Despite plentiful mule deer and elk, hunting was only in the mind
I just thought it was cold in Oklahoma the week of Christmas. Why in the world a company that works with tropical diseases would have a meeting in a place where the temperature never climbs above five degrees is beyond me. Of course, the higher ups just tell us where to be and when to be there. So we packed our woolies and Mickey Mouse boots and flew out of the rain soaked South to the North Country. Our destination was Jackson Hole, Wyo.
I really didn’t believe the actual temperature would be minus seven when we landed. That is, until I stepped onto the tarmac. The “crispness” of the arctic air definitely brought me back to reality. Of course the landscape was absolutely gorgeous. The snow-capped Tetons captured the moment, and I was glad I wasn’t driving so I could absorb the vastness of the peaks and their splendor. Of course, the icy road was another reason to just be a spectator.
Elk by the thousands had migrated to the low country to survive the winter. Majestic royals, imperials, and a few monarchs casually fed on the alfalfa hay mere yards from our passing vehicle. Ironic, to me, that several of us had all of our winter gear that we use so often during hunting season, however on this trip it was to be used only for warmth. Bulls that we only hope to get a chance to hunt resembled that of cattle and thoughts of pursuing them never entered our minds. Of course had we been there in September with weapons of stick and string, our agenda would have been much different I assure you. For now though, we just admired them with thoughts consumed of this coming fall and the golden aspens.
The brutal winter with snow amounts approaching four feet drove other species to lower country as well. Mule deer fed as close to us as did the elk. Many would bury their muzzles through the snow to nip at the sage below. It was odd watching bucks with antlers approaching 30 inches in width feed below the white crust. Seeing nothing but their rack protruding from the snow resembled that of live branches slowly swaying back and forth. Again, our heartbeat never changed as we just admired what was before us. I assure you, as with the elk, it would have been quite different if we were there in the fall with tags in our pocket.
Jackson Hole is the valley between the Teton Mountains and the Gros Ventre Range in Wyoming. This “hole” was used by early trappers and mountain men for hunting and for the collecting of fur. The streams and rivers surrounded by these mountains were rich with beaver and otter. The men that inhabited this area sustained life by what the mountain and tributaries offered. Of course this brutal climate drove them from the high country too. I can only imagine spending the nights outside when the temperatures dipped and stayed below zero. I thought of Jeremiah Johnson and Bearclaws preparing their bed for the night by heating stones and burying them beneath the soil for warmth throughout the night. I still laugh when Jeremiah’s bedding catches fire and especially when Bearclaws points out that he didn’t put enough soil on top of his stones. Saw it right off, he said.
Our meeting dragged but we did manage to get a little time to explore some country. I wondered aloud how it would be to live there. Life is not near as frantic as we, or at least I, make it back home. The struggle for the paper chase seems to consume my life most of the time. Rarely do I drift to a pristine place even when I have the opportunity to. Thinking about business and making “it” happen is ever-looming. Then you visit an almost sacred place where nature rules and everything else seems minuscule. This constant drive is necessary to a degree but it also can become a disease. I ask myself over and over why do I let obstacles like work own me? There has to be a balance.
I have been debating on what to do this fall. Should I book a hunt somewhere out West to again visit this country or do I just hunt close and not spend the money? These rugged peaks have re-kindled my spirit. The years pass ever so quickly. I sure don’t want to wake one morning down the road and say to myself “I missed it.” I think I’ll try and find a balance. I could work longer in the summers and make time to find myself in the winter among the peaks and valleys in places like Jackson Hole. I’ve heard the Rockies are the marrow of the earth. Good Lord willing, I’ll get to leave footprints this fall somewhere such as this. Maybe you should too.
Until next time enjoy our woods and waters and remember, let’s leave it better than we found it.