By Foster Laverne Harding:
While I am not related to Dr. Doolittle, I have conversed with animals, each using our own language. In early April, six weeks after the events described in my last DLC blog, I was again walking in Waterton Canyon. I began that day’s walk by setting a similar intention to be open to communion with the faces of nature. After that I just focused on being quiet inside and present with my surroundings. The first things I noticed were two types of early spring butterflies. There were very small orange ones with their tiny half inch wings constantly flitting about the early spring flowers, I never did get a good look at them. There were quite a few medium black ones with light yellow fringe around the trailing edge of their wings drinking along the sides of puddles. They were not familiar to me, but I was able to find them on the internet after the hike. They were mourning cloak butterflies, the state butterfly of Montana. As plentiful as they were it is surprising that I had not noticed them before. They were beautiful as only butterflies can be.
Waterton Canyon is noted for its population of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep. I had seen a herd of over thirty earlier that year. Today I encountered a smaller herd of a dozen or so, including one adolescent ram that seemed to think he was in charge. The group was gathered in the middle of the gravel access road to Denver Water Board’s Strontia Springs Dam. I assumed they were either heading to the river to drink or returning to the security of the steep canyon side after drinking. I had no idea which was their intent. They stood facing me as the young ram moved to the front of their group staring directly at me. There was a momentary standoff. So, I spoke to him, “Well, what’s it going to be? Which way are you going? I’m not here to cause trouble. I just want to go on up the road.” I spoke with confidence in my deep baritone voice, but not in a loud or threatening way. His response was to briefly mount one of the ewes. It was six months out of synch with breeding season, so I took it that he was telling me these were his family and it was his job to protect them from deep-voiced hikers. I slowly walked a few steps along the left edge of the road (not directly at him) to convey my desire to pass by the herd between them and the river. In unison he and the other sheep turned away from me facing the canyon wall. This seemed a clear signal of their permission for me to pass. I did so while saying thank you in that same deep baritone voice. We had communicated clearly with no feeling of fear on either side. I looked back from a respectful distance as they walked down the river bank to drink. It was wonderful to realize I had a meaningful conversation with a herd of wild Bighorn sheep. It had been so natural and effortless I didn’t realize what had happened until thinking about it afterward.
I had planned to eat lunch at a picnic table under a tree along the South Platte River near the “Mountain Lion” pavilion. As I approached, my intended lunch spot was already occupied by a pair of Canada geese resting in the grass. So, I sat at a table under the pavilion roof seventy feet away while we watched each other. After a bit they decided I wasn’t a threat and the smaller goose (typically the female) began to graze the new grass along the river bank. The larger (male) stayed between us keeping watch while she ate. After several minutes she made her way gradually in my direction. I told her she was a brave girl as she just kept moving closer. When she was only about five feet away she made a low croaking sound in her throat; I mimicked her sound. She repeated; so did I. She uttered several different sounds and I did my best to echo them back to her – all of this with direct eye contact between us. This went on for several minutes while her mate rested on the cement ten feet away, just watching us. Finally, they wandered off to continue grazing. We had shared a conversation in her language and I have no idea what was communicated other than this: We were completely at ease sharing the same picnic shelter. Afterwards, while I was sitting on the river bank writing, they passed by me to the river, swam across and disappeared into the weeds and brush; perhaps they will nest and raise their family there this spring and summer.
These two encounters were the communion with nature I had come to the canyon seeking. When I was clear about my intention and open to how it would unfold, the results came easily and were deeply profound, at least to me. I’m pretty sure the geese and sheep found the experiences unremarkable. How delightful it was to be “in conversation” with some of our wild brothers and sisters!
Repeating the thoughts I shared last time, experiences like those described have brought deep appreciation for the goals and activities of Douglas Land Conservancy. Their mission of conserving / preserving unspoiled wild nature in my home county provides me with ongoing inspiration. If you are reading this, it is likely you are also inspired by the natural beauty of Douglas County. I hope you will consider volunteering with DLC to help with its preservation.
Foster Laverne Harding is a retired engineer / scientist and published author of The Great University of Life. He and his wife Marilyn live west of Castle Rock with a view of Colorado’s Front Range mountains and foothills that inspires them every day.