Other Writing by
Various works by Christine Baleshta that have been published on the internet.
Nature Writing and book reports and other efforts.
The temperature on the first morning of spring is 0° and it looks like it could snow at any minute. This is our last day to rise at 5:00 a.m. and I am finally getting used to it, even enjoying it. I pull on three layers of clothes to protect from the freezing temperatures, then feel surprised at how warm it feels stepping out into the blackness surrounding Buffalo Ranch.
It’s a little after seven in the morning and 20 degrees on a day that promises to be sunny, clear and cold. The sun rises earlier each day, peaking over the hills of the Lamar Valley a little after six a.m. Winter is melting into Spring, but here, on an ice covered turnout overlooking Hellroaring Peak, winter is all around us. I kneel comfortably on a mound of snow surrounded by my companions from Yellowstone Institute and three young men sitting cross-legged behind spotting scopes wedged in spaces between the trees.
The Lamar Valley is deserted mid-afternoon on a sunny October day. The beginning of Fall in Yellowstone is unusually warm, and I ‘ve needed my token pair of shorts almost every day. A cool wind kicks up from the north, blowing against my back. A front is moving in bringing much colder temperatures and snow flurries tomorrow morning. From my perch high on this hill, I can scan the valley with my binoculars and get a good view of the Druid Pack’s rendezvous site.
She is a four year old black female with the Slough Creek Pack. In the picture, she lies in the snow in a drugged stupor, her huge head half-supported by an unseen Wolf Project biologist. Her amber eyes are glazed over and half closed; her pink tongue hangs out the side of her mouth. She has just been re-collared, but will keep her number — 527F. Wolf watchers call her “Bolt” for a Z-like marking on her hindquarters. If anything happens to 527, her collar will be sent to me.
The horse stands outside the barbed wire fence, swishing a tail that brushes the ground, staring intently at a group of horses scattered in the pasture on the other side. He is black, but when sunlight shines on him, a deep brown glows from his coat. He waits, patient, staring, looking in as if he wants to join the other horses.
We are on the Wild Horse Range that stretches along this road for more than 10 miles through the Big Horn Canyon National Recreation Area and extends acres and acres to the west. The black horse is a wild horse, but I am not sure about the others, even though their coloring and markings are similar to wild horses.
The black bear is in the wooded area at the base of the ridge. Her cinnamon
colored cub of the year bounces on and around her, bursting with energy. He
swats at her and she swats back. They roll and tumble over grass and twigs. The
cub climbs on a long grey log lying in the deadwood, broken branches jutting out
every which way. He bites the branches and rolls off the log, only to climb up
again and run along its length. He falls off and runs to his mother, jumping up
on hind legs and trying to climb on top of her.
It was fourteen degrees and snowing when the plane landed in Bozeman. By the time I reach the empty ranger booth at Gardiner the snow has stopped and it’s cloudy, dark and getting darker. Evening shadows surround me as the jeep winds slowly up the hill to Mammoth. The headlights reflect off the road and snow in gray, blue and white. Colored lights twinkle from the administrative buildings and General Store. A huge pine tree towers above the buildings, glittering red, green, yellow and blue. A hare pauses in the middle of the road, then hops away.
This spring in Yellowstone is grey and wet and quiet. Swan Lake is still almost completely covered by a layer of ice. The flats are lush and green while Electric Peak is capped with snow. Two Trumpeter Swans dive at the edge of the shore. Elk are everywhere shedding the past winter, tufts of brown fur sticking out of smooth beige coats. The bulls have begun to grow antlers again. Some resemble little bones and some are quite impressive. All are covered with velvet.
Bison, too, are everywhere. Their new-born calves are the first sign of spring in Yellowstone for me. Little bursts of red-brown energy with dark brown eyes and noses race in circles around their mothers and each other discovering what four legs can do.
When I drive through the arches on a cold February morning, I enter a mostly silent world of dark green with patches of white and shades of mineral red and orange. There is little snow on the Rescue Creek Trail and along the Gardiner River. The sky is blue now, but the clouds roll in shortly as the road winds and climbs to Mammoth Hot Springs. Elk, bison, and deer stare down from the hills and leap across the road carefully and quickly. They take note of each newcomer. The Mammoth Terraces are steam and frost, a subdued blend of orange, green, brown and red on an icy background. Rabbit and coyote tracks follow each other and climb the snowy slopes alongside the boardwalk. It is 28 degrees. Already I am totally distracted by the pristine beauty of this place in winter.
The Yellowstone west entrance is melting down. On the first Saturday in May, patches of snow are everywhere. Bison cross the road in front of the car, heads turned toward us, eyes wary, always moving forward to the other side. One of the first bison calves born this spring clings to its mother and moves awkwardly, still not used to its legs.
It’s chilly at 5:30 p.m., but clear and there’s plenty of light. We turn left at the Madison Junction and head towards Norris. We’ve heard a grizzly sow and her two yearling cubs have been feeding on a carcass in that area and hope they’ll be there tonight. The remnants of winter are striking: ponds and lakes still frozen over, trees and meadows dusted with snow. We travel slowly, looking from side to side, hoping to see something moving through the trees.
“It’s still snowing!” Cold and damp, a little frustrated by the weather, we make our way down the path through the flats. The trail is muddy and wet in places, and large patches of snow are everywhere. We’re getting tired of being cold and navigating snow drifts and don’t want to get caught in a storm.
It’s Monday. Since we arrived Saturday in the late afternoon the weather in Yellowstone has been gray with snow showers, the sun breaking through intermittently. Yesterday we hiked in Hayden Valley for a while and gave up trying to negotiate the snow covered trail, marshy areas and deadfall. It started to snow as we hiked sideways up the slopes. Big, round snow flakes settled on top of my backpack while we hiked up the trail to Mary Mountain. I have never seen snow like that before — snowflakes like tiny snowballs disintegrating at a touch.