Waiting For Winter

Well, we're ready. The lodge and cabins are geared up for the winter season --- but, lo and behold, where is the snow? This is our sixth winter in the Centennail, and the FIRST we have ever actually driven in, over Red Rock Pass, this late in the year.

While the snow up on top is 'doable', the snow through the refuge is not. This does not mean it isn't a grand time to be in the Centennials. Any time is a grand time to be in the Centennials as far as I am concerned. After all, the scenery is always amazing. And, who can say mountains don't look their best wearing their winter outfits?

Furthermore, up until a few days ago there were more elk in the mountains than I've ever seen this time of year. Well, to be honest, I didn't really 'see' them, but I saw their tracks. That has to count for something.

Actually I was amazed by the number of animals still around. Just a few days ago above the lake there were enough to nearly obliterate our snowmobile tracks from less than 24 hours earlier. In fact, in some areas they had litterally torn up the snow.

However, more elk are starting to show up in the Madison valley. I hope this means they know something I don't - something about a good snow storm on the way!

In this country, no snow usually means more sunshine. Thus we have enjoyed some spectacularly beautiful days lately. Deep blue skies. Brilliant sparkling snow. Dark evergreens standing guard on the surrounding hillsides. A gorgeous young bull moose. Numerous eagles and hawks. Scattered bunches of white-tail deer. An occasional fox or coyote.

One thing, however, I already miss. Winter in the Centennial has always been a time for the swans. Granted most of our birds leave for the year. However, since the Red Rock Lakes Wildlife Refuge was originally set aside to protect this magnificent large water bird, it seemed only natural a few would stay year round. Up until this winter, a few have complied.

I guess everything changes - but some things we wish could remain the same. I miss hearing the birds - their soft trumpeting chatter drifting across the still, snow-covered landscape as I traversed the south end of the lake. Not this year!

Years ago many swans wintered in the valley. At that time, the wildlife refuge fed the swans during the winter. Over time studies suggested this made the birds more dependent and less wild (something like the elk feeding grounds near Jackson Hole, I guess). Nonetheless, as long as open water remained, some birds continued to enjoy spending their winters here - I can certainly understand!

That, however, may have come to an abrupt halt this year. The latest comprehensive plan adopted by the refuge calls for the draining of Culver and McDonald Ponds (something local fishermen are not happy about) to create more Grayling habitat. While draining the ponds is a bit controversial, no one said it would result in the destruction of Trumpeter wintering habitat. It makes me wonder if they had calculated this effect.

It appears draining Culver Pond (which feeds Widgeon Pond - the one pond the refuge had decided to leave undrained) has allowed the water to cool to the point Widgeon Pond now freezes over. Furthermore, McDonald Pond, which froze partially, is also now fully ice covered (again probably due to the cooler water temperature because of lower water levels). Someone ought to ask the refuge if they had calculated on this. If so, why didn't they let the public know?

Maybe it doesn't matter to others. Maybe there just aren't enough folks around who appreciated the swans' presence. This 'folk', however, already misses their musical backdrop playing accompaniment to my shushing skies on the fresh snow (I am praying will soon arrive)!

Lady of the Lake

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