Monday, November 14, 2016

Awesome Antelope

This year PJ and I were blessed to be able to go antelope hunting for the first time. We both harvested an antelope buck, but this post isn't really about the harvest - it's more about the experience and about the animals. It's about getting outside in the high desert of Wyoming and seeing plenty of wildlife. PJ and I enjoy hunting, but even more than that, we hunt mainly to provide meat for our family. Game meat provides a lean, healthy, and fairly economical source of protein for us. We butchered both antelope ourselves and all the meat is in our freezer now. Hunting gets us out into God's creation, enjoying areas we might otherwise just drive right past. So, regardless of your views on hunting, I hope you can enjoy this post!

PJ has hunted archery before, but this was my first time going out in archery season for any animal. (PJ harvested his buck in archery, but I got mine in rifle season.) It won't be the last time for me! Archery season is so much quieter. You can hear so much more. I've seen antelope plenty of times - driving past them in the car. But I never, ever HEARD an antelope before this fall. You'd think these animals are completely quiet, but get close enough and you'll discover that they sure make some really interesting noises! They have a call (that apparently means "something isn't quite right") that sounds like a buzzing honk/wheeze. That's the best I can describe it. You'll just have to come hear it for yourself!

The animal that we call "antelope" is technically not a true antelope. It's proper name is Pronghorn but not too many people out here actually call it that. In fact, if you want to hunt one you will apply for an antelope license, not a pronghorn license. Among many people here they are somewhat affectionately known as "speed goats". Males (bucks) have horns (not antlers). Females (does) can have horns too, but the horns on the doe are typically very small. A buck is identified by his large, pronged horns and black cheek patch. One thing that makes an antelope unique is that it actually sheds its horns each year, where horned animals typically do not shed their headgear. The horn is actually compressed hair. Pretty interesting.

These are a couple of shed horn sheaths.

We took a crash course in field judging antelope from our friend who was hunting with us. From what I can tell, this is a pretty good buck:

Definitely larger than the average bucks that we saw. You can see the "prongs" on the horns which give them their proper name. Each buck can be pretty unique. You can have individuals like that guy where the horns curve towards each other in the center, nearly touching each other. You can have ones where the horns stand more straight up, or ones where they are laid out more towards the sides.

You can even have some like this fellow below!

In this picture (below), you can take a pretty good look at another interesting physical feature of this animal - its mane. The mane on an antelope is a line of darker, longer hair that runs up the back of its neck.

These are very wary animals, and they see danger pretty much everywhere. And they are fast. Sneaking up on one is no easy task! One part of what made the hunt so fun is that we saw so many animals! Probably hundreds of antelope just in the relatively small area in which we were hunting. Get too close too quickly and this is the view you'll get:

This isn't a super good picture, but if you look you can kind of see that they puff out their white, uh, bottoms when they are alarmed. I'm assuming this is an alarm signal to other antelope, much the same as the way a whitetail deer flags its tail when it is running away from a perceived threat.

You'd think, until you actually get out there and start walking it, that the area in which these guys live is fairly flat. It looked mostly flat where we were hunting. But as you start walking across that "flat" landscape you start to find hills and valleys and ravines that you had no idea were there. And there are usually more antelope around every corner too.

The antelope fawns in this picture (above) are already a few months old. Really little antelope fawns are my favorite wildlife babies. They are just really, really cute. Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of a really small one, so you'll have to consult the internet if you want to see one. :)

We also came across a den of fox kits. They were awfully cute, and not really afraid. We happened to spot them while we were driving and we sat in the car and watched them for a minute or two before they decided they'd better head for cover. Three of them went down into the den. The fourth got spooked when we started driving and took off the opposite direction from the den. We were driving on the road, but he must have thought we were coming right behind him through the sagebrush because he was ducking and weaving all over in an attempt to get away (from something that wasn't even chasing him). It looked so funny. Their tail is as big as their body and we could just see that big, fluffy tail darting around wildly between the sagebrush and weeds.

I apologize for the quality of the next two pictures, but the yawn and the stretch were so cute (even if they turned out horribly out of focus and the color is all wonky).

Thankfully I did get a couple of better shots, too!

We saw lots of birds too, and heard even more than we saw. One time when we were walking we spooked a great-horned owl out of a tree. They are so amazingly silent when they fly. Unfortunately I wasn't quick enough to get a picture.

Our hunting trips this year were the first times that PJ and I left the kids with someone else overnight in at least five or six years (maybe ever), and it was great. I love being with my kids, but it was definitely nice to have some time alone with my husband again. We spent a lot of time talking, and we realized that it was the first time in a really long time that we had been able to carry on an extended conversation without being interrupted!  It got me remembering a little of what life had been like during the first few years of our marriage... What was that, like, a century ago now? Haha.

We spent one night camping in the back of our truck. It was really uncomfortable and cold, and the moon was so bright that we had a terrible time falling asleep. And I should have thought to use the facilities before I got into the back of the truck, because trying to crawl out of the back window was even worse than crawling in had been. (PJ was laughing at me mercilessly.) But as I stepped out of the truck and into the silence of that place at night and took in a deep breath of that fresh, crisp air... it was as if I was breathing in peace itself. I just stood there and let it soak into my soul. Breathe out, and the tension went with it. There is just nothing like a quiet wild place to restore your soul - a place where you can actually be still, and the pressures of the world and of your daily life can wait until tomorrow while you relax and connect with God in the glorious wonder of His creation. Take in a sunset. Take in a sunrise. Breathe. And know that God is good.

God made the wild animals according to their kinds, 
the livestock according to their kinds, 
and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. 
And God saw that it was good.
-Genesis 1: 25 (NIV)

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A-Hiking We Will Go

As of this Monday, Yellowstone's roads (well, most of them) closed to vehicle travel. Now they'll let the snow pile up and sometime in December the park will open to oversnow travel. Someday I'd love to go to Yellowstone in the winter. It would be a whole different experience than driving it! You can ski, snowshoe, snowmobile, or travel by snow coach. Some friends of ours went in by snow coach recently (within the last year or two) and they said it was amazing. I guess, from what I've read, that you actually can drive into the Park in winter from the North Entrance (Gardiner, MT) and you can go down to Mammoth Hot Springs and drive through the Lamar Valley and go as far as the Northeast Entrance. I'm not sure if that would be worth it, though, for the distance that we would have to drive.

While winter in Yellowstone is on my wish list, for now I will just have to settle for seeing the Park during the warmer months of the year. The last time we were there for the year was while my family was out to visit in September. I know I already shared a bunch of pictures from the time while they were here, but I've still got more! (That shouldn't surprise you at all...) If you're not into another post chock-full of pictures then you might want to skip over to another blog. :) Not all these pictures are from Yellowstone, so I captioned them for you.

These first two pictures are some of my favorites! These two (plus the three after them) are from a short hike we took with the kids and my parents. We didn't have to go far from home, and we had a ton of fun exploring.

 A few days later we headed off for Yellowstone and the Tetons (see more about that here and here). We didn't even make it into the Park before we saw this fellow:
(Remember? I promised you more bear pictures! Here you go...)

 She (or he) was running around right by the side of the road, and was clearly agitated (though the pictures don't really show it). I was glad to be IN the car and farther away from the bear than these zoomed in pictures would lead you to believe. I think this was a young grizzly, as it seemed to be on the small side. I'm guessing one of last year's cubs, but that is a totally uneducated guess.

This bear seemed to want to cross the road, as she started across a couple of times, but there was a lot of traffic and she kept turning back around. You could tell by her body language that she was getting really worked up. Eventually (after a few minutes) she took off running in the opposite direction and disappeared into the forest. Neat to see, but soooo glad I was in my car and not on foot or horseback for the encounter!

These two pictures are from Lake Butte Overlook in Yellowstone. Thus this body of water would be Yellowstone Lake. So much blue!

I love this picture, too! This is from the Tetons of course. Sometimes you feel so small...

We also went on a hike in the Tetons! This sign was at the trailhead... making sure everyone that goes hiking there is prepared for surprise encounters. We had multiple cans of bear spray with us. We definitely weren't hiking alone. And with six kids along we totally had the "make noise" point well covered. (Trust me.)

While in Yellowstone we also went to see Old Faithful. This is Old Faithful! Zoomed way in from where we were sitting at the viewing area, this is the geyser cone. The eruption prediction was a little off this time, so I was playing with my camera while we waited. Look how you can see the heat vapors in the upper right corner! 

Here is the cone again, just zoomed out a little farther this time. As we were waiting, the sun kept getting lower and lower in the sky. We thought maybe we'd get to see a sunset-lit geyser, which would have been cool, but then the sun sank below the edge of the hill and it started getting dark fast.

So this is what we ended up with! The last remaining sunlight just caught the top of the steam plume. Still pretty cool. :) Old Faithful is always a favorite with the kids.

We went out of the Park and returned a couple days later, this time via the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway and the Northeast Entrance. When you go that way you can stop and check out the Clark's Fork Canyon! (It's much more impressive in person. The picture just does not do it justice.)

 Something to keep in mind if you're out driving in Wyoming... some areas are still open range. Which means that it's not just wildlife and sightseers that you have to watch out for on the road, but livestock as well. Drive carefully!

We stopped at a picnic area just inside the Park entrance for lunch. Not only was the scenery pretty awesome...

...but the neighbors weren't bad either! Right across from the picnic area was this rocky mountainside. It's a little hard to see, but there are four mountain goats up there (three close together and one by itself)! We also saw eight other mountain goats in the area, but those were all much farther away and I got even worse pictures of them.

After lunch we drove down to the Canyon area, to Artist's Point. Isn't this a great picture? It really makes you feel like you're all alone with nature. Ahhh...
(Not pictured: the crowd behind me that you could barely walk through, brought there in part by a dozen or more tour buses. It seemed like a crazy amount of people for the off season! It was nearly October, for goodness sakes!)

Well, for this view I guess it's worth fighting the crowds (at least once in a while).

We left all the crowds back at Canyon and headed towards the East Entrance. What a way to top off the day! We found this big griz down by the shore of Yellowstone Lake. We stopped to watch him, and were able to stay for a while because there weren't too many people stopped there, or too much traffic.

He crossed the road and went walking right out into the lake.

Just taking a bath? There was a big shallow area there, and he just ambled along through the water for a long time with no apparent purpose in mind.

 The geese didn't seem concerned by his presence at all. We enjoyed watching him for a long time, but eventually we had to leave him where he was (still in the lake) and head for home. Until next time...

"How many are your works, Lord!
    In wisdom you made them all;
    the earth is full of your creatures."
-Psalm 104: 24

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Of Mud and Birds

Last week was a long one. The kind of week that seems like someone snuck extra hours, or maybe even days, in there and is watching while you try to figure out what happened. It was sometime on Tuesday when I realized that Wednesday hadn't happened yet. As much as "time flies when you're having fun", it also drags along when you're NOT having fun. In this case, we had three kids down with the stomach flu. Thankfully it was very short-lived and everyone was feeling back to normal fairly quickly.

Yes, the first half of that week was made up of the type of days that you slog through as if you were walking through a farmyard after a heavy rain. You just keep putting one foot in front of the other because you know if you stop moving for too long you're bound to lose a boot in the mire and stick your sock-clad foot in a pile of ... "special" mud.

I know we've all had times like that. It was certainly not the first time for me, and I'm positive it won't be the last. It's just a part of life. Sometimes the "mud" we're walking through is something relatively uncomplicated - like a house full of sick kids, or second grade math (homeschool parents, I know you relate!). At other times we are faced with much more difficult and/or longer-lasting situations. Chronic illness, family conflicts, financial troubles, the death of a loved one... There's no way to get around the fact that sometimes life is just not easy. Sometimes it's just HARD.

Thankfully we have a Creator who has equipped us to deal with the hard times! Sometimes that means that we can deal with the situation with the wisdom and skills that He has given us. Sometimes it means that we deal with it through personal prayer. And sometimes we need to get other people involved - people who can pray for us and with us, people who can help out with their God-given wisdom and skills, people who can stand with us and hold us up when we feel like we can't go forward on our own. This is a big part of the importance of the Body of Christ, and why we are instructed to: "...consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another..." (Hebrews 10: 24-25a, NIV) This is important as we deal with our personal issues, but also as we deal with issues that we face corporately as believers. 

Right now we are now just days away from another presidential election, the results of which will affect us far into the future, and I believe that all of us who are followers of God should be spending quite a bit of time in prayer over the next several days. Even though things may seem hopeless when we read through the headlines, we can rest assured that God is watching out for us. He never promised that things would be easy, but He did promise to be there with us through it all.

"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." (Matthew 10: 29-31, NIV, emphasis mine)

I'm so glad I have a heavenly Father like that! He loves us and cares for us. What He promises He is able to do and He will do it! Sometimes knowing that is all that gets me through the rough stuff. It's what enables me to keep putting one foot in front of the other. It's what is giving me hope as we look forward to the future, even though we have no idea what the future is going to hold.

I'll leave you with this: "Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!" (Luke 12: 24, NIV) Think about it. Enjoy the pictures. And remember to pray for this election and for our country's future leaders!

Common Raven.

Grey Jay.

 Find the bird! He's hiding pretty well, with his eye looking like just another cedar berry and his feathers and beak the same grey as the branches.

Here's a better look at the hiding bird. I think the fluffy one is a juvenile. He's SO FLUFFY!!!

The same bird again. Tentatively identified as the 
Townsend's Solitaire.
(But if you know better, please tell me!)

Unidentified Hawk.

 Clark's Nutcracker.

Another shot of the Clark's Nutcracker.

Unidentified Duck.

 A flock of birds in motion.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

It's Autumn, and I Like It!

Most everyone seems to have a favorite time of the year. Some people like spring because everything is fresh and new after a long winter. Some people prefer winter because of all the opportunities to participate in winter sports. Most of my friends seem to prefer summer, for it's warmth and long daylight hours. They love the beach and things like that. I do not. My favorite time of the year is fall. Partly because it signals the end of summer (which happens to be my least favorite season). But mostly because I just like pretty much everything about it! Cooler weather, frosty mornings, trees changing colors, harvest time, apples and pumpkins, hoodies, hunting season, the smell of wood smoke in the air... Ah, glorious fall...

As I mentioned before, I am well aware that not everyone shares my fondness for the autumn season. But I figured I would still be able to find some sort of fall-celebrating poem to share alongside of my fall photos here on the blog (and there are LOTS of photos...). I'm sure there are some out there, but after I glanced through poem after poem that talked about everything dying in fall, and the wind singing a funeral song for the trees (or something along those lines), and the way the poets felt sad because it was fall and the glory of summer was gone... I kinda gave up. So instead I searched for happy quotes about autumn and those were easier to find... so here you go! :)

"I loved autumn, 
the one season of the year that God seemed to have put there 
just for the beauty of it." 
- Lee Maynard

"I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers." 
- Lucy Maude Montgomery

North Fork, Shoshone River, Wyoming

Pilot and Index Peaks, Absaroka Range, Wyoming
(It's pronounced Ab-sor-ka, by the way.)

Tentatively identified as Spotted Tussock Moth caterpillar, Yellowstone National Park

"Autumn... the year's last, loveliest smile." 
- William Cullen Bryant

Bison, Yellowstone National Park

Lewis Lake, Yellowstone National Park

"Fall is awesome." 
- Me

Willow Flats, Grand Teton National Park (next 4 pictures)

Find the bull elk in the picture above.

Find the cow elk in the picture below.

"Autumn is a second spring 
when every leaf is a flower."
- Albert Camus

An inviting trail, Oxbow Bend area, Grand Teton National Park

"Autumn carries more gold in its pocket 
than all the other seasons." 
- Jim Bishop

Aspens in the fall (my favorite!), Oxbow Bend area, Grand Teton National Park

"I like fall. I don't like it. 
I actually love it. I like leaf piles." 
- Mountain Girl

Oxbow Bend (Snake River), Grand Teton National Park
(next 4 pictures)

"Um... like a frog bouncing into the water." 
- Little Mr.

Random photographer (Ha ha... hi, mom!), Cunningham Cabin area, Grand Teton National Park
(next two pictures)

"I like fall because of 
the cooler temperatures and the hunting." 
- PJ

 Magpie, perfectly timed

Mormon Row homesteads, Grand Teton National Park

"Otch! Ush. O yah." 
- Little Miss

String Lakes area, Grand Teton National Park (next 4 pictures)

"I like it because you can 
do art projects with fall leaves." 
- Biker Dude

Lewis Falls, Yellowstone National Park

Lewis River, Yellowstone National Park

"Delicious autumn! 
My very soul is wedded to it, 
and if I were a bird I would fly about the Earth 
seeking the successive autumns." 
- George Eliot

Geyser, Yellowstone National Park

 Yellowstone Grizzly! If you want to see more pictures of bears, and of Yellowstone, you'll have to check back here next week! 'Til next time...

"Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; 
wisdom and power are his.
He changes times and seasons; 
he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning."
- Daniel 2: 20-21 (NIV)