The Bird and the Bees (And Elk, Bears and Wild Trout)
Cory fishing the high, wild backcountry of Montana
My son is approaching his teenage years and asking a lot of questions. We we recently had that talk: Yes, one of those talks we parents must eventually face explaining the wonderful complexities of the birds, the bees, other wildlife and wild places.
Last week I took my 12-year old son Cory on a four-day backpack trip into the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness along the Montana-Idaho border. He has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, but can still cover close to two rugged miles a day with a pack on – up and down rocks, over and under downed trees, through thick brush, across creeks and atop snowfields. He’s a tough kid. But the going is slow.
One of the nice things about going slow is that I started paying closer attention to all the smaller things that make up the big, beautiful wild – the glacier lilies, swamp marigolds and shooting stars; the new light-green growth on the subalpine firs and the little three-pointed, mouse tail-looking bracts protruding from the Doug fir cones; the tiny splotches of green, yellow and orange lichens on black and white granite and rhyolite; the colorful inch-long westslope cutthroats darting away from our shadows as we waded through little creeks and, of course, the birds and the bees.
At one point we talked about how all the little springs and snow-fed creeks we crossed led to Bear Creek, which flows to the Selway, which merges into the Clearwater and into the Snake, on to the Columbia and into the Pacific. About then, in a muddy spot between a melting patch of snow and a creek, we came upon fresh bear tracks and scat. Cory smiled and brought up my long joked about “dream” of someday going through the digestive system of a grizzly to fertilize the grasses and forbs that elk eat – “Which is only fair,” I tell him, “considering all the elk I’ve killed and eaten.” Or, as Cory so simply puts it: “Dad wants to be bear poop.”
Then came the question: “Dad, if you like elk and bears so much, why don’t you work for a group that protects elk or bears instead of trout?” (I was working for Trout Unlimited at the time.) So we talked about watersheds, and the need to protect, restore and reconnect watersheds to have clean, clear water for the wild trout, salmon and steelhead he (like his dad) loves to fish for. And protecting watersheds, I explained (to paraphrase Aldo Leopold) means “saving all the parts,” including flowers, plants, trees, birds, bees, elk and bears.
He looked at me and asked: “So when you protect trout, you also protect elk and bears?”
That night, aside a beautiful high alpine lake, over the red hot coals of a fire, we cooked wild trout caught by Cory.