Sunbathing seals on San Diego Bay
         MUCH HAS been written about the ability of nature to calm, ground and restore. I won’t try to top Henry David Thoreau or John Muir, but I will say that nature and its creatures have saved my life more than once.  Always, after the deaths of loved ones, I go to the woods or sea. There I can grieve, meditate, rebuild. Fortunately, I have my own private woods to which to go.  High Chaparral, my 13 acres in the Beartooth Mountains of Montana, is my haven.
Cookie's in the landscape in a High Chap autumn photo.
Above, a High Chaparral Montana cloud study;
below, an orchid blooms in La Jolla.
 Glorious with lilacs in the spring and clean and bight with snow in the winter, the place is a favorite with family and friends.  It is also beloved by my Yorkshire terriers, Nick and Nora, who came there as puppies and have spent parts of their nearly seven years with me, soaking in the soothing balm of the Beartooths.
          Here in nature, along the west fork of the Stillwater River, I see few people, so nature is my constant companion and most treasured friend.
An egret looks for lunch
in Point Loma
         THE BIRDS come and go with the seasons, many migrators and visitors passing through for a handout at one of the many feeders.  I’ve had grosbeaks and
buntings, jays and finches, several kinds of woodpeckers upside down at the suet.  I’ve seen trumpeter swans in the nearby pond, rescued a rare pigmy owl who hurt his wing on the cliff and recovered. I’ve heard the song of Canada geese honking their way to warmer climes.  I’ve photographed wrens and robins, and have watched their parents forage for and insects and worms.   I’ve marveled at five kinds of hummingbirds and like to think they’re the same ones I enjoy in winter here in San Diego.
            I'VE TRANSPLANTED dozens of trees – fir and pine – most of them made it but like all honest gardeners, I admit to casua
lties.  And I’m doing constant battle with the pine bark beetle.  I’ve nursed rose bushes and lilac sprouts into adulthood, saved cosmos, marigold and zinnia seeds for the next summer, and shared the hollyhocks with the deer.
      I’ve sprinkled the ashes of loved ones under blue spruce babies and watched them grow to three-story height.  I’ve watched a doe give birth in the thicket up the draw on the way to the artesian well.  She had twins and I walked the puppies on leashes for two weeks while she groomed them for the greater world.
This brown bear was photographed from our patio!
      I'VE WATCHED beers slide down the talus and scree above the house, in search of the chokecherries flanking my upstairs bedroom deck.  My male Yorkie, Nick, chased a mature bear up the draw a few summers ago, ran up his back, was flung into the bushes and lived to bark about it (only a few scratches, no wounds from the talons, which on an angrier bear could have killed my silly ten-pound Yorkie.)
Hummingbirds abound at High Chap.
        In the 18 years I’ve been at High Chap, I’ve been forced to kill a half-dozen rattlesnakes, the last late in the summer of 2011.   He was resting on the welcome mat by the front screen and refused to move, even when I banged two cast-iron pots over his head.  Only when they come right up to the house and refuse to leave do they get the ax or the shovel.  Otherwise, I give them respect and a wide berth.  But when they are sunning on the front porch, inches away from my feet and the Yorkies, they have to go.  Their rattles are in the freezer. Last year’s casualty had twelve.
A little fawn ventures out on the High Chaparral road.
    MY PARTNER pointed out that the bird feeders near the house create the perfect environment for reptiles.  The birds spill plenty of seed, the mice and squirrels are attracted to the spills and the snakes come to lunch on the rodents.  I hadn’t connected those dots until this summer, so the feeders went away from the house where they can still be seen and enjoyed but where they won’t tempt venomous front-porch visitors. NICKY  was bitten last summer and nearly died.  Now, he and Nora take the rattlesnake vaccine each summer, and while it doesn’t claim to prevent a snakebite fatality, it gives time to get the victim to help.
Auntie Cookie and nephew Kenji Christopher looking for wolves.
      We call High Chaparral “Wild Kingdom” and it still has a rugged, wild feel to it, although “civilization” – aka Billings – is only 82 miles away.  I designed a wonderful granite memorial where bronzes of departed family members pay homage to their lives.  We will gather there soon to say good-bye to my nephew,
Eric Kenzo Otokawa, lost to us at only 21 years.
         The family is now scattered – Georgia, Oregon, California, New York – but High Chap and Montana are home. Eric’s brother, Kenji, and I even saw a wolf  there once, and I’ve recorded four mountain lion visits, observed as close as the drive-way, when I pulled in late one night.
      Life has betrayed me more than once but nature never has.

No comments:

Post a Comment