I spent the first half of my life in a state that had two seasons; a hot and rainy one and a cool and dry one. In Florida the grass grew all year, most flowers bloomed without interruption, except for the occasional frost, and the seasons were accounted for on the calendar and hardly by any change in our routines.
In Wyoming, my year is marked by my activities and my activities have EVERYTHING to do with the season.
Summer is all about camping and fishing and digging in the dirt. My favorite thing to do is pack up the travel trailer and get the heck out of the town limits into a dry camping spot where the only sounds are the laughter of friends and the crackle of a campfire. Summer is short and we jam pack it as full as we possibly can. Just when I think I might hate how short our summer really is…fall arrives.
Fall is my FAVORITE season. Fall is all about pre-dawn hunts and logging miles and hours onto my leather boots. Fall is when I call on all the favors of my friends and family members to watch after my kids so I can spend whole days in the woods looking to connect with my source and hopefully to fill my freezer. Fall, I could go on and on, it is my FAVORITE time of year.
Winter used to be my least favorite time of year. My snowboard doesn’t call me like the siren of the fall woods. I don’t check the snow report for secret stashes and powder runs. I could care less if I carve the first turn or get the first tram (I kind of hate the tram). So, winter was long and tedious, until…I discovered rabbit hunting. As soon as I was told that I would probably never find a Snowshoe Hare, what did I do? You bet….I started hunting hares. Have I found one Snowshoe Hare in two seasons? No. Have I lost heart? No. I get out into the mountains in the gnarliest of terrain; grappling my way up steep hillsides in my MSR snowshoes. I am fascinated by the evidence left by animals in the winter; from the tiniest little field mouse tracks to the deep ambling of a moose. Winter has become a season I look forward to as well.
And then there is spring. I urge Spring in by choosing flip flops over snow boots when the snow is still packed into the shaded areas of my lawn. I dare Spring to hurry it’s arrival by putting out the deck furniture and filling up the bird feeders. I clean out my tackle box and prepare my backpack for Morel hunting. Yes, Morels, the sexy mushroom. I look forward to hunting for these little brainy beauties almost as much as I look forward to a cold beer on my deck in the hot sun. Each little specimen, thrusting itself out of the earth, brings a little dance of joy into my heart! Morel hunting, this is how my story began today.
My husband and I had a date in the woods today. These are fantastic adventures that typically include us driving to a location together, walking into the woods together, and then separating for hours at a time. We typically stay within 100 yards of each other to be sure that we are covering the terrain in a methodical way. I am canvassing the ground like a low-flying hawk; cursing every time a pine cone imposters itself as a mushroom. Looking and looking and hardly finding; it is almost always my husband who finds the first patch of morels and this irritates me (JUST A LITTLE).
Today, though, we both were having no luck. After about an hour of hunting and two creek crossings, I found my husband sitting on the ground putting his shoes back on. I decided to settle in for a cuddle and a rest. He agreed, after I forcibly pushed him back into the earth. It was at this moment that I said to myself, “Thank you, God, life is awesome. Thank you for this amazing sunny day and the time to spend it listening to the drip and run of the water as it courses over rocks and through patches of earth and the calls of the birds and the cumbersome flapping wings of the ducks.” I knew, without a doubt, that at that moment my day was perfect. It could not get any better than it was. I was wrong.
An hour or so later, I had been wandering on my own for a while. I began to realize that I was crazy hungry and my husband had the sandwich in his pack. I tried nibbling on some clover and dandelion leaves to satiate the rumblings but realized that my palate was not quiet adjusted to the bitter greens and I wasn’t THAT HUNGRY. I called the hubs on the phone and of course, he answered to simply gloat how he had found the first patch of morels of the day. “DON’T PICK THEM”, I may or may not have yelled and started making my way towards his location. There I find him sitting in the patch of morels and he has left them all for me to pick. Yup, keeper. Then I tell him I am STARVING. He says, “Give me your pack. You have the sandwich.” Right, of course I do.
Now my day is just perfect. We have a bag of sexy mushrooms, I’m sitting in the grass with my awesome husband who always finds the morels first but lets me be the one to pick them. I am a happy girl. We decide to slowly make our way back to the truck.
Did I mention we have our incredibly well-behaved bird dog with us? She is this amazing black Lab who is under our voice control always….except for maybe when she sees ducks or chiselers or elk or deer or cats….So, Birdie Mae gets all fired up and spooks a cow Elk out of the woods. I am watching for the cow to see if I can get a video of her when my husband whispers to me to “GET OVER HERE NOW. HOLD ONTO THE DOG.”
He has practically stepped on top of a new elk calf. He is keeping his distance so as not to disturb it. We sit to photograph and video it when all of the sudden the calf is like, “Mew….are you my mama?” and starts coming toward us, closer and closer, and mewing the whole time. We don’t want to risk it being unafraid of humans or the mama not wanting to come back to it so we are booking it out of there as this elk calf starts gamboling after us on it’s awkward baby legs; all knees. We cross a creek and sit to watch that the mama elk is making her way back to the calf and she is. I am breathing heavy, my heart is in a full grin (if hearts can smile) and I am thinking…my day cannot be any more perfect than it is today. Until an hour later.
We try one last spot for morels. We ride our bikes about two miles in and then stash them to start to walk the woods. After about 30 minutes of solo searching we meet up again and are peeking into the dead fall scattered across a stream bank when my husband, yup…him again, points something out to me on the ground. I would have walked right past it! There, with flapping wings and a drunken stagger, a Great Horned Owl is struggling to keep upright. It’s obvious it is injured in some way. The husband suggests we leave it and keep looking for mushrooms and “get it on the way out”. Yeah, that did not even have a chance as an argument with me. I covered it with my jacket, scooped it gently into my arms and gave him my phone to call the raptor center in town. They asked if we could meet them back at the parking area where we had begun biking and we agreed. The owl was relatively calm as we carefully settled it into my back pack for the bike ride back. It was so much lighter than I had ever expected and it kept making these clicking noises from “I have no idea where” (the hubs says it was the beak). The hubs kept laughing and saying, “He looks pissed.” And I said, “That’s just his face.”
Luckily the owl was saved from a bike ride on a bumpy gravel road as we were able to flag down a work truck to give me a ride. Imagine that, a lady with an owl on her chest hitching a ride. Craig, the workman, was a sport! We all made it safely back to the parking area; me with my owl cradled in my arms.
The owl is now at the rehab center in town and, assuming he makes it, we will be able to be with him when he is released back into the wild. Yes, my perfect day got even better!
It’s a long story, I know. What is the moral of this long story that started with a hunt for morels? I guess for me the moral was that I began my day with GREAT EXPECTATIONS and they were not realized immediately. But, rather than be disappointed; I loved my day for exactly what it was….a journey that I was blessed to be on. And in some way, I feel like I was given a gift in return…and then another gift….and then another.
Now, should I expect to be gifted this way every day? Will I be disappointed if each day is not filled with a bag of morels, a baby calf mewing and chasing after me, and a wide-eyed owl in my arms?
I sure as heck hope not. I hope that I can hang onto that perfect moment of happiness I had at the beginning of the day when all I could hear was the sound of the birds, the rush of the water, and the feel of being in my husband’s arms.
Yes, there is so much joy in the journey!