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nature writing

  • In late 2020 I’m spending mornings masked, working in a lab in the University of Montana Zoological Museum. The museum houses research collections of natural artifacts like skins and skeletons. But behind the scenes museum staff tend a single living collection: a colony of dermestid beetles, the meticulous scavengers that scour flesh from bones before a skeleton can be installed in the museum.
  • Why are they so feared and misunderstood? If a bird popularity contest were held, Turkey Vultures would not fare very well. A spooky bird contest, on the other hand? Dead winner.
  • First one, buzzing and bumping into the living room window, who was soon joined by a few sisters. Within an hour, there were more than 40 sinisterly striped yellow jackets (Vespula alascensis) zooming from one window to another in pursuit of light, and I was outnumbered.
  • As I watched Rob Domenech, executive director of the Raptor View Research Institute, and his research biologist Brian Busby carefully load the three chicks onto the lift, and heard Harriet’s chirps of protest from above, I considered the importance of this work.
  • At Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, I saw an Osprey dive into the deepest section of white water and emerge with nothing to show for its effort, and then retreat to a cottonwood branch to watch for another opportunity in the dark, boiling water.
  • A small spot of orange in the middle of the trail caught my eye. It wasn't a leaf or a berry; it was tiny and moving! As I neared the curious sight, I discovered it was a fuzzy caterpillar.
  • Despite the harsh and stark appearance, all is not lost after a wildfire. In fact, there is much to be found when you look about.
  • Let me take you on a journey. It’s just a few miles, but over that short distance we’ll be transported not only to a dramatically different landscape, but also back through hundreds of millions of years of Earth’s history.
  • The first sound we hear these early summer mornings is the prehistoric, other-worldly call of Sandhill Cranes. It rises deep from their impossibly long necks, climbs into the sky, and stretches for miles across the countryside.
  • Usually, pronghorn will dash away when they see a truck coming. However, at times they race toward me, accelerating, seemingly intent on crossing the road ahead of me.