In spring, when the rains come, the grass on the refuge is as blue-green as the ocean. By late May, the seed heads form, giving wheat-colored tops to the lush green below. I often took the 10-minute walk from work to home for lunch. Reclining on the back porch, gazing out upon the thousands of acres of waist high green, I felt as if in a three masted ship, sailing with a following wind, foam capped waves of brilliant green extending to the horizon. Twenty minutes later, awakened & refreshed, I leisurely walked back to my afternoon’s schedule.
One cannot sit for an hour of watching on the refuge without witnessing some amazing scene playing out another of nature’s odysseys.
Hawks of every species – red tailed, sharp shinned, harrier, and falcons glide back and forth, seeking sustenance. Each favors a certain fencepost behind our home, and poses for a few minutes before setting off again hunting their creatures. Bald eagles spend time farther out. Too many songbird species to count – meadow larks, blue birds, finches, yellow headed and red winged blackbirds, tanagers, martins, sparrows, and on and on, can be observed and documented on our refuge fence. One morning, we identified 25 species in just a couple of hours.
One year, a mountain lion made her den on Miller’s Bluff and birthed her kittens. We set up the spotting scope in the bay window, and for over a month, watched mother and babes playing and sunning at the opening to their den.
Another year, a pair of coyotes raised their family. Again, for weeks, we watched the pups eagerly greet their parents as they brought back frequent meals. They played out mock battles and pretended hunting forays until finally dispersing as young adolescents.
One pup stayed the whole summer. Again, for weeks, we watched him learning to hunt. He jumped high above the grass and then pounced down on all fours upon an unwary grasshopper or vole, becoming more skilled each week as summer passed.
When fall comes to the refuge, the trophy bulls arrive. Weary from their struggle, they band together, half heartedly bugling and sparring, sunning and resting from the rigors of the rut. On fog filled mornings, they can be seen lightly jousting, like ghosts in the mist.
By Halloween, the massive herds have arrived. Cows, calves, yearlings, spikes by the thousands gather and visit within feet of our windows, grazing on the golden sheaves just beyond the fence, sorting out to the hierarchy that will last throughout the long winter. Bighorn sheep begin their daily treks down from Miller’s Bluff to the pond below each day for water, taking their leisurely journey back to the wind swept bluffs and safety.
One Thanksgiving, a red fox moved into the corner of our yard, just on the other side of the fence. Each afternoon, out he would come, leisurely sniffing across our grass, seeking ground squirrels, field mice, and voles. For weeks, we set our alarms for four o’clock, and marveled at his bold red color against the early snow.
The new year brings bitter cold and the difficult-to-watch struggle for survival. So many times, we have watched life come to an end – at the hands of starvation, disease, injury, and predators. Wolves, coyotes, and eagles can be observed completing nature’s story, sometimes within feet of the warmth and comfort of our home.
Early spring brings birth, with elk calves, lambs, pups, and fawns galore. Soon the snow gives way to grass, elk depart, and the cycle begins anew.
The list of species we have observed in our yard and on the refuge is simply amazing: elk, deer, big horned sheep, moose, mountain lion, wolf, coyote, fox, badger, ermine, great horned owl are some that we have regularly seen. It is truly endless, and a thrill for all children and adults alike. Friends speak each time they visit of the amazing scenes they have observed at our home. Every year we witness something new and exciting.
We will truly miss it, this privilege we have been permitted to enjoy immeasurably over the last 20 years. The unique privacy and solitude have only added to the incredible memories that we will treasure all our lives. It has been our privilege to live at 280 Moose.
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