Although the weather was chilly and foggy I hiked into M’Lady Canyon (my name for Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend). I invite and enjoy the feeling of being insignificant in between 1,500 foot walls of sheer rock, of standing amidst a book of geological time, and wandering around the river bed feeling like a hobbit character.
Stories are written in sand. On the river banks were dozens of tracks left from many animals, including barefoot humans. It’s like a mystery story in which one has to study the tracks and sign to learn about the characters, and what they do during part of their daily lives.
Despite my usual preference for being ‘invisible’ on my hikes, I found myself volunteering as a ‘tour guide’ to several other hikers new to Big Bend National Park. They would stop me to ask questions about the trail, the canyon, and the wildlife -plants and animals- in and around the canyon. I looked at my riding shirt to see if I had on a park badge that I hadn’t noticed (or worn in many decades), but perhaps the smile on my face conferred a knowing confidence about the the canyon. Perhaps it was the pleasure in seeing the excitement in the young man’s face when pointing out the raccoon tracks in the mud. Although we didn’t see any animals, their imprints of activity were enough to inspire the young couple’s interest in wildlife.
A monarch butterfly honored me with holding still long enough for a photograph. Because it it was in the shadows of the canyon wall, the chilly temperatures probably limited it’s activity. No matter how quiet and slow I approach birds and other wildlife, they usually spook before I can compose and release the camera shutter. This butterfly obliged me, and I thanked it after obtaining a photograph.
A retired couple invited me to share their lunch with them at the trail head. Although I was not hungry, I politely obliged them with a short visit at their picnic table. She was an author who, along with her husband, was on a writing retreat and seeking inspiration from a visit to the Big Bend region of Texas. I smiled with silent empathy of that demon called ‘writer’s block’. I agreed with her that excursions into places devoid of human civilization often rejuvenate the writer’s soul within.
Looking up at the 1,500-foot walls of rock that took millions of years to form, and the river that divides these walls and two countries, political boundaries and squabbling seemed trivial compared to all that surrounded me. At that instant it all seemed so clear and simple. Yet, only miles away were the same trappings and drama that come with any species that overgrows their physical surroundings; a kind of oblivious self-destruction. The solutions seem so simple, but our human natures complicate and block the paths to these solutions. And the pessimist, supported with biological evidence in all life, continues battling with the hope inside me. Perhaps this is a curse of being a biologist: a deep knowledge of the natural processes common to all species.
The ride back on the motorcycle was cold, but still enjoyable as I navigated through some of the most raw and majestic landforms remaining in our country; and grateful that we still protect pockets of natural land and its wildlife from our human tendencies for domination and exploitation. Here is the hope for us if we can only see, experience and learn from it.
Sagebrush. Its aroma is almost an aphrodisiac. It is the timeless scent of an ancient organism that evolved with the sand and deserts of the Great Basin. Many of the Artemesia spp. are very aromatic; their leaves lush with terpenoids. These aromatic lipids are volatile and will relinquish their scents when leaf cells are crushed, […]
“When we no longer hear the voices of warbler and wren, our own speaking can no longer be nourished by their cadences. As the splashing speech of the rivers is silenced by more and more dams, as we drive more and more of the land’s wild voices into the oblivion of extinction, our own languages […]