Sunday, November 23, 2008
I was sitting in my living room one night last week, minding my own business, when I realized that there was some back-and-forth hooting going on outside. I wondered if it was the sound of dogs barking in the distance. Coyotes? I shut off my noise-maker of a TV, and then realized that it was the voices of owls overhead. There were 2 distinct calls or voices -- one lower than the other. I wasn't sure if they were on my roof or in the big cottonwood tree out front. So I turned off all the lights and went to the upstairs windows to see if I could spot them. No luck. I listened for a while (it was a lively converation), then went outside to see if I could find them, and scared them into silence.
I went straight to my computer to see if I could figure out what type of owls they were. I found out that Utah has Burrowing Owls that migrate in November, and also a variety called the Mexican Spotted Owl. And I listened to the voices of owls around the world and was amazed at the variety of sounds owls make, and the diversity of the species ... from Madagascar to Australia to Brazil to northern Utah ... screeching, hooting, squeaking, whistling, cooing. Fun! But how does a person get to see them, since they're active at night?!
I took a trip to the Bear River Migrating Bird Refuge in Brigham City (about 25 miles South of Logan) on Saturday. The interpretive center was small and specific to water birds. But a volunteer in the gift shop told me that my owls might have been "short-eared" owls (as opposed to "great horned" I suppose). It was a modern little museum building made of local stacked stone, with one park ranger who was on the phone with her babysitter, but motioned for me to sign up for their emailings.
The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The Bear River runs through the middle of the refuge, and eventually runs into the Salt Lake just south of there. They say that the Refuge, with its fresh water ponds and canals, is one of the most important resting areas for migrating waterfowl in North America. In spring and summer, it is a nesting place for birds like western grebes, American avocet, Wilson's phalarope, black-necked stilt, snowy egret, and white-faced ibis. Most of it is closed to the public -- it really IS for protecting wildlife, not just a place for us to go see the birds.
From the museum/interpretive center, I drove about 10 miles to get to the beginning of a 12-mile loop road through the Refuge. There were only a handful of cars on that road -- I saw only 3 or 4 in 12 miles. I saw mostly water and mountains reflected in the water, and sky ... and a few duck hunters dressed in camouflage pulling their flat-bottomed boats (one was named "Fowl Play") out of the river. Some of the road was paved, some was gravel, and some was dirt. My van now looks like an off-road vehicle, covered in dust and splattered.
There weren't any bears in the river. And there weren't many birds flying or swimming close by, where I could really see them, either. I suppose most of them have migrated by this time of year.
But the volunteer at the interpretive center had said "I have 14,000 migrating swans in areas A and D. But you probably can't get to them." So I was on the lookout. I did see them from a distance of about a mile, through my binoculars (Ohio binoculars, under-powered for this place where you can see so far). The thousands of swans looked like a plump undulating ribbon of white on the shore of a pond that was far off the road. The path that went in that direction (for hikers or for maintenance, I imagine) was gated too.
If the duck hunters can put their boats in the water, I guess this Ohio "migrating bird" can bring her canoe back in the Spring and have a whole day of being amazed by the light and the reflections of the mountains and sky in the water. I'll look forward to that! Here's a glimpse:
I wonder if a bird refuge isn't something of an Indian reservation for birds. Has the White man taken the good land and given land that they can't easily use to the birds? Maybe so. But I guess that's better than just plundering through and ignoring the needs of all the other creatures.
If anyone is still wondering if I was just storytelling about the seagulls in Utah, here's proof. I spotted these 2 at Bear River:
With the Thanksgiving holiday in sight, I'd just like to say that I'm thankful for lots of things, including of you all who care enough about me to read this. Since I'm a stranger in a strange land, this year, I'm really glad to have nice neighbors:
- like the ones who used their riding mower to mulch my leaves last week
- like the owls who were calling to each other over my head
- like the people (starting with Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir, I suppose) who set aside places for birds, other animals, and plants so that we can see and love them and rest for a little while in the sacred wild places.
What nice parts of life are YOU thinking about this Thanksgiving?
Good night (from the Bear River Migrating Bird Refuge):
I'm sitting here on a Sunday night, eating pumpkin soup and avocado. The soup is great, if I do say so myself -- fresh pumpkin carved from my outdoor decorative pumpkin, a little bit of italian sausage, onion, garlic, curry, nutmeg. A touch of coconut milk or cream and rosemary would be good too, if I had it. I'm not sure how to explain the avocado. I've been on an avocado binge since I came out West. They're cheaper and fresher here, like the salmon. They must be California avocados.
Last weekend, the leaves were down from the trees so that I could see the snow on the mountain range as I was sitting at my table, looking out toward the east. So, rather than waiting for snow to find me in the valley, with its 50 degree temperatures last week, I thought I'd go try to find it. I took off for a place about 20 miles into Logan Canyon called Tony Grove. I had heard several people talk about it. I thought I might find snow and maybe even an Italian guy there.
I will include pictures. As always, they don't do justice to the beauty. But they'll give you an idea. Here's a view of the drive up, which was full of aspen trees and tall evergreens. To give you a sense of the scale, the twiggy trees near the bottom of the frame are full grown aspens.
The road to Tony Grove is a groomed snowmobile trail, maintained by the U.S. Forest Service, in Winter. There were lots of signs warning "Know Before You Go" and such. I suppose snowmobilers are a reckless lot, and student snowmobilers from USU even more so. That's the idea, isn't it? If you fall off, you land in poof of powdery stuff. But it looked kinda dangerous to me, with drop offs, and being out pretty far in the wilderness.
I saw 2 adult dear with a baby crossing the road on the way up. My car was scraping bottom (about a foot of snow) by the time I got to the top. There was a beautiful little glacial lake there at the end of the road, one carload of Asian tourists, and a young couple with a 3-year old on skis getting his first lesson.
I wondered why the place wasn't named Tony's Gove, rather than Tony Grove. There was a sign at the top that explained. Apparently "tony" is slang for socialites or jetsetters. A big banking family in Logan used camp there for 6 weeks at a time, back in the 1950's. They must had fun since they stayed way out there for 6 weeks. I suppose it's still something of a tony grove, with all the snowmobiling (jet-skiing rather than jet-setting).
I'll have to find someone to go Winter recereating with. Last week I went to a dinner at a Logan Indian Oven restaurant, put together by a group called the Logan Newcomers. There were lots of different types of people there, all ready for socializing, I think. There's a Winter resort fairly close called Beaver Mountain. So if I can find some "tony" cohorts, we could take a trip to that place, which is just beyond Tony Grove, and maybe a little tamer.
I didn't find the Italian guy named Tony up there. But, as usual, I got to see some beautiful country. And I traveled from Fall to Winter with a 7-mile drive that "took me higher," from the normal altitude of 4775 feet to 8100 feet in just a few minutes.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Everybody here in northern Utah is sort of holding their breath, waiting for the cold and snow to hit. I heard that Snowbird, which is one of the big ski resorts, is open already, and everyone's happy about that. The ski resorts are a big part of the economy here.
I'm still trying to get things squared away at home. And I'm diving a little deeper into work, which is good. Last Friday, they had a "demonstration day", which was sort of like a grown up science fair. That was interesting. I learned about people's work on lightweight antennas and camera lenses, metals that can tolerate extreme temperatures, special computer hardware for jpg 2000 compressed images, and some other stuff .
On the home front, last Saturday I cut down a medium-sized dead tree on my lot so that I could use it for firewood, with help from Casey, his chain saw, and his wife. Casey is a local guy (lives around the corner) who works construction, drinks beer, picks up odd jobs, and tells stories about getting buried alive in a construction-induced mudslide and surviving with lots of broken ribs and a big hole in his memory. Now I have to work on splitting the wood. We'll see if my hands and wrists and arms can stand up to that. If not, I'll have to call Casey and his wife back.
Since I was outside most of the day, my animal neighbors came to check me out. Here's a picture of the steer next door, lookin at me lookin at him:
I thought he might be a bull because of the horns. But Casey checked him out and assured me that he had lost his manhood and is harmless. So I went over and patted his head. I'm not sure either one of us really liked that! If you look in the background, you can see the neck of his friend the llama, who is looking away from the camera. He doesn't seem to want to have too much to do with people. I wonder what kind of treat he might like. It's a good idea to make friends with your neighbors.
Here's a closer view of the disinterested llama, who is much better looking than the steer.
Casey and his wife stopped by on Sunday, ran off fairly quickly to go watch NASCAR, and urged me to "Enjoy" while I still could (before the cold weather hits) by taking a drive down to a little town called Paradise, about 45 minutes south and east of here. They go somewhere near there to camp for a "Mountain Man" festival every year. Apparently, people dress up in old leathers and hats and act like trappers and cook on campfires and shoot guns for a couple of days. I asked if there are any single mountain men. They said, "You betcha," which is a favorite phrase around here. And so they have promised to take me with them next Spring.
I remembered that the desk clerk at the hotel where I stayed the first time I was in Logan mentioned that I should go to Paradise. So I went, even though it was a dreary day. So I found Paradise easily enough. But I didn't see anything very notable. I guess I found Paradise, but maybe not paradise.
It feels like ski country there, with lots of rounded mountains stacked together, snow-covered. And it is getting pretty close to the Powder Ridge resort. I did see some wonderful country and a few historical markers about trappers and early settlers. But I think I was the only person out there. It was Sunday in Utah, after all. So in just in case you've ever wondered what Paradise looks like, here it is:
If you're wondering what's on the other side of Paradise, I can tell you -- horses.
These great-looking young horses were looking at me in a little place called Avon on the other side of Paradise.
Speaking of paradise, the LDS (Mormon) missionaries have been visiting me. They are a couple of 20 year-old boys who always bring someone older, established, and from this town with them. They have to have 3 since I'm a single woman. And that's good because it gives me a chance to meet some neighbors.
Their view of a place called paradise is that it's a holding area where people who have died but haven't had the chance to hear/accept the gospel (like people from remote areas of the world, little children, etc) go until the spirit of a believer has the chance to get over there and tell them the story. Come to think of it, their view of paradise fits with what I experienced in Paradise, Utah -- it WAS kinda dead over there. :) Well, it's nice that the innocent aren't automatically condemned.
So I asked the missionaries what heaven is like, if it's not paradise. They believe there are several levels of glory-- true believers get to go be with God in the "celestial kingdom," people who haven't accepted the Gospel but who have lived honorable lives get to go to the "terrestial kingdom" which is a pretty good place, and unrepentent sinners go to the "telestial kingdom" (which they said is sort of like earth ... or maybe it actually IS earth).
Coming back to earth now ... I've been investigating the local ranch stores, which are full of saddles and gloves and hats, long underwear, bags of rag socks, stacks of blue jeans, "country girl" barbies, radio flyers, miniature John Deere tractors, hundreds of styles of boots, beef jerky and sunflower seeds. One of these stores had stuffed game with antlers on the wall and country music playing. Here is a sign I saw on a dressing room door there:
Is there a little man sitting in there with a stack of hats?
So the burning question is, "Why did several people tell me to go to Paradise? What was I supposed to see there?" Did I just miss the hiking trail and the Osmonds' vacation home cuz I was too busy looking up at the mountains? Or do people go there just so they can say they've been the Paradise and back?
Love to you all. I'm gonna go start a fire.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Liz and I successfully made the trip to Utah from Ohio. My western adventure has begun...
A crazy snow storm during the drive in plastered snow to the pines on the Wyoming and Utah mountains.
Sunrises are pink on the east-facing mountain tops.
The city lights across the valley, 15 miles or so, twinkle at night with the stars.
The cats escaped out a window yesterday (it has warmed up now), scared themselves silly, and dashed back in when I opened the door.
Box elder bugs (like thin lightening bugs without the lights) and wasps are trying to get in for the winter, and succeeding.
The moving men delivered boxes, cursed the spiral staircase and the stray cat who kept getting in.
My sister Betsy came in to help me unpack the other night. So I have nice company and a kitchen again now.
Farmers seem to be spreading manure, if my nose is working.
Met my neighbors from Peru who have 3 teenagers, a bull, a llama, 2 lambs, a shi-tzu, and a cat to handle the mouse population.
A big ole forlorn-looking white moon rose over the mounded fields last night.
Love to all--
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Here's a cell phone photo of my office building, with its mountainous backdrop:
Here's the view from my office window which looks in the opposite direction (notice the light low clouds):
I've been going through online training modules, and going to bed early so I can stay awake for that during the day. There are lots of students employed here (100 out of 500). But they, of course, aren't too interested in me ... except for the security guys who wanted to know if I could help them with their English papers.
The movers delivered my furniture last Thursday, and my sister Betsy visited for a long weekend to help me unpack. That was great. There's still lots to do -- I can't seem to find space for much of anything. I guess this little downsizing was bigger than I thought, due to a big difference in basement, cabinet, and closet space.
Betsy and I drove out to the salt flats/mud flats west of the Salt Lake. It's pretty desolate out there. I'm not sure how much life that terrain/climate can support. We just saw a few dried-out guys with ATVs and dirt bikes. One guy told us that people come and camp out on the flats in the summer and watch for UFOs. Well, if you could see UFOs anywhere in this country, I'm sure it would be there. On the way back home we saw 8 mule deer scrounging in the greener pastures of Newton, in the field across from my house. Pretty little things. Big ears.
Everyone here talks about how cold it is in the Winter, which is due to arrive right after Halloween. So I cooked a stew last night, thinking it would be good to have it on hand. I was standing at the stove, putting the stew into smaller containers, and a mouse ran across the back of the stove, the kitchen counter, and then down into a small space between the end of the counter and a rock wall. "Welcome to the farm!" Of course my cats weren't at all interested. They're city cats after all, and accustomed to eating, sleeping, and destroying furniture whenever possible. I think they will need some training for their new job in Utah!
The clouds sit in the hollows of this high valley in the strangest way in the mornings -- patches of fog sit in a different spot each day. At first I thought the fog was hanging over a river or little pond, like it would in Ohio. But this is Utah, and the weather patterns in the mountains are mysterious. I looked at a local map and saw that there are hot springs sprinkled throughout the part of the valley I drive through in the morning. The drive into work is easy, even if it is 10 or 15 miles.
So now I'm also connected to the Internet at home (it was a long week without it). I've cancelled my Dayton phone. So my old email address will disappear soon.
Here's a picture of me arriving at the Mouse House in Utah on Oct 11th, with snow on the roof and Liz, the fields, and mountains reflected in the window:
I guess it's not an exciting episode this time. I'll try to find some cowboys or Indians for the next installment.
Love to you all,
It's snowing in the mountains today. I can see that it starts about 300-500 feet up. They say there will be 7 inches of snow in the mountains by nightfall. But in the valley, they are predicting just half an inch. So I thought I'd better get my Fall pictures published before they get covered over with snow impressions.
The weekend before last, I should have stayed home to unpack and fix up. But it was a beautiful weekend, so I went out exploring the Logan Canyon. I had my cell phone with me and took some pictures. The Logan Canyon is part of the Cache-Wasatch National Park, which covers a lot of ground -- maybe 1/2 of the upper and eastern part of the state - up to Wyoming and Idaho. The Wasatch mountains are the western edge of the Rockies. And the Logan canyon begins just around the corner from where I work in Logan. I'll include some pictures. Pictures don't do justice, though, because they can't capture the vastness, distance, and line of sight. I'd need a 360 degree camera for that. Or maybe you'll just have to come and visit me to see for yourself.
The "official" story about the seagulls says that they're here because there was a plague of crickets that threatened the crops one year, way back when. So God sent seagulls from California. These bulimic gulls ate the crickets and then threw them up in the ditches, and then went and ate some more, which save the crops that year. And they liked this place so much that they just never left.
Last Saturday, the valley fields were full of hunters. Quail and pheasant hunting season started that day. And I heard guns going off on and off all day. And some pretty pheasants were hiding in the back corner of my yard. I guess they could tell I was gunless.
The neighbors have been stopping by with caramel corn, bread, advice about where to find the best views, questions about the big boat that's in dry dock in my back yard (it's a large, semi-famous racing yacht called Bay Bea, that belongs to the previous owner), and information about the LDS (latter day saints) church. I went to the Episcopal Church on Sunday, which was very small, and reminded me of the solid simple beauty of the churches/mosques/temples in Spain. The choir was as big as the congregation. They were shaking incense ahead of the procession-- I don't know if I've ever seen that in the Episcopal church before.
After church, I stopped in a college-oriented cafe. They had good coffee and a keyboard-guitar duo playing jazz. So that was a welcome reminder of civilization as I know it. It was raining. I didn't realize how high up we are until I noticed that I was sort of looking down on the clouds, which sit in the valleys between the mountains. the picture at the top of this post is a view of the valley from the top of chocolate mountain, which is just west of Newton.
I don't have much information to offer about my work yet ... and if I did, I couldn't tell you anyway ;). I suppose the security clearance issue around here will teach me to keep my mouth shut (do I hear applause coming from the ghosts of all of my Jr. high school teachers?). Funny, they didn't ask me about those particular skills during the interview process.
See you later (I hope) ... as soon as I get my head out of the clouds.