The bumper sticker on the truck tailgate reads “Smoke a Pack a Day” with wolves in silhouette with an overlay of scope crosshairs. To the left of this disgusting affirmation of violence is a the ubiquitous Jesus fish emblem. I stood and ponder this display of opposing paradigms illustrated upon the same canvas. One decal promoting ignorance, fear, and intolerance, and the other representing acts of kindness and humility. How on Earth can someone obviously and wholeheartedly believe in the Christian God, and yet hate with such vehemence one of His creations?
Living in the ultra-conservative Bitterroot Valley, I am located smack-dab in the middle of anti-wolf, anti-environmental views and politics. The valley is teeming with more amateur wildlife biologists than wolves. Hardly a week goes by without overhearing some middle-aged man declaring the wolves are destroying “our wild game”, and the “guberment” biologists are nothing more than a bunch of lying and conniving leftist, Pinko, eco-terrorist communists. With each can of Bud Light, the hatred of the wolf burns hotter and the flames of their rampant paranoia grow ever higher. These people do not comprehend, or even have the desire to understand, the basics of game management, ecology, and how the wolf fits into the ecosystem. They compound this ignorance with fearing that which they do not understand. The wolves are painted as a greater evil than the Devil himself. A creature of no redeeming qualities whatsoever, a wanton killer and destroyer of Way of the West (as if the West of their imaginations ever truly existed), which is interpreted as outright, total human domination of the landscape. The wolf, this creation of God is wreaking havoc on God’s perfect creation…uh wait, hold on there!
Stated belief, either real or professed, in the Abrahamic God is nearly synonymous with the right-wing brand of politics that pervades within the anti-wolf community. These God-fearing folks believe that their deity created the Earth in seven literal days, and when God saw his Creation he declared it to be “good”. Everything He created was deemed good in His own deified eyes. The forests were “good”. The elk were “good”. The wolves were “good”. This begs the question, if God declared all aspects of His creation “good”, then isn’t it incumbent upon all Christians, including those with anti-wolf views, to believe that all of Creation is good as well?
How did the Christians of the North America stray so far from the Creation?
It seems to me that one cannot love God and not also adore the entirety of His creation, including the wolf? To my limited understanding of Christian theology, isn’t God and Nature, one and the same? It seems that to profess to love the biblical teachings must necessarily dictate that one love the creation of the Creator? Perhaps I’m missing something?
The right-wing’s hatred of all things natural started in earnest with Lewis Powell’s memo to the US Chamber of Commerce in 1971. Powell framed the environmental movement and other “leftist” causes into a vast, Communist, anti-business conspiracy (a sentiment that has lasted until this very day). His demented notions have gone on to influence a generation of Dittoheads, of whom do very little in the way fact checking and self-exploration (introspection, perhaps another leftist plot). The Powell Memo marked a separation of the new right-wing from the Nixon arm of the Republican Party (the ill-on-many-fronts man who enacted the Endangered Species Act and the Environmental Protection Agency to his credit). The new call to battle was against anything that smacked of preservation, conservation, or (gasp) sustainability, and with the emergence of Ronald Reagan, all aspects of the environmentally conservative thought from the Republican Party were rendered mute. For the past 30 years, the conservative movement has consistently bullied the debate by deploying a rhetorical apparatus consisting of equal parts malevolence, self-interest, and fear that creates a worldview the devalues an intact environment in favor of ancient hatreds, corporate profits, and, most unfortunately, the manipulated emotions of the people of the western United States.
The conservative right-wing politicians perpetually wrap themselves in the simultaneous flags of country and the Creator. However, why do they conveniently forget the fine example of Christian compassion in Saint Francis of Assisi? St. Francis defended the lone wolf of Gubbio (in present day Italy), a wolf who had preyed upon multiple head of livestock in the area. The townspeople were up in arms and sought to destroy the wolf for its “sins” against humanity. Francis encouraged the folks of the region to show the wolf compassion as the livestock were its only option as all wild game had been killed by the humans or pushed out by large-scale habitat alteration. “If God can work through me, he can work through anyone”, as Saint Francis stated. He saw his compassion as the Lord’s work. If sparing a wolf’s life is the Lord’s work, then what does the indiscriminate killing of God’s Creation classify as?
Now I know that certain Christians will and have cherry picked from the life and teachings of Saint Francis, but to be intellectually honest you need to accept all of his teachings or reject all of them. No more using his works for the pro-family agenda or the promotion of dutiful obedience to your Savior, at the exception of his environmental message.
How does the right-wing Christian movement live with itself on environmental matters?
The Christian Rights persuasive ideological discrepancy is easy to rectify when you consider the merging of the dishonest, morally bankrupt evangelical leadership coupled with the true power broker, the corporatist right. Misinterpretation of Biblical Christian teachings were truly cemented in stone when Jerry Falwell equated the environmental movement with “Satan’s attempt to redirect the church’s primary focus” away from evangelism and religious faith. This misguided, purchased sentiment has painted the vast majority of Christian thought in the United States for the past three decades.
As the country slides further towards ignorance and apathy, the simple notions of cops and robbers, cowboys and indians, good guys and bad guys ferment within the social discourse like a big turds in the punchbowl. People hate the wolf because they’re ”supposed to”, while others love the creature without consideration to the human or livestock costs. If I am to have compassion for the wolf, I also need to have compassion for the rancher in the same overwhelming fashion. I do not need to pick sides, I can love everyone. In fact, it is my duty to do so, as to solve the issue of wolf predation in the West we need to understand, listen, and empathize with all sentient beings.
The other night, Thomas Kallmeyer and I spent the evening along the ridges above Wood’s Gulch near Missoula. The object of our birding quest was the enigmatic Flammulated Owl. Starting shortly after 10 o’clock, the first male began giving his territorial hoot with its distinctive double-tap intro. This first calling owl was high (<50 feet) above in a cluster of 10 or so ponderosa pines. I managed to catch the briefest of glimpses as it crossed the adjacent opening and took up hooting from another vantage point. We spent about half an hour listening to this male, when we detected a female hoot coming from the south about 50 meters. This chorus was soon joined by another more distant male. Around 11:20, we decided to head back down the trail, and after trudging in the dark for roughly 1 mile, we happened upon another male/female pair hooting above the trail. As moths congregated in the headlamp beams, I caught another flash of a small owl as it cut through the light and landing some 15 feet over our heads. Shining the headlamps through night, we caught the eyeshine of the one of them. Those small, dark eyes peering down at us as peered up at it. Not a fantastic look, but we got our visual on a terrific summer night on the pines.
These 5 tiny owls represent a significant portion of Montana’s population of Flammulated Owls, a population that was not truly acknowledged to be nesting in Montana until the 1986 when Flammulated Owls become regularly observed around Missoula and south in the Bitterroot Valley. Since then the owls have been detected in many of western counties that have large expanses of ponderosa pines. Yet, they have remained an enigma to many birders, due to their small size, nocturnal proclivities, and habit of remaining in the canopy of the forest.
Flammulated Owls are even difficult for academics and taxonomists. Now it has been suggested the Flammulated Owl belongs within its own monotypic genus, Psiloscops. But this is not the first taxonomic leap for the little owl.
When the Flammulated Owl was originally described to science, it was given the scientific name of Megascops flammeolus, which suggested that it was closely related to the New World Screech-owls. But then in 1910, the Flamm was moved into the genus Otus, the Old World Scops Owls. There it remained…until. Recently a paper has been published that suggests that the Flammulated Owl is not closely related to the other members of the Otus genus, but rather it related to the New World Megascops owls, but it is basal to that lineage in its own unique genus, Psiloscops. These findings were, once again, the result of molecular genetic analysis, and, more specifically, mitochondrial DNA. This all means that the Flammulated Owl shares a common ancestor with the Screech-owls, but it split from lineage in the distant. The Flammulated Owl is also a genetic enigma as well.
I remember cracking open the Amphibians and Reptiles of the Pacific Northwest, and seeing the enigma - the Coeur D’Alene Salamander. The range map showed that its distribution included northwest Montana. I had never seen one, or even know they existed for matter. I had seen Long-toed Salamanders before and countless numbers of frogs. I learned that the Coeur D’Alene Salamander existed in mainly the spray zones of waterfalls and cascades. “I have to see this unusual, rare animal,” I thought to myself, or maybe I said it out loud to everyone who would listen. I was hooked, and it took nearly 20 years before I was able to get pictures of this elusive species.
Coeur D’Alene Salamanders (Plethodon idahoensis) are members of the Plethodontidae family, a clade of lungless salamanders. That’s right, they do not have any lungs. Plethodontids respire through their skin, which is what necessitates their living in conditions where the skin can be constantly moist, like the spray zones of waterfalls or seeps. These habitats also tend to possess fractured rock and talus that provide many protected micro-habitats for the small (2-4 inches in length) Coeur D’Alene Salamander. This habitat requirement also tends to make the Coeur D’Alene Salamander rather difficult to observe. In fact, it was not describe to science until 1939 when by James R. Slater and John W. Slipp found them along the south shore of Coeur d’Alene Lake in Idaho, thus the über-imaginative name.
The most distinguishing characteristic of the Coeur D’Alene Salamander is the bright yellow-gold stripe that runs along the back for the entire length of the body. The tail is relatively short, giving this species a somewhat stubby appearance. The short legs have stubby, webbed toes. They even have teeth (however, small and unnoticed), which seems odd to me for an amphibian.
I knew a bit about Coeur D’Alene Salamanders, but still they had eluded me…that is until recently. I had talked my way into visiting a certain creek near Plains, MT where Coeur D’Alene Salamanders had been documented in the past. I parked at the base of the steep mountainside, and quickly I was bounding through the undergrowth with camera in hand. The sun had just started to wane in its intensity. I felt completely energized as I climbed the rock faces and skirting past the rushing water. After 15 minutes of intense running/climbing, I came across a small waterfall with a significant spray zone and fractured rocks. The rocks were mostly covered with moss and temperature was very crisp and cool. Scanning for a creature that I possessed no search image for, I flipped a promising piece of bark that laid atop a flattened boulder.
And there it was under that bark, a single Coeur D’Alene Salamander. It stayed entirely still as I dropped to talus to obtain a closer view. The camera and attached macro snapped through many images as the object of my intense attention seemed to nearly pose for its publicity shots. After the obligatory documentation images were taken, I spent several moments just marveling at this creature. So frail looking, and yet living a difficult place with such apparent grace.
Blodgett Canyon is filled with the enticing aromas of shiny-leaf ceanothus and wild rose that hang heavy in the rapidly warming air of a June day. Pale swallowtails and Rufous Hummingbirds flit and hover at the technicolor sex organs of the flowers. Sheer granite walls rise some 2000 feet above our heads as we set out on a day hike to Blodgett Falls. To say that this place has a certain majesty, would be a considerable understatement. Every time I looked up there was different vista, whether it was the rushing creek, the towering points, or the call of an Olive-sided Flycatcher.
This canyon was shaped into the deep U by the combined processes of Idaho Batholith, a Late Cretaceous to Paleocene granitic intrusive mass, and massive glaciers of Ice Ages that carved down through the durable rock.
The trail itself is in relatively good shape with a few rocky areas here and there as the trail crosses a boulder field. The climb is rather moderate (only a shade over 700 feet to the falls at roughly 5 miles). At the 3 mile mark, you will cross a footbridge that offers fantastic views of the canyon.
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Roughly a mile and half above the footbridge, you leave behind the post 2000 fire area, and enter into wonderful subalpine and spruce forest. The ground is soft and lush, and the cool, humid breeze offers a welcome relief. The source of humidity becomes evident as a soft roar increases in volume with each footstep. The falls are located within a large cleft of granite. Placed on a small ledge near the falls, an American Dipper tends to its brood, who are safely tucked into the dome of vegetation and moss.
The wildlife that we saw consists mostly of butterflies and birds. Dreamy Duskywing, Common Alpine, and Lorquin’s Admiral were the predominate butterflies with a few unidentified blues and fritillaries cruising about the trail. Olive-sided Flycatchers, Hammond’s Flycatchers, and White-throated Swifts ruled the skies as Stellar’s Jays, Hermit and Swainson’s Thrushes called and sang from the forest. Along the many pools and wetlands, White-crowned Sparrows and American Three-toed Woodpeckers were present.
Overall, this is a tremendous hike that offers vistas reminiscent of Yosemite or the Alps. It was actually surprising how few other hikers we encountered on this beautiful June day.
Interesting side note
At the beginning the trail, you come across a memorial stone for Don Mackey, a local smokejumper who died during the Storm King incident in 1994. I remember that fire season with its fierce fires and tragedy. I never Don Mackey, but sounded like a hell of a guy, who server others with selflessness.
Every year at this time, oyster mushrooms appear from the stumps and fallen logs of cottonwoods along the Bitterroot River. This particular species (Pleurotus populinus) had inoculated a downed cottonwood.
Ecology: Saprobic; growing in shelf-like clusters on dead and living wood of Populus species, primarily quaking aspen; causing a white rot; spring, summer, and fall; widely distributed in northern and montane North America, throughout the range of the host trees.
Cap: 2-15 cm; convex, becoming flat or somewhat depressed; kidney-shaped to fan-shaped, or nearly circular if growing on the tops of logs; somewhat greasy when young and fresh; smooth; whitish to pinkish gray or pale tan, without dark brown colorations; the margin inrolled when young, later wavy.
Gills: Running down the stem; close or nearly distant; whitish.
Stem: Usually absent or rudimentary, when the mushroom is growing from the side of a log or tree. When it grows on the tops of logs or branches, or at an angle, however, it may develop a substantial and thick stem that is dry and slightly hairy near the base.
Flesh: Thick; white.
Odor and Taste: Odor distinctive but hard to describe; taste mild.
Chemical Reactions: KOH on cap surface negative to yellowish.
Spore Print: Whitish (never lilac).
Microscopic Features: Spores 9-12 x 3-5 µ; smooth; cylindric to long-elliptical. Compare with measurements for the epitype collection of Pleurotus ostreatus, rather than measurements quoted in most field guides.
The delicious gems are a definite with their deep, earthy flavor that pairs perfectly with beef. I cooked the oyster mushrooms with slices of prime rib in a reduction of red wine with onions, garlic, and sage. Simple…delightfully.