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Marmots and Mountain Lions

I have been warned that spring here slowly creeps up and turns overnight into summer.  The aspen leaves are slowly opening this week, turning the trees to an interior decorator's dream pallet of silver and woodland green.

This morning I was greeted at the pond's edge by a very large and very unshy Del Norte Salamander (P. Elongatus.)  As the dog's Kong football landed at the edge of the pond and drifted to the shore, Mr. P. Elongatus rose out of the water and followed the wake of the football to the shore, where he scurried out for a moment to take a good look at me as I bent to pick up the yellow football to throw it again.  Once having made a judgement of the relative size of myself compared to him, he blinked, and I caught a brief thought from him "No. You are too big." as he quickly turned and slid back into the pond, dissappearing in the mucky deep.


Down the road at the rock formation that we mistakenly dubbed "the Mouse Condo" last fall while relocating extra unneeded deer mice from the cabin, two (so-far) Yellow Bellied Marmots have taken up residence.  I assume they were already there and hibernating when we arrived in the fall and that is why we did not see them while relocating deer mice to their home. 


Yellow Bellied Marmots are relatives of the eastern Woodchuck, but I have been told not to call them woodchucks to their face, or they are likely to become offended and fall into torpor, which they tend to do easily and for no apparent reason or at the first sign of cold weather.  These marmots have bushy red hair and tails, and become very fat over the summer. 


When we first came to look at the cabin we saw one waddling down the road, as large as a very fat beaver but without the beaver tail.  Moving was so difficult for this overstuffed marmot that as we slowed the jeep to look at it, it did not attempt to move any faster than it had been moving, and only briefly paused to look up at us with an attitude that seemed to say "Yeah, so... I'm FAT and I am not moving faster just because YOU are here."


Two evenings ago I received the same sort of attitude from the porcupine that Otto had his unfortunate run in with last fall.  As I opened the rear barn door to find Mr. Porcupine nuzzling the sweet dandelion shoots nestled against the aspen fence, he took one look at me and with a very resigned demeanor began moving as fast as he could go across the pasture to the grove of downed aspen.  As fast as he could go was extremely slow, and he labored through picking up each foot as high as possible in a rolly polly spikey critter slow motion camera high step that was reminiscent of someone trying to walk through a field of deep mud.


To sum up this blog post I want to thank my sister for mentioning that I now live in prime Mountain Lion country.  Not only is my sister psychic, she is also correct.  The south end of the Uncompaghre Plateau is the prime Mountain Lion country in Colorado, just as it is the prime Mule Deer and Elk country.  It is so prime for mountain lions that there is a mountain lion study underway here which prevents anyone from hunting lions here.


Last week we started hiking above Hanks Valley, an idyllic little known area where South Horsefly Creek creates a deep canyon full of tall pines surrounded by high rock walls.  Deer and Elk run ahead of us until they feel they are far enough away to stop and eat again. 


If I were a Mountain Lion I would live in Hanks Valley.


As a hiker I try not to think too much about that.


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