Monthly Archives: June 2014

Wildlife and the facts of life

Our family has just returned from a wonderful time in Yellowstone National Park.  We left a very cool and slightly snowy 37 degree mountaintop and headed home to a high of 97 degrees.  A 60 degree rise in temperature was a minor shock to the system.

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We are veteran wildlife stalkers.  The thrill of finding the animal, observing their daily life and antics, and then angling for the best photo possible has been something we have enjoyed over the years.  Animals are fascinating.

The other day, we hit the mother lode of animal watching.  We had excitedly seen a number of bears – both grizzly and black – throughout the park as we meandered along the roads.  At one pull out, we jumped out of the car and enjoyed watching a female black bear forage for food.  After a time, we moved on down the road and then observed a slightly larger guy bear first meandering and then running through the fallen trees and stumps toward the lady bear.  My husband said, “I wonder if those two are going to get together.” “I doubt it” was my reply. I was wrong.

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Being bear trackers, we followed along – from a safe distance – and then the biology lesson got extremely interesting.  Indeed, the male was on a mission to hook up with the female bear.  A wonderfully talkative ranger provided colorful commentary as we all slowly absorbed what we were witnessing.  “This is a mating pair.  Yesterday, he tried to connect with her, and she just slapped him away.  Oh, looks like she is going to let him today….”   And on several occasions, he repeated, “this isn’t something you see everyday. There are biologists who spend their whole life hoping to see this.”

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Feeling a bit voyeuristic, we still stuck around for quite some time.  But then it seemed like maybe it was time to leave as these two had attracted quite the audience. So, we headed off to an area lodge to eat and regroup.  The girls’ questions and reflections were many: Are they now going to go off and have the baby – a great opportunity to discuss gestation periods.  Was it that hard to get Mommy? Are they still going at it?  I can’t wait to tell my teacher about this. And a replay of the ranger’s wisdom, “this isn’t something you get to see everyday.”

Wildlife tracking communities and park rangers are friendly and willing to share their powerful telescopes and knowledge. As we shared our story, it was fascinating to learn more about bears’ mating behaviors. Did you know that due to delayed implantation one mama bear can carry the cubs of multiple papa bears at one time? It gives a whole new meaning to “who’s your daddy?”. When I shared this tidbit with a friend, he said, “that’s a floozy bear.” I just think it is a way to keep her options open. Especially in light of another disheartening fact learned on that day.  A father bear will often try to kill his own cubs just to put his lady back into “heat” and get a shot at repeating this cycle of life.

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A mere 12 miles down the road, we were excited to observe through powerful scopes a courting pair of grizzly bears come down from the woods to participate in a bison carcass feast.  Earlier in the day, the grizzlies and wolves apparently took turns chowing down.  This male bear took his female bear down to eat the good stuff and as soon as she was full, they headed back up the hill.  You are just going to have to trust that the two blobs on the right center of this picture are indeed grizzly bears.

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We waited for the wolves to come in but were disappointed when they didn’t appear.  Typically the law of the land in this part of the world is “if the grizzly wants it, the grizzly gets it”.  We were told that at one point earlier on this day, an elder grizzly, Scarface, and a wolf were eating at the same time – a “lion lays down with the lamb” sight I would have loved to behold.

As we packed it up and headed out for the day, we were disappointed that we hadn’t seen a wolf during our visit. We drove slowly through the last mile of “wolf country” when suddenly we were enthusiastically waved over to another amazing scene.  Four pronghorn antelopes were working hard to protect the life of one of their own vulnerable young.  A wolf was stalking and doing his best to catch the baby and eat it for dinner.  Our girls were hoping to see a wolf take their prey down, but this mama said, “I want to see them take an old and sick animal down, but not a baby!” From my perspective, thankfully the wolf was thwarted on that day and went in search of another source of nourishment.

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Thank you to Yellowstone National Park for the many facts of life we observed and learned on this day. As we wandered through a souvenir shop, our older daughter said, “Mom, we need to get this to remind us of what we saw today”.

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I agree that it is the perfect memento for us as we reflect and remember such an amazing day.

Other wildlife sightings to share:

 

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Mind and heart imprint

Because of the huge distraction of our upcoming move, I have let a big life transition sneak right up on me.  Busyness has kept the emotions at bay, but it is now time to mindfully sit in this space and give my heart over to experiencing this time.  Our older daughter is finishing up her elementary school days.  Very soon she will say a bittersweet goodbye to a much loved place that has been critical in her quest to learn and grow.  It was very fitting that today I walked up to the screams, laughter and joy of kindergarteners on water play day.  It seems like we were just doing this.

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This is the place that she entered as a princess loving, dress only wearing five year old girl.  When she experienced extreme separation anxiety in her early days of doing school, the grown ups in her life intentionally worked together to support her heart and hold her hand as she made her way to the other side – a place of security and confidence.

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The growth in poise and confidence happened step by step in a culture of acceptance, enthusiasm for education, nurturing words and hugs all along the way.  In this place, she discovered her predisposition toward research and projects and was supported in her love of reading and all things books.  Doing assignments well ahead of deadline – thank you God for one in five children with this propensity! – was encouraged and allowed as she worked to figure out her own learning style and gifts.

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She was afforded varied opportunities to explore her abilities, passions and interests and along the way discovered that she has an incredible ability to do pull ups.  And after being the 3 year reigning pull up champ for her grade, she learned how to graciously step aside when a fellow classmate edged her out this year.

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The joys and challenges of friendship happened in and out of the classroom during these amazing six years.  She learned to navigate the challenges and benefits of working with others.  When she was made “CFO” of her 4th grade class, it was with great delight that we listened to her vent the frustration of getting others to “do what they are supposed to do!” Earlier today, she presented a collaborative work on how to make her school a better place.

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She was given the opportunity to dance in front of a crowd, and the courage required to perform launched her into other venues of artistic expression.  If she could do it at school in front of friends and family, she could do it elsewhere.

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Each “last” that she has experienced during this year has brought a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye.  In the fall, as a fellow dad friend and I anticipated the last dance performance, emotion rose.  How can I put into words the gratitude I feel for this place and this people that have so deeply loved and shaped my child?

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It is here that as a 5th grader, having long ago shed the dress only look and embraced the t-shirt and gym shorts look, she confidently joins in the mostly male recess football games, even though she is the smallest child in her grade – “fun size” she calls herself. She can speak in front of a group, rally her classmates to petition for changes desired in their school community and passionately argue for the right to clean water for all. These ideas were seeded, watered and allowed to grow in the every day moments of this incredible school.  Some of the finest human beings on the planet are indeed public school teachers.  Our family has been graced with the gift of having them love, teach and influence our children.  Sharing their gifts of compassion, empathy and enthusiasm for life long learning are among the presents they have imparted. There aren’t adequate words to say thank you.

As I anticipate the next few days, I have been informed by veteran moms of girls to expect lots of tears as the girl students say their goodbyes.  This will be a new experience for me.  I am most certain that I will at times join in the tear shedding.  The baby pictures set to music might just about do me in. I imagine that it will be cathartic as I walk alongside my daughter and she says goodbye to a place that has made such a tremendous imprint on her heart and mind.  The truth is that this place has impacted me, and I am a better person for having met and lived life with those who care so deeply for the education and well being of my daughter and all children who pass through their doors.