Last week’s snow disappeared as quickly as it arrived. The wind is warmer, nibbling at stubborn snow patches.
From the cabin I see a large elk herd looming high on the western peaks, stretching for nearly 2,900 feet. A sky buds with clouds in the background. Every day I continue my quest to collect antlers, walking three to five hours a day.
I don’t get tired of browsing these almost virgin expanses. Since seeing a few friends on snowmobiles in March, I have not seen anyone. Loneliness doesn’t weigh on me. This surprises me most.
Last night I went to check on the horses, already accustomed to their new life. But I see them turning nervously in their corral. I advance slowly, scrutinizing the surroundings. Three hundred feet away I spot the offender: the Rocky Mountain Boss. Below in a still snow-covered valley, a magnificent grizzly searches for roots.
He tips his nose to the sky and bolts off at a gallop. He must have picked up my scent. Except when surprised or tormented by hunger, the grizzly flees man.
A couple of bluebirds flutter around the birdhouse hanging on the front porch. Small tufts of soft green grass begin to appear timidly. Is it finally spring?
Not yet. It snowed that night, about 5 inches. This morning icicles clung to the horses’ manes. They travel back up high after finishing their breakfast, despite the evening’s scare.
Days go by without another grizzly sighting.
After this winter burst beautiful weather returns. I resume my hikes, having spent a day indoors making pastries and brioche.
There are elk everywhere, herds of cows. On the north side of Spring Mountain an elk highway scars the mountain. There had to be over a thousand to leave such a track.
I find no antlers. But I console myself, enjoying landscapes that are losing their winter touch more and more every day.
I have to go to Dubois to refuel and send off a few pictures. At the beginning of the second half of April the snow has melted and it has become difficult to get in or out.
Midmonth the nights become milder, and the days reach above 10 degrees. Life feels ready to return. I see newcomers: a flight of curlews, two kestrels, the first swallow. The afternoon is hot for the season, 15 degrees. The buzz of the first insects disturbs the silence.
A butterfly flies around me. My steps take me to a marshy meadow, and I think I hear cranes in the distance. I see them at the edge of a small pond, elegant, crowned with scarlet red.
The next day I decide to search the prairie for grouse. It’s the season when the males parade, and I hope to find a flock at the foot of the south side of Spring Mountain. I run into large valleys too deep with snow to cross, still holding 6 feet of snow.
After three hours of walking I spot five males. They observe each other, puff their chests, popping like corks from Champagne bottles. No female is in sight. I take leave, wishing them good luck. On the way back I see the first herd of antelope back on their summer range.
After a week of spring weather, snow is falling again. Fat snow, almost 4 inches, which disappears the next afternoon.
With the return of good weather, I decide to jump on the Wiggins Fork. It is a beautiful hike for a day to descend at the edge of this river, a rather difficult path because of significant elevation. I hope to find some impulses to photograph. After three hours of walking I arrive on the banks. Through the binoculars a herd of pronghorn enters my field of vision. What are they doing here? This is not their habitat. They go up the river, hesitating on the way to follow.
Suddenly I understand. They are migrating, en route to their summer pastures. I am, unfortunately, on the same bank, and if they cross I will not have a good angle for photos. After a moment one of them, seeming to have found a favorable place, throws herself into the water. The rest of the troop follows. It’s a stunning sight.
The fight is bitter against the Wiggins’ strong water from the snow melt. Some are driven by the current but, at the cost of incredible energy, manage to get a foothold on the shore. All have succeeded. What a moment to witness.
Arriving at the top of the canyon I cut faster toward the house. A few feet from the trail I see a beautiful elk horn, over 3 feet long.
Its owner must have lost it not long ago: The base is spattered with blood. I will keep it and make a rack for my rifle, a beautiful decoration for the cabin.
The weather is good, and with the warm temperatures snow melts visibly.
Soon my mustangs will be able to fend for themselves on the prairie grass. They spend more and more time away from the cabin but are still sociable. It’s a real pleasure to see them gallop toward me when I call them.
In the morning they are not waiting for breakfast. I climb to see if I can spot them and instead find other delights. At least 2,000 elk dot Spring Mountain. I can’t even fit them all into one frame. They graze or brood quietly under the indifferent eye of my horses.
It has been three days since it dropped below freezing at night. All in nature feels the change. Yesterday the thermometer rose to 15 degrees in the afternoon. The murmur of a little stream, Charlie Creek, sings in my ears, sneaking between two slabs of ice.
Here lies a small pond that begins to break free from the rigors of winter, filling with water. An annual tradition.
Nature is activated. I watch a jay jump from stone to stone, turning some with its beak, searching for the season’s first insects.
These last days of April were more fruitful on the side of my search for “bois de wapiti.” I’ve collected eight sheds, about 25 pounds, and I hope to find others in the next few days.