Now here’s a bit of nostalgia from the near-ago, as found in my book “Valley So Sweet.”
I have observations — of various kinds and details, too many in memory only — of aspects of the natural history of Jackson Hole made over some period of time. When I can ignore my aches and pains, I tend to think of it as hardly any time at all.
Wasn’t it just yesterday that Meg and I and our first puppy, Nipper, came to Jackson Hole?
The first white man known or believed to have seen Jackson Hole was John Colter, in 1806 or 1807. We didn’t meet.
Occasional small groups of explorers passed through the valley during the rest of the 19th century, including Ashley, Hoback, Reznor, McKenzie and Smith. Just prior to the 20th century a few bachelor males and a handful of families settled year-round. Settlement came late, came slowly.
Survival was touch-and-go; isolation and the severe climate were deadly obstacles.
Thus, the history of the region, as whites measure it, has been short — perhaps a century, take away various treks by early explorers (and conveniently disregarding Native Americans).
Meg and I have memories of half that period of time. Holy cow. No wonder I ache.
Many of our memories are of September. We chose that month as our vacation time in the Hole. In our first years we experienced a sense of the glory of extensive, expansive wildflower bloom by hiking into the high meadows.
Oh, sure, we never saw spring beauty or elephant’s head, but we reveled at vistas of other wondrous blooms.
September gave us summer days, fall days, first snows and suggestions of forthcoming winters. I like to think we were learning about the fauna and flora of the region — except for Uinta ground squirrels. The chislers of local terminology were in hibernation before we arrived. As a result, we missed the largest number of hawks, which leave when their prey burrows underground. We also missed quite a few nesting bird species that migrate by late August.
Of course, we never really missed ’em — we were too busy looking at everything else.
Jackson Hole used to shut down in the fall. Miles of river and lake front with no other fisherman. No rafts. No depth-finders. Not many professional guides. It wasn’t hard to believe we were great fishermen, even when deep down we knew better.
The trails were uncrowded. We were allowed to walk on the National Elk Refuge, since no elk likely had migrated by September. We relaxed with locals, who were relaxing after a hectic four-month tourist season. We drank significant numbers of mixed drinks with impunity at the one open hotel in town. Famous then, notorious now, for selling mix with little alcoholic beverage.
Some things never change.
And some things are always in flux. Animal populations, for example. Short-term cycles are difficult to assess. Take this summer’s end, in the mid-1990s. Ground squirrels, mice and voles are down in number, as are buteos, coyotes and badgers. Skunks are increasing; who would have expected that? The region is in a hot, dry period; as moist breeding areas disappear, insects and insect-eating birds are in turn reduced.
But there’s no shortage of people, houses, cars, aircraft, river rafts and bicycles.
I guess my observations are less limited to natural history than they were not so long ago: People have intruded to such a large extent.
Wildlife inevitably loses out to human habitation. Civility loses out, too. I believe once a town’s population exceeds 3,500, much is lost. One doesn’t know everyone else, his favorite fishing hole or hunting stand is “discovered,” parking becomes tougher. The night sky is obliterated by lights. Well, you know.
And yet. And yet. Summer is over. A certain calm settles, if only for a while. People have time to acknowledge your greeting; a few potluck dinners bring folks together.
It’s not the same, but it’s home.
Field notes: Bernie McHugh spotted heaps of waterfowl Sept. 17 while at the Flat Creek bridge just north of town.
Among the sightings Bernie reports spotting 100 female and 75 male ring-necked ducks, 30 female and 11 male gadwalls, 71 adult and three juvenile coots, and three female and seven male redheads. He also spotted eight female and seven male mallards, six female and 13 male American wigeons, two adults and three juvenile trumpeter swans and two adult pied-billed grebes.
Church Herz noted many of the same species of waterfowl group up on the National Elk Refuge on Sept. 20, presumably in similar counts as seen by Bernie a few days earlier. He reported spotting nearly 100 coots.
Ruby-crowned kinglets, Wilson’s warblers and a red-breasted nuthatch were spotted Thursday in Skyline.
Debra Patla spotted a handful of Swainson’s thrushes and yellow-rumped warblers Thursday and Friday. She also reported her bush berries were cleaned out by at least seven robins.
Francis Clark and Susan Marsh noted over 80 sandhill cranes in the Bryan Flats area of the Hoback, and Francis reports being very taken by the cranes’ calls. She also reported spotting robins all over the past few days, eating chokecherries.
Liz Brimmer and Melissa Cassutt spotted a harem of cow elk and a bugling bull while on a horseback ride through Poker Flats on Saturday afternoon. Other bulls could also be heard bugling around the area.
Some aspen trees have yet to turn color, if they’re going to this year, but are beginning to drop their leaves anyway.
As heard on the street: “This time of year, we get the nearly dead, the newly wed, the overfed and the strange in bed.”
Also heard on the street: “Ha! Ain’t that the truth.”