THERMOPOLIS, WY--This is the first time we have visited the beautiful Wind River canyon without seeing bighorn sheep. What else would you expect when it’s 104 degrees on the rocky slopes where they liked to frolic?
Weather extremes, a symptom of man-driven climate change, seem to be everywhere these days. Even in this hotbed of climate change deniers, Jesus freaks and Dick Cheney, 104 degrees is a little much.
In Mac's bar and package goods store, every stool and table was occupied at mid-afternoon the other day. Most of the patrons would otherwise have been fishing for trout or gunning down wolves from low-flying helicopters. It was just too damned hot for such manly pursuits. Nobody paid attention to the ball game on the wide screen TV -- who cared about the Pittsburgh friggin' Pirates? -- but the beer was flowing fast and some of the good ol' boys were heating up an argument about whether the water was a little cooler upstream in the Bighorn above where it merges with the Wind to roar through the canyon.
Over at Hot Springs state park, Dan'l's normally tireless border collie, Max, spurned her game of fetch and flopped down in the cool, green grass. Our ridgeback, Brandi, took a sip of the Wind down in the canyon, then headed back to the truck to beg for some of the cold stuff he knew was there.
The north campground at Boyson Lake state park was virtually deserted despite the abundant shade.
All over the West, creatures are migrating from their traditional habitats because they have become inhospitable. Cooper's hawks no longer hunt from my back gate in New Mexico in the winter time; they've moved the southern limits of their range to higher, cooler ground. The very existence of some species is threatened now by the rapidity of climate change. The polar bear is the most famous example but far from the only one. Sea turtles,pikas, frogs, pandas,bees - these are just a few of the species that are vanishing all too quickly.
Down at Mac's the prevailing wisdom held that the trout of the Bighorn were simply to be too damned lazy with the heat to take bait these days, but don't try to sell that line to fishermen off the coast of Wales, who have seen some of their most profitable catch move hook, line and habitat to cooler North Sea waters.
Arrogantly proud of our ignorance, we humans have been turning our natural world inside-out and upside-down for far too long now. Maybe the day isn't that far off when we'll have to got to a zoo just to see a robin.
Yesterday, on the banks of the Wind, our macho lion-hunter Brandi was frightened away from a choice piece of shade by a hostile butterfly! Really. They were all over the place. Down south of where we live that used to the case with the regal monarch, too. Now it's endangered.
Perhaps some day the human race will vanish, victim of its own follies,leaving the planet to the insects. Lord knows there's plenty of those flittin' around in this heat!
There remain somewhat unspoiled a few magnificent places in the North American west, places I want to explore before I die. We're headed for some of them -- Bighorn Canyon up the river where perhaps the water's a bit cooler; Kootenay lake, river and national park in Canada, where perhaps there's still an unmelted ice cave or bit of glacier.
At least Brandi will be safe from hostile butterflies up there. But is that good? That could even be tomorrow's argument at Mac's bar.