Friday, May 18, 2007

Animals Dead or Alive

Any trip to Montana inevitably involves animal sightings and animal stories. The state is full of creatures both wild and domestic. People are clearly the minority species by the millions, I am certain. Animal body parts are scattered everywhere. You will find heads in hotel lobbies, antlers at yard sales, and flattened carcasses along the highway.

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Graduation Celebration Dinner

After the UM Davidson Honors College reception, we treated ourselves to a celebratory dinner at a typical Montana steak house in Lolo which is 8 miles out of Missoula. As you can see, we were surrounded and being observed while we ate by a myriad of formerly living Montana residents. From the look on the elk's face, he was ecstatic that we were eating his domestic relatives instead of him.

The bobcat in the background generated quite a bit of discussion. Lucas and his friends had a few days before visited the college hang out hot springs in the wilderness about 50 miles over the Lolo road. On the drive back late at night with no other cars or humans anywhere, they encountered creature after creature and he wasn't sure of their identities. He explained that a cat-like thing darted across the highway. After studying the features of the stuffed bobcat near our table, he decided he'd seen a very much alive bobcat. In addition, at a yellow warning sign on the road labeled "moose crossing", Lucas almost hit an elk which would have destroyed his Jeep. Mothers like me do not want to think about the other possible consequences.

All of this talk was too much for my husband. After all, the steak house was located on the very road where the hordes of animals were seen, so after our delicious Montana steaks, we took a little drive at dusk to see what we could see. Magali is particularly excited to see wildlife. Although she grew up in the Alps, the human population in Europe has pretty much pushed the animals away. This particular drive, Highway 12, up and over Lolo Pass and into Idaho is one of the most magnificent drives in the world. It borders protected wilderness and follows white water rivers the entire way.

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Top of the pass on the Idaho border

Of course, in May a lot of snow still exists even with temperatures hanging around 80 degrees. At this spot, we encountered a human with not much clothing hiking out with his cross country skis. Seriously, at first I thought he was a sasquatch because he was the hairiest man I'd ever seen in my life. After we climbed back into the car, I remarked that I had now seen a person with more body fur than my husband. I do think it is possible the man was the love child of a bigfoot and a hiker.

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Cedar Grove

Fascinating to me was the existence of this ancient grove of gigantic cedar trees. This patch could have been in Northern California or along the Washington coast but instead it was right there on the Montana-Idaho border left over from the prehistoric days of inland seas. It was weird to see trilliums so familiar to me as a Washingtonian covering the forest floor.

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A River Runs Through It

The most beautiful rivers in the world exist on this part of the globe. Two days later as we traveled over Lolo Pass on our way to Walla Walla, we saw kayakers and rafters putting in at various points along the way.

Sure enough, we did have the chance to see animals during our after dinner foray. Many many deer were all over the place. We drove slowly so as not to smash into anything. We did not see moose at the "moose crossing" but we did spot an elk. But, unfortunately, we had to be satisfied with seeing the dead versions of mountain goat and bear who shared our dinner with us back at the restaurant.