So, why would a golden eagle choose to land out there in the snowy sagebrush? It was mid-November. I was visiting a ranch in Wyoming. My rancher friend said I’d be welcome—“if they weren’t up to their ears in snow” as occasionally happens that time of year. As it turned out there was snow, but only about 6 inches–a great tracking snow. The ranch covered several thousand acres. Wildlife and tracks were everywhere: cottontails, jackrabbits, coyotes, pronghorn antelope, as well as both mule deer and whitetails. The mule deer prefer the open sagebrush country while the whitetails hang out in the cottonwood thickets in the moister bottomland.
We wandered around all day marveling at the variety and density of the tracks – each footprint a reflection of a wild being, a diary of a journey, all a part of a mass display of interconnected networks. John Muir called it a “palimpsest,” i.e. a manuscript that is “written over and over uncountable times…in characters of every size…every sentence composed of sentences, every part of a character a sentence. There is not a fragment in all of nature,” he says, “for all of nature is a full harmonious unit in itself. All together form the one grand palimpsest of the world.”
With those huge wings rhythmically flapping, that eagle had materialized out of the clear blue sky and landed on a low juniper snag a few hundred yards away. There it paused for a few moments and then flew off. We headed for the juniper snag. As we approached we noticed some smaller birds in the area—magpies and ravens. There were networks of heavily used trails thick with coyote tracks all heading towards that same area. Then we saw it – the freshly cleaned skeletal remains of a deer. At first I thought it was a young spike buck, but on closer examination we noticed the antlers did not look healthy. They were creased and somewhat twisted. This was probably an old, weak deer, saved from lingering, senescent disability by a pack of hungry coyotes, and cleaned up with the help of ravens, magpies–and of course, the eagle. Most likely that eagle had feasted there previously and it was just stopping by to see if any tidbits remained. As you can see from the photo there were few leftovers.
The most elegant track we saw was that of a raven who had made a quick stop in an open area of clear snow. We could see the tail drag where it sailed in for a landing, the footprints and body impression as it settled briefly in the snow, then hopped once to launch itself into flight, leaving the imprints where its wing feathers brushed the snow as it departed–a record of a raven moment–a pristine, articulate, and ephemeral, sentence delicately inscribed on the palimpsest of life.
The 2015 Calendar is up and running!
I’ve got a number of interesting programs this year from northern Illinois and Minnesota to south Florida and out to the Ozarks. http://www.dougelliott.com/calendar.html
And here’s a few items on sale:
WINTER SALE (till March 21) at www.dougelliott.com/products.html
An Evening with Doug Elliott DVD
Stories, Songs, and Lore Celebrating the Natural World
Normally $20 — NOW only $10
Elliott performs a lively concert of tales, tunes, traditional lore, wild stories, and fact stranger than fiction–flavored with regional dialects, harmonica riffs, and belly laughs. One moment he is singing about catfish, the next he’s extolling the virtues of dandelions, or bursting forth with crow calls. He also demonstrates basketry, ponders the “nature” in human nature, tells wild snake tales, and jams and jives with his fiddler son, Todd.
Looking for America: A 20th Century Hero’s Journey Double CD
Normally $20 – NOW only $10
We are all heroes and we are all on a mythic journey. Travel with master storyteller, Doug Elliott, on a journey of discovery. These true cross-country hitchhiking and freight hopping tales, delivered in his own outrageous storytelling style, explore not only this amazing nation, culture and era we are a part of, but also the universal Hero’s Journey we all embarked upon at birth. You’ll be transported from congested northern freeways to sunny southern swamps and from the bowels of throbbing factories and big-city railroad yards to vast deserts and the high Rocky Mountains. You’ll meet astounding characters and hear rousing narratives and music ranging from gospel to 60’s rock, country and contemporary songs, including tunes by Leon Russell, Hank Snow, Jimmy Rogers and Country Joe and the Fish. It’s all textured with regional dialects, lively harmonica riffs, guitar, fiddle and soulful yodels. You’ll return from this rollicking journey of discovery with new insights, unusual perspectives and more than a few belly laughs.
Elliott has done some traveling. As a young man, he hopped freight trains and hitchhiked across the continent from Maine to California and from Canada to Guatemala. For most of a decade he was an itinerant herbalist traveling around the country with a van full of herbs, teas and old time remedies, and for a short time he was a migratory beekeeper hauling a trailer full of honeybees between North Carolina and Florida.