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by Kerry Booth
Hawks, and marmots, and ptarmigans – oh my! When asked to sum up the core of my Grand Lake experience, I couldn’t help but think about the nature I saw, and the animals I was lucky enough to witness. You can’t go to Shadowcliff and not be amused by the chipmunks; they are everywhere. Some are a little more brazen than the others, letting you get close to take a picture or video (thanks, iPhone) but then they are gone, just like that. The smaller ones seem to be much faster and less trustworthy.
On Tuesday, with some free time, I took a bike ride down a highway. I only discovered after I got back that I had overestimated (not by much, mind you) my lung and leg capacities. However, as I was trudging up a hill, head down and legs working, I felt the ground level a little so I raised my head. There, not fifteen feet above me and twenty feet away, a hawk was gliding through the Colorado sky towards me. He stayed at the same altitude – still, impossibly close – but managed to cock his head sideways as he flew over. I’m assuming my lime green shirt and helmet convinced him I was not a high value target. As Mike said that night when I told him about it, the hawk was probably thinking, “I can’t eat you, but I could eat parts of you.” It’s difficult to explain the grace and effortlessness this gracious animal displayed in a manner of seconds. He passed overhead and was soon perched on the crossbar of a power pole.
There were birds all about; sparrows, certainly, but so many others I wouldn’t be able to name. Darting here and there, swooping, soaring, and chattering the whole time.
There is a private ranch that borders some of the Shadowcliff property, on which a half dozen horses (I believe Chris called them Morgans; big, heavy-hoofed beasts) that wandered about the meadow, manes rustling and tails thwiping back and forth to dislodge what must have been thousands of insects. The skin on their necks and backs were in a constant state of flux as there was constant motion to dislodge the mosquitoes. Later that night, as we gathered at Bill and Dan’s cabin, three deer – two large and one tiny thing – passed through the very same dense meadow.
I can now confirm that Bon Mot the Marmot is alive and well. And hanging out on rocks like a sentinel. On an additional hike along the same route as Bill’s Hike’n’Write, I heard a piercing sound similar to the pip your smoke alarm makes when the batteries are low. There above me, perched on a rock, was a marmot. Or a gopher. Could have been a prairie dog, but it would have been a big prairie dog. (He stuck around long enough for me to get a pic.)
Later, along the trail, when the trees had closed in and the going was a bit more strenuous, I saw a grey bird with a head plume duck across a footbridge. I started to follow, then I saw a much smaller, puffier version follow in its steps. I got closer, started to pull out the phone, when the damned ptarmigan charged at me, hissing like a cat in heat. I kept a hold of the phone and made my way on.
On our last day, I walked a new trail the Shadowcliffians had wound around the grounds. Placed hither and non were benches where you could see gorgeous mountains and hear the North Inlet that feeds into Grand Lake (or Spirit Lake, as the original tenants called it). There were the aforementioned chipmunks, of all sizes and color variations. Several let me get close enough to shoot video and photos. As I was making my way back to the chapel, the ‘munks began to chatter a lot. I assumed they were tired of my presence. But as I kept walking on, I could see a half dozen standing, looking away from me.
What do you do when you see a crowd all staring in one direction? You look. I did, and saw a fox loping up one of the hills at the back of the property. We all watched the guy disappear over the ridge. They were all pretty excited, I could tell, because I came within about two feet of a couple of ‘munks before they turned to see me. It wasn’t until I moved to get my camera that they exited, much like the Roadrunner from the Warner Bros. cartoons (but without the tell-tale dust poof).
In no way do I think I interacted with these creatures. I only co-existed for a time, a magical time. The encounters were all to fleeting, for me, but I was grateful to even have the short time I did to observe them.