animal realm

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    Answering the Call Paid Member

    The birders are old, intensely alert. Twenty or more of them move through the brush slowly, weaving like dreams. They have arisen early to meet their passion. It’s cold—a February dawn, down near the Arizona-Mexico border, south of Tucson. Whenever there is movement back in the brush, the birders all stop and watch, waiting—some keen-eyed with binoculars still hanging from their necks, others with binocs already raised, their eyes gifted suddenly with the quick-sightedness of gods—and no matter how drab or dull the first bird of the day may seem to me, a non-birder, to the old people, these veterans of beauty, it seems amazing. They rhapsodize about sparrows.  More »
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    A Great Migration Paid Member

    The road is empty, and the country is still empty. Immediately to the west tower the castles and crags of the Rocky Mountains, while the Great Plains sprawl to the east. Along this seam, there is no middle ground; you are either in the mountains or on the plains. In April I like to travel along the edge of these mountains up to Freezeout Lake, the vast marsh just north of Choteau, Montana, that is to migrating waterfowl in the Rockies what Atlanta or Dallas– Fort Worth airports are to human travelers: the hub. Not every duck and goose flying north in the spring pauses at Freezeout Lake—it is shallow and it freezes solid before any other large body of water in Montana, though it also thaws out first. More »
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    Lost in the Woods Paid Member

    The lovely midafternoon call of an olive-sided fly-catcher serenades my passage through these shadows, as they have for all the years, all the summers that I have been passing through these forests. It’s calling, I know, from some more light-filled place—a break in the canopy, a stream’s edge, a small meadow. The bird’s call keeps me company as I move slowly forward, crawling over giant fallen logs, slipping between spiky branches, inserting myself ever deeper into the heart of the basin. I’m bushwhacking through my home, northwest Montana, less than a mile from Canada. Not a single species has gone extinct in this wild little valley since the retreat of the last Ice Age. This matters hugely to me. I understand the importance of accepting impermanence, but just because I understand it doesn’t mean I’m any good at it. More »
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    The Melting Plain Paid Member

    I was up in Beringia on the solstice: no sunrise, no sunset. The days passing in a place so lonely on the map—a place where the trees run out, where the tundra begins, and where, just a little farther north, the Beaufort Sea rests with its bobbing floes and drowning polar bears and luminous bubble-headed belugas and narwhals. The Peel Watershed—a treeless area of mountains and rivers the size of seven Yellowstones—is a place so lonely that to behold it wrenches something out of you. The wrenched thing begins unwinding and unspooling from you and whirls away as if it was never attached in the first place. As if you were never really in possession of it but were merely the most inconsequential vessel for it. More »
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    The Silent Language Paid Member

    In the early spring, after the snow is gone, I love to walk in the woods looking for the winter-dropped antlers of deer. The most beautiful time to find a fallen antler is in an open stretch of woods late in the afternoon when the sun is dropping soft tiger-stripes of light down through the cedars or pines, and one of those shafts of light happens to fall across the antler’s gleaming brown polished curve. More »
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    The Croak of Dawn Paid Member

    I am sitting by the sweet-scented smoldering remains of last night’s campfire, the burned-out husk of a mopane stump still exhaling tendrils of dense blue smoke, and listening to the doves, when I hear a new sound—new to me, at least—that sounds remarkably like the squeak or croak of spring peepers. I didn’t think Namibia’s desert had toads or frogs but nothing about this landscape would seem beyond the realm of possibility; everything is new. What a luxury it is to inhabit such a condition again, as when one was a child. More »