"Hi, We are the Smith family from Ohio!" Big smiles all around, a few pets to my dog.
I say, "Let me guess, are you on your way to Yellowstone?"
"Yes, how did you know?"

Then I tell them about the bear and lightning deaths and they leave me alone :) or invite me to have hotdogs and beer with them as they tell me the exciting time they had at Mt. Rushmore. Tonight there was a guy I could tell was from Germany alone at the sight next to mine.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Thermolopolis Hot Springs

I woke up early, had a pop-tart and followed and elk trail to my point for over a kilometer. I was so high up in elevation in the mountains that I heard some olive-sided flycatchers. The fallen trees were extremely thick and hard to climb over all day.

I decided to take Ayla to the vet in Thermolopolis after finishing my bird point, she needed her shots to go to Canada. The vet there helped out so much when she was sick over a week earlier. I drove over some of the hottest land in Wyoming, much of it covered in oil wells, and Ayla dealt with the heat with pants and by hanging her head out the window. When I got to the vets office, I was told that he just left on vacation to Alaska. So the dog and I got a campsite nearby with the “largest hot spring in the world” they advertise at the Fountain of Youth Campground. I had visions of getting a lot of work done with my laptop, I had a plug in for it. Ayla and I made a trip down to the river and she swam just offshore for a little while, I had a hold of her leash so she wouldn’t be swept downstream. Then I tied her to a picnic table with a bowl of water while I went swimming in my brown polka dot bikini in the giant pool that felt like a hot tube. She barked in protest from the table, telling me she wanted to swim too. Dog aren’t allowed in a lot of places though, and she pictured the water being cool I’m sure, not hot. I got out and put on my t-shirt and new cut off jean shorts that I made when I couldn’t find a decent place to buy shorts in town.

Being in a social mood, I ended up talking to several people on the phone, then talked to another camper for a while. She had rented one of those “Cruise Across America” RVs and said she was on her way to Meeteetse with her young son, she grew up there. We mostly talked about bears and mountain lions, she was more scared of mountain lions having grown up around the bears. Then I had a beer with another camper, as we built a fire with the free wood I still had from the game warden out north of Cody. This camper is a former marine, and has been working down here with dinosaur bones for a few weeks before he heads back to med school in Montana. He talked about being stationed in Japan as a medic mostly. He had a German Shepard who was scared of my dog as she kept barking, her tail between her legs. It was late, I crawled in my tent instead of my car, because the nights thunder clouds were already broken up and I could see the almost full moon through my tent mesh.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Dog Barf

I woke up to the hum of a street sweeper, but it wasn’t a bad night staying in the city park by the flooded river in Douglas, WY. The dog and I slowly got up, and I was determined to go swimming today. I checked by the pool though and they didn’t open until noon, so we went on a few river paths, and visited a veteran memorial. I decided to go to the library to get caught up on a lot of work and my blog. I never can spend much time in the library now because I’m worried about leaving Ayla in the car.

I parked in the shade and rolled her window down the whole way and cracked the other a few inches. I wasn’t gone too long when I came back to check on her…she was in the back seat. I knew something was up and let her out of the car and could smell throw up. I chose to ignore the smell for the moment as we went on a long walk around the city, she was certainly sick again, and I was heartbroken for her. I tied her in the shade and took out my makeup remover wipes to deal with the throw up all over the front two seats. It could have been a lot worse if it wasn’t made up mostly of the Iams dry food that I gave her the night before. My car smelled like throw up though, I needed to shampoo my seats. She looked at me with sad sick eyes and I wished I had a house that I could leave her at until she felt better.

The chamber of commerce told me to go to the Ford dealership, which was the only place I could get my seat shampooed in town. It was too expensive though for a broke biologist, $50. I can still remember when money wasn’t an issue a few months ago at my past corporate job, but somehow I seem a lot happier in Wyoming. A sales man got a hold of me, which led me to ask I could trade my Nissan Versa for a 2003 Chevy Silverado truck. He started up the paperwork, and said he would call back in a few days if they found a lender willing to give me a loan. He was the nicest sales man ever, and didn’t even cringe when Ayla threw up water right next to his feet. He talked to me for a long time about the bald eagles down by the river and about how exciting my wildlife job is.

I later drove out to Lusk, WY (somewhere near Kansas) for the night and now have my laptop plugged into an RV hookup. The campground here is not so nice. All the bathrooms were locked and I rang the doorbell hoping the person who owned the car out front from South Dakota would answer, and she did. She doesn’t run the place but rents an apartment above the office. She helped me unlock the bathrooms, and mentioned that the owner was out of town. I was so pissed that I set up my tent on an RV space for the electricity. Trust me, no one will want to fill it, this place is empty.

Ayla is looking so sick and sad, I didn’t even bother tying her up to some pole. She went in my tent for a few minutes then laid down under my feet at the picnic table, where she still is. I keep saying encouraging words to her and her tail wags a little every time. She hardly touched her water, which worries me, I will try some more dry food. The lark buntings are going crazy out in the “prairie” behind me, and coal trains from Gillette keep chugging through headed east at just enough distance to not be annoying. Each open car is filled with the exact same amount of the black energy in a mountainous pile, the one going by now has hundreds of train cars of coal attached, the same amount of energy as a couple of pieces of small uranium that could be held in a gloved hand.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

#@%&*! Wind

The wind tried to blow my tent over with me in it this morning, and I didn’t sleep much last night. A lightning storm came in late, a pink cloud full of electricity and lightning but not enough thunder it seemed. I had a hard time finding my flashlight I was so disoriented, and Ayla didn’t want to get out of the tent. We finally made it to the car and she laid down in the front passenger seat with a sigh, her snout over her paws. I was so tired that I didn’t even unroll the blanket over me that I pulled out of the tent or put the pillow behind my head, I was out quick. When I woke up in the morning light, the sky was clear, but the wind was strong and crazy. I tried to get as much sleep as possible in the tent, with the rain fly flapping wildly, and the whole thing lifting up around me.

I started cursing when I tried to take down my tent in the wind, I'm sure no one could hear me over the its loud lion like roar. I noticed a boy hiding behind one of my juniper bushes, spying on me. I yelled at him for being rude and he ran, but not far, and was still watching me. Creepy kid! My dog saw him soon after me, and she kept looking at me telling me that we were being watched.

I got out of there as quick as I could, and headed to Douglas to try to organize myself.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Fresh Grizzly Bear Track

I was out on the ranch early, and soon discovered that I had an access issue. I talked to an oil man headed in to work on another the ranch I didn't have access to and he showed me which fence lines separated the properties. I had to walk 3 kilometers to get to my bird points without being shot at. It would have been a short stroll across the other land down the private road, but even when no one could see me I was trying to follow the rules. I parked my car, and Ayla was mad at being left behind again, so she wouldn't scare the birds. I left all the windows down for her and put shade in the windows, and a water bowl on my seat. I started my long hike in over sage covered hills.

I hate it when ranchers don't label their fences, because I don't know whose land I am on. It was a struggle today. A large group of elk spotted me and several cows and babies ran from me for miles, they were so sure I was stalking them. One brave cow was the lookout. She would run back to were I was and would let me know she was there as she stared at me and made noise, then she would talk to her friends and report I was still following them, they were all sure I wanted to eat their babies like everything else in Wyoming. This went on until they crossed the fast rough Meeteeste Creek to the other side and I passed them. They stared at me from a hill above the creek, talking among themselves in elk mews and barks.

Exhausted, I arrived at my first bird point, which was easy, then realized the next point was across the creek. I walked along the creek forever to find a good crossing spot, but the fresh melted snow made it a wild bubbling river that was too fast and wide to cross. I finished the few points on my side of the creeks and then gave up when I found the fresh grizzly bear track. The rancher had warned me that he had seen a mama with two cubs and a single male down in his creek. Here was the proof, so fresh a chill went down my spine. I was being loud and noisy, but this track looked like it was following me, my track next to it, I didn't see the track on the way in. There were so many willows the bear could be hidden anywhere. I went the other way, and headed up into the open sage, as if being in an open place could protect me with just my bear spray.

I then cheated and walked a few meters to the main private oil road instead of over rough terrain for miles. I walked up the long winding dirt road for over an hour with the sun beating down on me, I didn't bring water, I wasn't use to it being so hot. I worried about my dog and told myself that was the last time I would keep her in the car like that. I kept picturing her dead from heat exhaustion which made me walk as quickly as possible. Several oil men passed me, leaving a cloud of dust for me to breath. They weren't so helpful and friendly like the man in charge I met in the morning. I really wanted one of them to give me a ride to my car, but they didn't even slow down. They weren't even curious why a woman was walking so far from anything in the heat! When I made it to my car, Ayla was cool and fine, the car had a nice breeze and she wasn't hot. She barked at a few cows on the way out. A bull stood in the middle of the road and challenged me, I stayed on the other side of the cattle guard and honked my horn, no luck. A cow walked by and smelled too good to him, he left the road to chase her. I sped by the love scene grateful that she came by.

My next point was in Saratoga, WY, which was across the state! I stopped in Thermolopolis determined to go swimming in the warm pools on such a hot day. Ayla was acting weird, and very anxious to get out. I told her to wait, I was looking for my camera. When we finally walked out of the car I got an email on my blackberry which captured my full concentration. I started to reply as we stood there, she was dancing with impatience then she got really sick, so sick that it scared me, blood was involved. I was crying as I took her into the vet office, and they assured me it was because she had a change in diet. The vet gave her a shot of penicillin and gave me some mild dog food to feed her. I didn't know what she use to eat, who knew that new food would cause such serious problems for a dog.

I drove for hours, the prettiest spot being some kind of reservoir made up of the Shoshoni River. I drove through Rawlings around sunset. It was ugly, and there were signs for a jail and a state prison. I stopped at a Pamida, some kind of state wide store filling the need of a Walmart with cheap stuff in it, for a can opener to open the dog food. We then continued on to Saratoga. It was dark, and since I had been talking to my boyfriend on the phone for hours, I almost ended up in a flooded river, stopping just short of the water that covered the road that led to the campground.

I went to town and asked where to camp at a Kum and Go gas station. It was now so late and so dark, I could barely see as I drove around the lake he recommended. I set up camp, and we both collapsed in a deep sleep from the tiring day.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Real Cowboy

Sleep is priceless, and the sound sleep that I can get in a dry cabin is the best. I woke up kind of late to the sound of a text message. I turned on the TV, just because I could, and got up slowly. My boss would be stressed out if he knew I wasn’t working today, but sometimes I just need a break from this exhausting job. The boundaries between working and free time are so blurred, and there is never a full day off that I can enjoy. I am always driving to the next point, setting up camp, calling landowners to access their land, work never ends. There isn’t a house I can go to escape work.

The people in the cabin next to mine were fighting. He later introduced himself as being from New York, it was around 7:30 and he had a beer in his hand as him and his son walked around the RV park. The kid loved my dog, and my dog loved them, cuddling up to them and getting as much attention as she could. Their van broke down and they couldn’t go back to New York yet after their week long vacation at Yellowstone.

I put my wet laundry back in the dryer, because I still have wet clothes in my trunk from last week when they didn’t dry all the way. Took the dog for a walk and fed her while I packed up. Ayla was on my front porch eating when the owner drove by in her golf cart, she couldn’t help but stop and pet my dog again. We talked for a while and I learned that she lived in Saudi Arabia for a long time while her parents worked as teachers for the oil company. She also had a cabin near Sunlite on the very street that I struggled with to find a way to my point the day before. She was going to take the day off and head to Yellowstone, she had never been. I said I would join her, but my boss would freak if I took another day off from work.

Ayla and I got in the car and headed to Meeteetse, WY. I put my cowboy boots on, it was time to drive out to the ranch and talk to the rancher in person to see if I could do my bird points on his land. I drove forever down his road, through cattle standing around on his land. His property was nicely marked with his name, and I was nervous when I walked up to the beautiful log cabin mansion at the end of his road. I rang the doorbell, and almost gave up until he came out of the garage. He was one of the nicest guys I’ve meet and we talked awhile about what I was doing, and where he has seen bears on his property. He warned me of a few down by the river, and I went on my way.

I camped at the Oasis campground right in town. I set up my tent in the back by some shady trees, then left Ayla in my car while I walked down to the local bar to have a beer. There were a few old crusty cowboys sitting alone in different corners of the Cowboy Saloon, a historic place that has been there since the late 1800s. I ordered a beer and looked around for someone to talk to, and eventually started talking to a 37 year old cowboy a few seats down the bar from me. He just moved to town a few weeks ago and was working out at the largest ranch in Wyoming he told me. He said he had been a cowboy his whole life since he was 14, and has worked in all the cow states of Kansas, Texas, Nevada, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. He was wearing a pair of wranglers covered in mud or cow shit, a cowboy vest that looked like gray felt, a beat up black cowboy hat, and a pair of boots that have seen a lot of miles riding horses and tending cows. I told him I was a bird biologist and just like everyone else, he asked me about a bird he saw. This was black and white; it looked like a skunk and had orange on top. He saw it on a fence post near a creek with cottonwood trees in Montana a few weeks ago. I thought maybe a black-throated gray warbler, from the size he indicated from his hands, but wasn’t sure.

His phone rang out a country song from his pocket, I was too tipsy to remember which one. He picked it up and started talking about his new job to an old buddy, mentioning the other cowboys that he had to bunk with only during calving season, and how he liked Wyoming. He hung it up, and said he hated cell phones and didn’t know why he had one. He ordered another beer offering me one, but two is enough so I declined. I ordered water, and proving how tipsy I was off my two beers I accidentally spilled it all over the counter trying to pick it up. I got a chuckle from the cowboy on my left who started talking to me soon after, and the older cowboy in the corner laughed silently to himself again, he kept doing that.

The one next to me agreed that two beers was enough for me as he chugged what must have been number four or five for himself. I could see he was starting to fall for me, I’m sure he doesn’t talk to many ladies, and I did shower the night before and my hair was pretty and styled instead of in my usual pony tail. I told him I should call it a night, because my dog was still in my car. I was at the door when the older cowboy in the corner said to me, “It was a flicker.”

“The bird he saw?” I asked.
“Yep, he saw a flicker.” Meaning a northern flicker, yellow-shafted variety most likely.

The three of us talked about the bird, and from what he described now, it was blue jay sized, but he was sure about that white strip down the back, not a flicker but Hairy Woodpecker maybe. The older cowboy was a teacher for many years of history, and was really smart, we talked a while, the cell phone cowboy ordered another beer. He then walked me outside and talked to me more as the sun was low in the sky. He was reluctant for me to go, but I had told him all about my cattle rancher in Canada, he knew he couldn’t change my mind. I went back to my car and got my dog, then walked her down to the bar to met him. He was talking to a guy at a table, probably because they were the only two left in the bar. He petted Ayla and she loved his attention, rubbing her body against his leg with dog joy. He said she looked like she was eight from her teeth, and walked me back to my campground. He said he could get me a job with the BLM in Montana if I ever changed my mind about Canada and we parted ways.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Magic of Fire

I sat in front of my beautiful fire, poking the glowing coals and enjoying its warmth. I started with a piece of toilet paper tucked in between my much hated unopened mail. I stacked three dry pieces of wood into a tepee shape over it then lit the toilet paper. It took some effort adding new pieces of mail to keep the fire blazing, but once the wood caught on fire, there wasn’t much effort at all, just adding new wood. I had the game warden to thank for the dry wood, I talked to him earlier to tell him what I was doing. He has a little cabin with his family here on WY Fish and Game land about an hour outside of Cody, WY in the mountains.

I read from my book, The Valley of the Horses, about Ayla and her solo survival in prehistoric times. She was also building a fire, with dry seeds, wood shavings, kindling, and wood. How similar our fires are really. You start with something flammable to catch the first big flames that will catch other items on fire. There has to be something more durable like my mail and her wood shavings to catch flame, then they have enough mass to burn longer and catch the split wood on fire. Ayla, in the book, roasted a rabbit over her charcoals, I tucked a potato in foil into mine, but wished that I did know how to hunt small animals and dress them for dinner.

It was lonely, even with my dog Ayla, who has slept all day. I’m not even worried about a bear, even though I saw one earlier this morning. I’m not scared of rattlesnakes, why should I be scared of a bear. Both could kill me if they choose to, but my keen wildlife observations and respect for the animals will make it very unlikely that they would have to resort to that.

I have begun to wonder why I have chosen such a difficult journey. Sure it is my job, but I sought out such a challenging job. I have such silly fears sometimes, this job has taught me not to fear. I’ve pondered death a lot, which has made me focus on life, and what is most important for me to have in my life.

I think of these days as my last free days too. I’m being pulled by my destiny into something. Then I will never be so free again to be selfish and can not do stuff like wander this wild state of Wyoming for months...

I'm in grizzly bear country right now and think I will sleep in my car just to be on the safe side.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

My Grizzly Bear Story

Male Grizzly Bear Running from My Car

It was around 5am as I drove to my bird point of Rattlesnake Rd north of the Buffalo Bill Reservoir. I kept seeing elk run along side of car, so didn't think too much when something big and brown was running along my left side. I turned to look and it was a grizzly bear, his powerful arms keeping up with my car at a good 30mph. He disappeared into the creek between my car and him which worried me. Then he popped out right in front of my car and before I could click a photo, he ran so far ahead that the shot just got a blur of his butt. Ayla finally noticed him, and gave me a weird look like "What was that?" Then she scratched at her door as if saying "Let me out, I want to follow it." He ran up the mountain on the right, and I drove a little ways longer to my bird point. I took me a good 45 minutes to get out of that car, I sat there sipping coffee, and listening to the radio. I attached the bear spray to my belt and with new determination decided I was going to do at least 4 of my 16 bird points. Ayla whimpered as I left her in the car again, not being able to join in on the excitement of wandering around the bear infested hills.

I did the first point just 30 meters away then ran back to the car, out of breath and still scared. I decided to drive to a different spot and parked down by the creek to reach another point. I got out and two twin boys about 11 years old on an ATV drove up and stopped to talk. I told them what I was doing and about the bear I just saw. They said that bear has been around for a few weeks, but they didn't see him themselves yet. They had a gun holder on the ATV, these kids were smarter than me. Just talking to humans relaxed me a lot and I was able to do several more bird points before it started raining. A new courage came over me, as I nosily sang a made up song about how much I hated my job, while walking through the hills.

I talked to a rancher on the way out about the bear, he was also on an ATV. He said he saw the bear right were we were standing a few days ago in the creek on my bird transect. The bear ignored him and kept searching for food as he drove by, also with a gun attached to the ATV. He mentioned that the twins got up early every morning to work on a ranch further north, and we talked a lot about guns. He advised me not to get a gun because I would be fined several thousand dollars if I killed a grizzly bear unless I had claw marks on my body. I joked that by the time a bear made claw marks on me it would be near impossible to shoot the thing, we laughed at the irony of it. He gave me a ride back to my car balancing on the front of his ATV and returned to mending the fences on National Forest land so his cows could graze the leased land soon.

Monday, June 7, 2010

In the Pines

I got up early the next morning to do my bird transect. I had to leave Ayla in the car with the windows down so she wouldn't scare away my birds. My whole attitude on life was different now that I had company and protection with my dog. The air was filled with the fresh smell of pine, and the creek was swollen with fresh ice melt and looked violent and fast. I walked quickly in between points, some along a ski trail, and saw a wide variety of mountain birds on my bird transect, several squirrels, and even a marmot. There were small streams everywhere and plenty of waterfalls among the pine and spruce forest. It was an easy day, and I couldn't wait to get back to the car to check on my dog. She got excited when I was back, and we headed down the mountain together to move on to the next bird points.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Ayla...Who Could Very Well Be a Cave Bear

I think about death all the time, not because I am suicidal, but I'm am really scared of dying everyday. I remember John Muir admitting some kind of defeat while alone in nature, I don't know how the birds do it everyday. Wyoming is a very wild place indeed, and I even considered quitting my job because I didn't want to face the predators and lightning anymore. I left my campsite at Petrified Tree out by the cattle ranches on Crazy Woman Creek, and drove into Buffalo with a mission. I needed a dog. I don't really talk to God much these days, but I said a little prayer at breakfast over my subway egg biscuit, extra bacon. "Hey God, could you find me a dog today...and can you keep the grizzly bears away from me? Thanks. Oh P.S. I've never wanted to see a mountain lion either." I've seen pictures of mountain lions in the Bighorn Mountains, they are bigger than normal, people hunt them. Some wild Wyoming men hunt them with their bare hands even.

I dropped by the Occidental Hotel to ask if someone had an extra dog. The Alan Jackson lookalike, was there. He once told me over a beer in the bar that he doesn't camp anymore, although he use to most the time, because of the bears in Wyoming. He's met too many of them. He understood my need for a dog, being lonely and scared of my own job, and went to talk to the bar tender about it. She loves dogs, and happened to have three of them in the back of the hotel in her red pickup truck. She said I could have an old black lab. I went out to pet this dog and talk to her, but she wasn't too responsive to me as she just tried to sleep on the spare tire in the truck bed. A huge fur-ball of a dog kept jumping in front of her, stealing all her attention from me. I went back in the bar, to ask just how old the lab was, and if she would be able to keep up with me. I explained that I was a bird biologist, camping every night across the state of Wyoming, and that after my job I was going to move onto a ranch in Canada, and the dog would have to live outside. The bartender said that the lab's fur was too short to live outside in Canada and offered me Ayla instead who must be some kind of huskie/German shepard/grizzly bear mix.

I went back outside to take Ayla, the huge diva, for a walk on a very big piece of rope. She was all too excited to be allowed off the back of the truck without the other two dogs. We walked around the nice city park along a clear cold creek and came back to the old bar. With some tears from the bartender over a goodbye, Ayla was mine. I couldn't believe how generous she was just to hand a stranger her dog! She had found Ayla lost in a snow storm in Casper, Wyoming a couple of years ago and brought her home. She trains dogs and horses, and I have never seen such a well behaved dog, I'm so grateful for that. Finding Ayla was so easy, it has to be destiny.

I had to shuffle around the crap in my car again, half of it wasn't suppose to come with me, but life changes. Pots, pans, a fancy dress, art supplies, and books get on my nerves everyday. It would be worth the cost to just mail it to Cananda, I'd have more space, and would not look so homeless to everybody. I made Ayla a space in the front passenger seat, but she was so big that her paws kept slipping off the seat while she was just sitting. I put one of my pillows on top of my work bag and put a towel over the whole seat so she could be comfortable. She even managed to lay down, although really scrunched up, with my pillow there. She smiled at me at thank you. I had to drive all the way to Sheridan to go to a Walmart to buy her some stuff like a brush, dog food, leash, and dish. She was already becoming expensive.

Our first stop was at a city park in Sheridan and I brushed such a huge mountain of fur off her, I could have knitted a scarf out of it. She loved being brushed, and her fur glistened in the sunshine afterward. We headed on up to the Bighorn Mountains to do a point near Sheridan off Hwy 14 near the Tounge River again. She was so happy and excited about the trip, I snapped a picture of her as my my car and now my life. I haven't had a dog or cat since I was a child. I traveled too much for all my jobs to have a pet, but now, I'm feeling more stable with my life. I feel like I can take care of a dog now.

We camped for the night by a lake in a lodgepole pine forest high in the mountains, she got out of the car and it was the first time she wasn't hot with all that fur. I loved how excited she got about every new smell and noise. I didn't like the red mud covering her belly and paws after a hike to the lake. I tied her to a pole to dry off while I spent a couple of hours making a fire to cook my pathetic pan of ramon noodles. Hey! They were warm at least, and not crunchy. Supper tastes so much better after all that effort too, no matter how bad it is.

I showed her the tent when she was dry, her eyes got big and she went right for the mess of blankets, pillows and sleeping bag on my side of the tent. I yelled at her as she was scrunching up my down comforter into the right spot and she just looked at me and plopped her big furry butt down on top of my bed and stretched out. Then she laid her head on my pillows! I gave up and let her stay. I zipped up the tent and went out on a hike to find my bird point for the morning, I looked behind me and she was staring out at me from the tent mesh. I went through a forest, crossed a raging stream formed from melted snow, and then I saw a wild animal on the other side. Was it a wolf? At first my heart panicked a bit until I saw that it was a dog, although very wolf like. There are no wolves in the Bighorns after all. Then I realized it was my dog! "Ayla" I shouted and she sprang into action, running toward me. I was glad I left her leash on when I put her in the tent. She came with me, I forgot to tell her to stay. I hoped she just unzipped my tent and didn't tear it to shreds.

At night, I had to fight her a while for my bed, pushing her onto the Therm-a-Rest and towel on her side. Her wet paws, from our late hike, jabbed my side in defiance as she stretched her legs out as far as they could reach into my back. She stretched her neck over and placed her head on my pillow, and I pushed it off. She finally fell into a sleep, paws still extended, while I wrote a poem using a book on how to write poetry as a guide. I might have cuddled her if she wasn't such a muddy mess, it was cold up in the mountains. I looked at the grizzly bear in my tent, and was grateful that God helped me find her.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Horse Ride

I was in a very remote place today for my bird transects, and most the morning I was walking around in fear rather than enjoying the beauty of the wild Big Horn mountains. I saw some fresh moose tracks walking down French Creek Road, they were small so I thought they might belong to the young bull moose that hung out with me the night before. Then I started to see the big moose prints next to them and thought it was probably a mother and calf, something to worry about. What made me most scared though were large rocky cliffs that might attract a mountain lion to the area. I was very alert and at one point even smelled wet fur. I stopped, looked around carefully until I saw a group of deer trying to hide from me.

I felt like Hansel and Gretel while walking through a thick lodgepole pine forest and my GPS started acting weird because the trees were blocking out the satellites. There was an eerie mist in that forest, and I kept looking over my shoulder. When I made it back to my campsite a man from Italy, Paolo, pulled up with his horse Dakota. We chatted for a little bit, then he went on his way and I crawled up in my tent. I pulled the covers over my head and just remember feeling warm as I fell asleep. I woke up a few hours later when Paolo was back. He said that if he knew he would meet a friend out in the mountains, he would have brought me a horse to have ridden along with him. He let me ride Dakota down the road and back, then offered to buy me a dinner of ribs. I'm not one to turn down a free dinner. I told him I had a boyfriend, and he said he wasn't trying to date me, just have dinner. So I went with him. After dinner he said to give him a call next weekend and he would bring two horses for his weekly ride, one for me.

Later that evening I felt alone and depressed. This job was really wearing me down. I treated myself to a Shrek movie, and enjoyed the escape from my life. I was so tired of being alone, and of being scared of dying out in wild Wyoming. I camped at petrified tree.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Sharing My Campsite with a Young Bull Moose

From Buffalo I drove up into the Big Horn mountains on Hwy 16. I pulled off on a side road that my GPS indicated was French Creek Road. My little car took a few hits to it's under belly from the rough road until I decided to park it and set up camp for the night, just a little over 1k away from the next morning's bird point.

I went to pull out my tent when I saw him, a young bull moose just about 100 meters away from me, laying in a patch of grass by the creek that was lined with quaking aspen trees. He looked at me and his ears went back, I froze, not sure what he would do next. We both relaxed and just went on with out night really. After I set up my tent and starting knitting on my hat for Quick, he decided that it was dinner time. He got up and stretched and without even a glance my way he started eating the same vegetation he was just lying in. This went on for hours, he browsed all around my tent, but my camera quickly ran out of batteries. I didn't want to go to my car though to get more and upset the moose, so I glanced up at him from my knitting or reading every once in a while to make sure he wasn't too close to trample me by accident. Night fell, and I lost track of the moose. I drifted off to sleep after a few pages from my book.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

"You Have Bigger Problems Than Sage Chickens"

I took my time leaving my crappy campsite. First I took a free shower while doing my laundry. The bathhouse had a smell that reminded me of camp when I was a kid, its very weird how smells can take you so quickly back to a moment in childhood. I got my passport renewal at the post office afterward, it was very easy and didn't cost too much.

I couldn't get a hold of a landowner to do bird points on his property, but unfortunately did get a hold of another landowner who chewed me out about loosing his water rights because someone like me took water samples on his land. He didn't want me to count his "sage chickens" or "find some bird that has been extinct 10,000 years" on his property. I asked him at least for access to the state trust land, and he agreed, but then when we were talking more about where his property was he told me that he was in Colorado, not Wyoming. He yelled at me for wasting his time and said "you have bigger problems than sage chickens" and hung up as I was apologizing for my company providing me wrong information. I felt angry, not just at his ignorance but at my job for not having things together. I felt sorry for the person working in Colorado that would have to call the man to access his land.

That was the second time I was embarrassed for having the wrong landowner number for a point. I couldn't shake my anger, as I went to KFC for some supper. I needed a few days off!!!! ARRRRR! I saw Target, glowing on the hilltop in the dark and went inside. I tried on some spring dresses, feeling very pretty, then lingered in the book department until they announced closing time. I didn't want to stay in Casper another night, I drove to Buffalo for some comfort. I camped in Petrified Tree, happy not to be woken up in the middle of the night by someone wondering why I was sleeping in my car.

This towel brings me comfort of being home in strange places.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

I Cursed that Mud...

After the 10k hike round trip over vast grassy BLM owned hills, I was tired and craving of all things...seaweed salad. My diet of coffee and gas station chips might not be full of protein and vitamins like seaweed, so maybe that was why I was craving it so much. I searched for sushi on my car GPS and followed its directions to downtown Casper. I haven't been in a "big" city since Denver a few months ago, it was a nice treat. I was glad to see that everyone at the sushi restaurant was Japanese, thus lowering my chances of food poisoning by eating Wyoming sushi. I ordered some spicy raw salmon and seaweed, savoring every bite of the luxury. There were two flat screen TVs behind the chefs as I sat at the bar, one was turned to CNN and the oil tragedy. The other had Anthony Bourdain and his show "No Reservations", he was in Uzbekistan. I was captivated by both TVs, having seen so little in weeks. I wished I had an excuse to travel the world like Bourdain, I did once date a guy from Uzbekistan though...he had a strange mix of Middle Eastern and Russian culture. I walked around outside a bit and noticed the Wyoming skyscraper, an oil building.

After the sushi, I hung out in the library for a long time doing work, reading magazines, and thinking up story ideas to send editors queries. I didn't want to think about the night. I bought some army green yarn to knit my friend Quick a hat, then went into the Sex and the City movie, or "Sex and the Sand Dunes" as one magazine called it. Yes, I knew it would be a bad movie of me staring at old women with wrinkles giving me no hope of looking good at their age when they are movie stars looking so bad and I am just normal. I was worried about Samantha getting arrested for having sex in a Middle Eastern country going into the movie, and she did! It is just rude to completely ignore the morals expected by other countries while visiting, even Americans should pay attention not to offend the natives. The movie was a long three hours of complete escape from my job and situation of living out of my car for it. There was a lot of over the top luxury, and some very ugly dresses that they paid thousands for I'm sure, it was fantastic!

I just wanted to camp in town somewhere, so went to a few places with pictures of little tents on the map. One was in a scary neighborhood along a raging river, another was a pathetic expensive patch of grass surrounded by RVs, and I finally gave up and stayed at another RV site with slightly more grass under some trees, I was so tired. I asked if I could sleep in my car if their was lightning, but still set up my tent in case I wanted to sleep in it in the morning for some good rest. Mud stuck to my flip flops, and I was just annoyed at that mud. I cursed that mud, I cursed my flip flops, I cursed the junk in my car, I cursed the "camp site", I cursed my job, I cursed the lightning, then my brave boyfriend called and calmed me down a bit before I fell into a peaceful sleep.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Banjo Dual with a Meadowlark

I drove down to Casper, WY to get in a few bird points around the area. I parked my car down a BLM road. I had to drive it by putting one tire on the center grassy part and the other tire on the veg covered side of the road to avoid scraping the underpart of my small car if I just followed the two track road. I think my car only has a clearance of three inches, but I'm just guessing here. I stopped in a really rough part of the road and decided to camp there. I looked at the huge cloud over me, and decided to sleep in my car. I pulled out my annoying box of art supplies that just seems to be taking up valuable space, since I have no time to draw or paint, and put it in a grassy field. I decided to sit on the box while I practiced playing my banjo. Birds competed with me and meadowlarks bellowed out their mating songs, their music sounding way better than mine. I put the banjo away around dark and read a little with my headlamp laying in the backseat of my car.

I was about to fall asleep when the lightning started. I didn't want to feel trapped if my car got stuck on the soon to be muddy road, so I drove back down to the paved road and parked there for a little while. I texted my boyfriend for some comfort, then couldn't stand it and drove around to take the lightning off my mind. I got hungry so drove to Casper for some greasy food at Taco Joes, then drove all the way back to the spot where I had to hike in the next morning to my bird point for 5k. Out of pure exhaustion, I finally fell asleep, careful not to touch the metal frame of my car with my bare feet.

This job is really getting to me, my stress level is high. My boyfriend saw a very grumpy side to me for the first time.