As the leaves change I’m reminded of a passage I wrote in “Valley So Sweet,” titled “Still Home.”
“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 1806-7. 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 the Uinta ground squirrels. The chiselers 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 fishermen. 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 then 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: Observation of the week: Benj Sinclair noted Friday that there are still lots of active, mature salamanders at Ski Lake.
Margaret Harris watched Thursday as 40-plus elk moved across Highway 390 in an undulating line. On Saturday, Bernie McHugh observed a dark morph rough-legged hawk as it soared over Mary’s Bay in Yellowstone National Park. On Sunday, Susan Marsh watched about 30 mountain bluebirds and the usual migrants and winter birds at Oxbow Bend.
Deb Patla reports a migration of various species: red-tailed hawks, yellow-rumped warblers, ruby-crowned kinglets, robins and juncos (including Oregon juncos) moving through Buffalo Valley.
Tim Griffith reports that there are still two hummingbirds fighting over his feeders; he is not sure of the species. Tim also has six Clark’s nutcrackers and a Stellar’s jay at his peanut feeders. It was the first time since moving in 2015 to East Jackson that he has seen a Stellar Jay in town. “Could it be that there is a very poor crop at higher elevations this year?” he asks. He also spotted his first rough-legged hawk of the season, seen Sunday morning at Uhl Hill.
At Skyline Ranch there was activity as well: a great horned owl was noted, and Deb Patla caught a glimpse of a white-crowned sparrow.