We headed out around 6:00 this morning, just Mom and I, hoping to catch a sunrise over Custer State Park. The smoke had lifted some from yesterday, but a thick haze still obscured the colors of the sunrise. The buffalo were nowhere to be found. Those were the main things that I wanted to photograph, but a drive through the Wildlife Loop (or anywhere in the Hills for that matter…) never disappoints.
An early drive through the Park means very little competing traffic, and we buzzed down side roads and backtracked here and there, all in all driving the Loop about two and a half times over the course of the morning! Little splashes of color in the fading grasses and shrubs caught our eyes, including these vibrant hawthorn berries.We enjoyed a small herd of pronghorns, and this curious little darling, who frisked about with his elders. A few burros ambled along near the road, a couple pair of mamas and babies, a few yearlings, and a few adults. The burros have such wistful eyes, and funny expressions on their fuzzy faces.I don’t know that I could name the highlight, but I was pretty hungry on the way home. A beautiful thicket of wild plums was sure a treat.Like I said, a drive through the Hills never disappoints…
Yes, there is life in winter. And what life!
Even in the winter, when the greenness of summer passes into slumber and the chill and silence settles in, even when the waking months of the growing seasons are long past, there is a life that lurks in wintertime, and not too hidden from our eyes. It is a quiet life, but a rollicking merriment, like peals of distant bells or a silent glint of laughter in smiling eyes. It is seen in the way the spider threads tangle up the slanting sun with the dried heads of bee balm. It is seen in the way the sunlight catches just so on ice crystals on a frozen stream. It is seen in the clear blue of icicles, or the swirling eddies of freshly fallen snow.The days are short and shorter, but moonlight casts her spell. What is more alive than a winter moon over a snow-gleaming landscape, the frost glinting and sparkling like innumerable stars fallen to earth? On a clear night, only the brightest of the heavenly stars can be seen, but every meadow becomes a new star field under the light of the waking moon. Deer and antelope and bison are heedless of the cold, rooting contentedly in the snowy grass, with blankets of snow resting on their backs. Clouds of warmth swirl from the mouths of anything that breathes. Creatures that were scruffy in the spring and summer are now fat and sleek. They have prepared for winter, and they accept it. Every sound rings through the crystal-cold air. There are the diminutive footprints and tail prints of mice, scampering over otherwise untouched snow, and careful footprints of deer. Golden grasses sway above the white of the snow. There are the memories of last summer’s wild roses. Spring will come again. But for now, winter lives.
It is impossible to study the history of the American West without being impressed with two things: barbed wire and the Texas longhorn.
The longhorn is a breed of Spanish origin that was widespread in the American south. During the Civil War, ranches in Texas were shorthanded and consequently the herds of cattle on the open ranges were unmanaged and essentially went wild. The cattle reproduced prolifically for years. After the war, then, these wild, unbranded cattle were free for the taking, and were rounded up by gutsy cowboys and driven north, to the goldfields and boom towns in the West, along well-worn, legendary cattle trails, and were also sold in eastern markets. The invention of barbed wire in the 1860s and the widespread use of it in the 1880s changed the landscape of ranching, putting an end to the days of the open range. Violent feuds and range wars raged throughout the West as a result, and a series of conflicts known as the Fence Cutting Wars were a last-ditch effort to preserve the open range. The barbed wire has stayed and has become a necessary part of ranching, though the longhorns haven’t. There are a number of ranchers out here who keep small herds of these beautiful creatures, and it is always a delight to see them. Such magnificent animals.