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‘Critter moments’ lead to natural highs

One of the joys of being an outdoors writer is that I sometimes get to see things that most people don’t.

Nature photographers say the secret to success in their line of work is “f /8 and be there.” I think the secret to happiness for an outdoors writer is pretty much the same; not so much the f/8 part, but definitely the “be there” part.

Having the job I have, and being the places I’ve been, I see lots of things that uplift me and leave me smiling.

The other evening, as I sat in my easy chair being all philosophical and pondering the mysteries of the universe, memories of a few of those uplifting moments filtered through my thoughts.

The most recent came just a week ago during a trip to Mercer County’s Tate Lohr Trout Hatchery.

The hatchery sits in a gorgeous little forested hollow at the end of a lane-and-a-half road. The setting alone put me in a good mood, and the sight of a pair of cedar waxwings made the mood even better. I had seen Bohemian waxwings before, but had never seen their more famous cousins. Check another one off the “life list.”

As I watched the birds flit around the hatchery’s pond, a great blue heron lifted from the shallows at one end and, looking every bit like a feathered pterodactyl, gracefully circled the pond.

It occurred to me then that my fondest memories seem to involve birds and wildlife, and specifically seeing them when I wasn’t expecting to.

One day on the boardwalk that leads to the New River’s Sandstone Falls, I caught a flash of movement in one of the river’s braided back channels. It was an otter, and I stood there mesmerized for several minutes as it worked its way up the narrow waterway, looking for fish and probing under rocks for crawfish and other otterine delicacies.

It’s not unusual to see an otter swim across a body of water, but seeing a bear do it certainly is. Three decades ago, while walking the railroad tracks along the Gauley River’s Crupperneck Bend section, I saw just that.

The bear crossed the tracks about 100 yards ahead of me and my companion, and when we got to the place where it had disappeared into the trackside undergrowth, we heard a splash and watched in awe as it swam straight across the river despite a strong current, and upon reaching the opposite bank the bruin rocketed straight up the mountainside at full gallop, not slowing all the while it stayed in view.

I stood there, slack-jawed and wide-eyed, awed by the creature’s power.

Possibly the most spectacular sight I’ve been privileged to witness was at Logan Pass in Montana’s Glacier National Park.

My wife, who had toured the park earlier that day in an open-topped bus, told me she had seen some mountain goats near the pass, and that they had been on a knoll quite close to the road.

I grabbed my camera and we went looking for them.

And sure enough, we found them in a grove of low-growing junipers. Off to one side, a big billy stood perched on a rock, just inches from a 500-foot sheer drop. The goat’s cream-colored coat contrasted sharply with the dark-gray granite backdrop, and I burned two or three rolls of film on that one animal.

When I returned to the car, my wife took one look at my face and said, “You’re on a natural high right now, aren’t you?”

I was. And, thanks to my job, I often am.

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