The mountain bike trail proved too challenging for me: too steep and too rocky for too long. I stopped pedaling a dozen times to rest and drink and slow my racing heart. Walking the steepest stretches, I finally reached the top of the trail, marked by a bridge over the river, set Dad’s red vintage Specialized against a tree, and stepped down the fractured granite to the riverside, where I knelt and cupped icy water onto my feverish head. How relieving that cold water felt, and I calmed and relaxed. The river cascaded violently and deafeningly down and past, lurching between thousands of giant rough angular granite boulders. My peripheral vision detected a short-tailed gray bird land on a mid-river rock downstream, bobbing on her backward knees, lifting her very-short tail with each bow. She fluttered from boulder to boulder, thrusting her black beak into the current to pick nymphs and rollers off rocks, working her way toward me, at times even immersing and walking along the river bottom to find insect morsels. I sat perfectly still and she paid me no heed as she came to within six feet, preening her delicate gray plumage before me in a spot of full sun, then hopped back into the shadows to work her way upstream and around a bend fifty feet off. What an encounter! Forty years ago, Dad and I left the Sawtooth Mountain trail to follow the stream, and saw a little gray bird with a short tail hopping and bobbing along a log fallen across the stream. The bird grasped the bark with its long feat and stepped around the circumference of the log from dry air to upside-down and under water, emerging dry and pretty on the other circumference side. Dad and I were gob smacked. A Robin-like bird that walks and hunts underwater in a swift mountain stream? We had never heard of such a bird. But our field guide introduced us to the American Dipper, and, though a colorless non-descript little bird, she has become one of our favorites. Memories of our first Dipper and the stream and the forest and the mountains and the moose and trout and bear and beaver and the wild blueberries flooded back to Dad’s perfect recollection as I described my new and fortuitous encounter. I discovered as a boy that Nature comes to me when I am still. I do not call her or pursue her. I study and I watch and I wait, in good places and at right times, and Nature’s path veers toward mine to grace me with intimate unearned wildlife experiences. My children know this, and we both marvel at Nature’s magical providence. The butterflies come, and I know their names and their habits, and I talk to them: “Hello Beautiful,” I whisper to the Tiger Swallowtail or the Red-spotted Purple. “You look lovely and strong today.” The deer come, and the beaver, the Red Slider turtle and the Belted Kingfisher and Clark’s Grebe and Black-crowned Night Heron. “Hello pretty Mama,” I once whispered to a Mule Deer doe suckling her spotted fawn, the mother taut with fear, ready to pronk away, and I reassure her, “Don’t worry, little Mama, I will not hurt you or your magical spotted fawn. You need not fear me. I will wait right here until you are ready for me to pass.”
(Photo above from eBird.org, used pursuant to the Fair Use Doctrine.)
Pictured below: photos of Little Cottonwood trail, creek, and canyon. The trailhead is a ten-minute drive from Mom’s and Dad’s house.