Archive for November, 2013

The Wilderness Inside Us All

Written by Jim Huckabay on November 29, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

Dick Ambrose (above the fold in the newspaper, of course) and I have carried on a conversation or two about wild places, about wilderness, and the experiences we have had with them.  We talked about coming to winter—a time to contemplate wildness.  The bottom line of all that, I suppose, is this page in the Daily Record which now belongs to us.

From the last conversation Dick and I had, my mind has been filled with a potpourri—a collage, if you will—of wilderness lessons and experiences.

I am aware, from my earliest childhood, of actively seeking the wild place I felt deep within my being.  Indeed, I believe there is a wilderness within each of us—an uncivilized place where everything works according to the most basic laws of Nature.  It is that place we seek to feel when we wander into one of the wild places on this planet.  There, survival depends not on gasoline or a grocery store or a switch or a cop.  There, survival rides on our ability to navigate in a wild place where meeting our own needs—and the amazing joy which accompanies it—depends wholly on our own mindset, skill and awareness.

I was 13 when I learned that successfully navigating the straightforward—if not unforgiving—nature of wild places also requires a high level of that awareness part.  I was apprenticing that summer with RK Canvas and Shade in Wenatchee.  Manny Felty, one of the pros in the shop and a friend of The Old Man, offered to take me fishing in what is now the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

In early July, we headed up the Icicle from Leavenworth and hiked in to camp at Eight Mile Lake.  I had thoroughly oiled my boots, but by the end of a second day of ice, wet snow and cold slips into the lake, they were soaked.  I put them by the fire to dry overnight.  By morning, most of the front half of my left boot was gone.  I can still hear Manny saying, “Your folks spent good money on those boots.  I bet they won’t be very happy to see that.”  Mostly, I remember creatively winding and tying rope around that boot and my foot—and a long, uncomfortable pack out to Manny’s truck.  The Old Man may have said something about brains and wild places.

Almost three decades ago, August, I packed a base camp up into the Eagles Nest Wilderness, in Colorado’s northern Rockies.  Over the next couple weeks, I spent eight or ten days on my own hunting mountain goats in the cirques and crags above Piney Lake.  I remember the last two miles to timberline as a giant staircase, and I remember prodding myself with thoughts of a great supper by small fire, with not another human in many miles.  I scratched up the west side of Kneeknocker Pass to catch the sun’s first rays.  I scaled cliffs and scrambled down avalanche chutes.  I got overheated and chilled, refreshed and exhausted, terrified and exhilarated.  Goats were everywhere.

In my final trip, I scrambled into a cirque perched on the west wall of a straight-up-and-down mountain.  I was looking for a way up a cliff, when a large goat slowly worked its way down a chute to an outcropping a few hundred yards away.  After a good stalk, a prayer and one shot, I found myself perched on the outcropping, a hundred feet above nothing, looking down on the Piney Lake trailhead, nine or ten miles down the trail.

I got the goat to base camp at timberline and strategized getting two 70-pound loads the six miles back to my truck.  After a series of relays, I finally got one load in the rig.  I have two clear memories of the rest.  First, just after shouldering the second load and standing, I met a woman on the trail.  She proudly spoke of “her” wilderness and how important it was to a quality life.  As some point, she noticed the goat pelt and rifle on my pack, and stopped mid-sentence.  “Oh,” she said, with icicles hanging from her words, “you are one of those…”  Secondly, I remember thinking that I could not make the last three miles.  I bribed myself with a hot bean and cheese burrito.

For some years at the University of Colorado, I led students on ten-mile hikes across the Mount Evans Wilderness.  Many of them came away with new senses of themselves and their lives.

A ranger at Grand Teton National Park shared a story that still moves me.  She was on a trail from Jenny Lake up into one of the hanging valleys in early September.  She would check on back country campsites, and maybe drop over into the Jedediah Smith Wilderness.  At first light, as she moved through the aspens along the marshy meadows, she heard elk moving.  She reached a meadow just as the sun swept across it.  In that sudden beam of light was a magnificent old bull elk.  As he bugled his guttural challenge, his breath sparkled in the sun and steam rose from his back.  She was transfixed and stunned, she said.  As he slowly tilted back, and turned, his giant antlers, she felt the world move beneath her feet.

Wildness…  Wilderness…  Somehow it has to be about finding that place in ourselves.

Parent-Kid Hunts and Our Outdoor Legacy

Written by Jim Huckabay on November 22, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

I spent last weekend in the rain and weather on a straight up and down hillside not far out of Colville.  With the permission of the couple who own the ground, I was looking for a whitetail buck.  The buck and I have crossed paths a time or two over the last couple years, but this year we were unable to see eye to eye on anything.  Even without the deer cooperating, I hunted the half-section exactly as I intended and had a great hunt.  This is a property Edward Last-of-the-Hucklings and I hunted.  We made a fair amount of deer meat on that mile-long hillside, and many memories of crisp air, snow, rain, sunshine and quiet pursuit.  It grew into an annual parent-kid hunt adventure.  Late Sunday I came off the hill and climbed into my rig.

The drive south into Spokane, and on west to Paradise, was filled mostly with the savoring of a few dozen parent-kid hunts over the past few decades.  Each hunt, and the family effort of putting up the meat from it, is an indelible memory in one or another brain cell.

Most immediate, of course, was the year-ago week Edward and I spent together in that country north of Spokane a year ago in pursuit of his bull moose.

Older son Tim started deer hunting at 14, the legal age to do so in Colorado.  That first year, we watched deer after deer slip out in front of him, while he was examining “a lot of fresh tracks.”  The second year, he insisted he would get a really big buck, in spite of our host’s insistence that there weren’t any around.  Opening day found us a few hundred yards apart in patches of pinion-juniper woods.  Following a set of shots that sounded like his, I found Tim standing over the biggest buck I’d seen in a couple decades.  I helped him get it dressed, erasing the six-foot-high question mark over his head as I walked up.

Daughter Michelle always loved our family’s annual antelope hunt to Wyoming.  By age seven, she made a point of taking eyes or brains or some other piece of antelope to her science teachers, that they might waive her absence.  Her first hunt was for antelope, and we made several long stalks to no avail.  At the “shining” time, as the sun was setting and the white parts of the antelope were brilliant in the last rays, we found several over a hill.  To this day, I’ve seen no one so focused on a stalk or a quarry as she was at that moment.  In Zen it is said that, when Spirit and Physical are in balance, the arrow will release itself; I believe the same is true of a bullet.  After an interminable silence, her rifle spoke.  I hugged her, and said, “Great shot!”  She looked back and forth between the antelope and me a couple times, and asked, “Did the rifle fire?”

Tim, Michelle and I put together several annual “Father and Son and Daughter Doe Deer Hunts” on the historic Forbes-Trinchera Ranch in Colorado’s San Luis Valley.  Those hunts are fresh in my mind, and we still warmly recount them.

Some years hold a variety of memories.  On 9/11, 2001, I was on Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska, leading a water resources class with a group of Native Alaskans.  I will never forget the time we spent in prayer and discussion, and the ways we supported each other over the days the base was locked down.  We finally got off the base, several days late for a long-planned antelope hunt in Wyoming with Edward.

Edward’s mom and I agreed that three days of rearranged weekday antelope hunting would benefit him more than school, and we were on our way.  Thirteen-year-old Edward was carrying his first big-game license and his mom’s .270, with ammo we hand-crafted in July.  Late on our last day, after several busted stalks, we crawled onto a terrace.  Half a mile away was a group of antelope drifting ever farther out.  We moved as far as we could, and I turned to Edward.  “If you have a good prayer, now’s the time… They are about to disappear.”  “Okay,” he said.  Within thirty seconds the antelope had turned and were walking straight at us.  At eighty yards, they stopped broadside.  Edward’s shot was perfect.

Somewhere in that drive home last Sunday, I was lost in memories of times when I was the kid.  Interestingly, I was the kid as long as The Old Man and my dad, Ray, were alive.  I still feel like a kid as I watch The Old Man enjoy his first antelope hunt, or Dad Ray crawl a half mile through cactus for his first antelope buck.

Two evenings ago, I talked with one of my favorite guys on campus—Homey Engineer—and his wife and daughter.  We got into family hunts, and the daughter had as many stories of family hunting moments as her parents.

Our kids grow up and move on, as we hope they will…  They leave behind—and take with—a family bond of food, laughter, joy and responsibility which is never lost.  At a very personal level (is there really any other?), this is our outdoor legacy.

Happy Thanksgiving…

Our Ground and Our Responsibilites to Guard It

Written by Jim Huckabay on November 15, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

Some of my fellows think those of us who keep pushing to maintain and protect public access to our public ground are simply wasting our time.

Case in point: the last First Friday Art Walk, and a conversation I had with a couple homeys.  Somewhere in there, I no doubt mentioned our current public lands access battles.  Given that more than 70 percent of the ground in Kittitas County is publicly owned, and more than half of Fish and Wildlife managed land is in our county—access is critical for us and those who will follow us.  I mentioned the Senate Committee work session three of us attended in Mount Vernon, a couple of the recent sudden closings of long-used roads and their equally sudden reopening after questioning, and I started to mention the game of Whack-a-Mole we’ve been playing around the county—with one road reopened and another suddenly set for closure.

At that point, one of them touched my arm and said something like, “Whoa…  Relax…  Don’t drive your blood pressure up over this silliness.  You’re dealing with a bureaucracy here—just like we did at the university—you can’t win this. .. Give it up.”

Another outdoor nut, who’d overheard part of our conversation, confessed that he didn’t really care much about access issues over on the Quilomene end of the county, since his play was mostly around the Manastash ground.  While Fish & Wildlife probably had good reasons for closing roads in the Quilomene, he reasoned, he would get very cranky about access changes in his part of the county.  “Besides,” he almost whispered as we finished our confab “if you guys keep pushing this road stuff, Fish & Wildlife may just start losing your license applications—those guys could create some problems for you.  Who needs that?”

We humans are funny.  I walked away thinking about what our Lake Baikal guide and driver, Ivan, had to say about Russians pulled out of their homes and villages a couple generations ago and sent off to work camps.  Ivan had close family stories of a well-respected man who disappeared.  When I asked him about the responses of other villagers and friends, he explained that no one would speak up.  His grandmother told him that the family became isolated, and even though the man had been a good leader, people whispered that he must have done something bad or the government wouldn’t have taken him.  And so it was.

The whole conversation left me thinking about how we get more people to speak up in the face of these aggressive road and access closures.  Clearly, we have to work together.

As outdoor citizens of Paradise, our interests run the gamut from fishing, hunting, trapping and shooting to hiking, biking, riding, snowmobiling, wildlife watching and photography.  I’m certain that there are at least 10,000 of us in the county who proudly call ourselves “outdoors people.”  Yet, relatively few of us are active in local outdoor clubs or organizations.  I would, and often do, argue that there has never been a greater need for a common voice.

I always hate to see anyone discounting another who doesn’t “recreate” in the same way, or on the same ground, or one simply holding silence about others’ rights and needs.  I often think about something Shari Fraker used to say.  A few decades back, I was executive director of the United Sportsmen Council of Colorado—some fifty different organizations—and she was representing one of the bow hunting outfits.  Over and over, as trappers and target shooters and trout fishermen and duck hunters and big game hunters haggled over an appropriate position to take on some proposed rule or regulation, she would remind us that we got together to support each other.  “Together,” she would say, “we can ensure the future of our various outdoor enterprises for our descendants.  Alone, fighting only for our own specific perspectives, we end up eating our young—and tomorrow won’t matter.”

It will take all of us—no matter our access “interest”—to ensure that we have open and responsible access to our lands for our grandchildren’s grandchildren.  The county commissioners are about to take a big step in that direction.  On Monday’s commission agenda is a resolution to create the “Kittitas County Public Lands Advisory Committee.”  This committee will have broad representation from public land users countywide, and will advise the commission directly about things happening or proposed on our lands.  It’s a great start.

I often think about this poem, attributed to Pastor Martin Niemoeller, about the intellectuals’ lack of protest over the rise of Nazi power.

“First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

“Then they came for the communists and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist.

“Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out—I was not a trade unionist.

“Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

Shade Grown and Our Neotropical Song Birds

Written by Jim Huckabay on November 8, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

The Old Man called it “mud.”  To Uncle Ed it was “Joe,” and to Aunt Evy, it was Java.  They all agreed, however, on the use of “cuppa,” and about as close as any of them got to its origins was “Hawaiian,” “Columbian” or “mountain grown.”  Today, we enjoy our “coffee” in one or more of a hundred flavors and roasts, and often with a nod to where and how the beans were grown.

As we wrapped up our Wednesday morning Rodeo City Radio Club coffee klatch, heading outside, we surveyed the weather.  Someone mourned our mostly gone birds, and expressed a gratitude for hot, dark coffee on ever cooling mornings.  I started thinking about connections among our birds and our coffee and our ability to live well in Paradise.

A decade or so ago, over breakfast at Jay and Carol Reed=s home in Denver, we found ourselves deeply into just that conversation.  Jay and Carol owned a Wild Bird Center, making them official bird pros.  We were lost in the aroma and flavor of one of the Rainforest Coffees they hawked in their store—Nicaraguan, as I recall—and Jay was regaling its “shade grown” qualities.

Feeling the need to prod him a bit, on that sunny early summer morning, I asked Jay about why the homeys of Paradise should care about shade grown coffee.  He looked at me as though I’d lost my mind.  “You are a geographer, right?  That=s ag land, right?  Don=t they irrigate hay and other crops up there?  And don=t you have a ton of horse people worried about West Nile?  Well, Neotropical birds are up there right now singing, making babies and eating insects like crazy.  The more they eat, the less insect damage there will be to crops and the fewer mosquitos will be looking for someone to infect with West Nile…”  He was right, of course.

“Neotropical” means New World tropics—the tropical areas of North, Central and South America.  More than 100 species of these birds spent the last five or six months in Washington making and growing more birds, many of them here in Paradise.  They are now heading back to ag land and rainforests in Mexico and points south.

Our more common Neotropicals include the vireos, warblers (Wilson’s, Audubon’s, Townsend=s and MacGillivray’s), golden‑ and ruby‑crowned kinglets, flycatchers, nighthawks, hermit and Swainson=s thrushes, violet‑green swallow and several sparrows (Lincoln’s, fox and   white‑crowned).  You probably watched one or more of them regularly.

Anyhow, they arrived in May, scattered to favored nesting habitat (primarily in mountainous and riparian areas), and started devouring our insects—literally tons of them.  Consider, for example, that just one swallow may consume 2,000 mosquitos in a night.  Add it up.  They help us in countless ways.

One of Jay’s points was that Neotropicals continue to decline in much of their range.  The fragmenting and cutting of riparian and forest habitat here creates stress for nesting birds and, often, loss of broods.  As in much of the West, development across Washington causes the regular loss of breeding bird habitat.  Still, the primary cause of the decline is loss of wintering habitat.  In tropical America (Mexico and Central and South America), huge tracts of forest are cleared for agriculture.  Since Neotropicals use only ten percent as much habitat in winter as summer, loss of those tropical forests is critical.

Right at a third of our breeding migratory birds winter in the coffee growing regions of tropical America.  Coffee grown the traditional way, or close to it, leaves rainforest and mixed forests intact for birds.  Coffee grown in full sun, with fertilizers and insecticides, produces much larger yields for the two-thirds of farmers who have cut their forests, but leaves little food or habitat for the birds we depend upon here.

There are obviously deep and many underlying cultural and economic reasons for deforestation, and a number of national, UN and privately‑sponsored education and research programs are underway.  So far, success has been limited.  A terrific source for information about birds, coffee and habitat will be found at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo page, at  Under “Science Centers” click migratory birds and you will find out more than you ever imagined about our Neotropicals and their future.

Over the last decade, “bird friendly” coffee sales have reached more than 10 million pounds worldwide—still a small percentage of the brews we savor, but significant.  Jay would make the argument that every time we go to a coffee shop and order shade-grown coffee, we are actually aiding the horse owners and ag economy of our beloved valley.

Our insects are settling into their overwintering forms.  Our Neotropical song birds are hanging out in the tropics, waiting for spring and another chance to come north and make more birds.  We are sipping our hot, dark, rich coffee, and looking through the cold gray of winter toward a successful 2014.  The coffee that gets us there is worth a serious thought.

All about the Mule Deer of Paradise

Written by Jim Huckabay on November 1, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

Deborah Essman, Arvilla Ohlde and I spent Tuesday in a hearing room in Mount Vernon, with a hundred of our new best friends.  Senator Kirk Pearson was chairing a Senate Natural Resources & Parks Committee work/study session on subjects near and dear to our hearts and most of us in the room had something to say.  The three agenda items were: Washington’s Hunter Education Program; Access and Road Closures on Public Land, and; The Skagit Valley Elk Herd.

Our comments were focused on issues with the Hunter Ed program and access to the public lands of Paradise.  I’ve written a handful of columns about these things over the last couple years, and it looks as if access and road closures will be long-term grist for this mill.  We have much to discuss about maintaining the public nature of our public ground—and access to it.  Much ado is stirring in Paradise at all levels, from you and me and local movers and shakers to our Legislative Delegation.  You and I will consider such issues over coming weeks…but not today.

Let us today consider the mule deer around us.  The guy who planted the question in my mind moved his family to Paradise in September a big city in the Midwest.  He knew a bit about white-tailed deer, but wanted to know the deer here.  His goal, he said, was to know enough about our native deer that he could drive his wife and kids around the valley, and they would think he knew some things.

Under by-laws and several resolutions of the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association (RCRGWD&OTTBA), I was duty-bound to answer his questions, and assuage his concerns.  I am passing along the gist of our confab to you, just in case you find a need to empower a newbie of your own.

You know about the deer of Washington, but things are rarely as simple as they seem.  Amidst conflicting points of view, we all mostly agree on three species of deer.

White-tailed deer (named for the white underside of their large tails) are largely in east and northeast counties, and down along the Columbia.  Columbian black-tailed deer (for the black upper side of their tails) are generally along the coast, and a range extending over the Cascade crest in a few spots.  Rocky Mountain mule deer, or muleys (for their huge ears), cover most everything east of the Cascades, and are the primary deer we see here in Paradise.  And it is not that simple.

Blacktails were long considered to be descendants of some mule deer and whitetail deer cross.  A decade and more ago, however, biologists apparently identified mitochondrial DNA (tracing mothers) suggesting that mule deer may have actually sprung from a blacktail/whitetail cross.  A very interesting introduction to this, and a reference to Valerius Geist’s book on muley life history, will be found at  On the other hand, our Department of Fish and Wildlife continues to identify muleys and whitetails as species, and blacktails as subspecies (, within a thorough discussion of deer foods and habitats.  Other subspecies and crosses are there, too.  It is generally agreed that mule deer are the largest and black-tailed deer the smallest of the three.

Given that ours are mostly muleys, the RCRGWD&OTTBA Science Education Committee requires the following.  The mule deer’s scientific name is Odocoileus hemionus.  It is a medium‑sized mammal, from 36 to 40+ inches at the shoulder, weighing 100 to 250 pounds (bucks are largest, of course).  Its summer color is reddish, becoming brown‑gray with its longer winter coat.  Look for the large ears, scrawny black‑tipped tail and white rump, and the trademark “bounce” when escaping.  Favored foods include shrubs, forbs, alfalfa and fruits.

Over the past 100 years, mule deer populations have suffered wide swings in population, with harsh winters, habitat loss and shifting climates.  While populations are relatively stable, many western biologists are studying what they see as a continuing slide in mule deer numbers.  A good summary of these issues is found at  In Washington, we have well over a hundred thousand muleys.

Locally, we see a couple interesting variations.  First are probably the “pinto” deer, with large white patches resulting from some sort of genetic mutation.  They are occasionally seen in a couple areas of the Yakima Canyon, and rarely up the Taneum.  Then there are the “striped‑tails,” on the west side of the valley, up the Taneum, Manastash and a few other areas.  These deer look just like muleys except for a black stripe running the length of their narrow tails, resulting from a blacktail‑muley cross.

In general, deer will be out foraging from dusk to dawn, but at this time of year we may see them feeding any time of day, putting on fat for winter.  You’ll see mule deer most anywhere.  Check out the Yakima Canyon, or drive the back roads up the Taneum, Cle Elum or Teanaway.

There’s something about finding and watching deer that can change the light in a fall sky.

Try it.