Try a Tent

I get to see animals that most people don’t. I’d like to tell you it’s because I’m a keen observer or that I know just where they’ll hide, but the truth is that I visit with the animals because I live in a tent nowadays.

When I woke a few mornings ago along the Columbia River, the loons were just beginning their dawn wails. Seeming to answer, the little owl who’d been busy all night in the adjacent grass gave a final three hooting daybreak notes. The fat old fox squirrel who manages this floodplain made his way from branch to branch to check in and see if I was still around this morning. I didn’t even see him; who else could it be rustling branches at this hour but the landlord? Far up in the rocks, a marmot announced that he was awake now. Quail called and answered from all directions till I got up. The ever-present Canada geese made a clattering, honking racket as I exited the bivy and went looking for breakfast. The canyon wall to my right was half lit in blazing red, while the east wall only showed a warm glow beginning at the crest. Sunrise was imminent, but not here in the fertile floodplain just yet.

There’s a reason we’ve all heard that the early bird gets the worm. Animals follow a different schedule than we humans and this schedule begins for most ambulatory life forms in the pre-dawn hours. Dusk is also a peak for activity, but mid-day hours are often a time for resting, laying low, or moving at a slower pace. I really don’t know why this is such a consistent pattern for so many creatures in so many varied habitats in seemingly every part of the country. Some animals’ eyes are sensitive to UV radiation—so there’s that. The animals most likely to get eaten (yes, quail, I’m talking about you) find it easier to stay concealed while seeking out their plant foods. The predators probably find it easier to sneak without, for instance, alerting a colony of marmots. For fish, the “hatch”(immature aquatic insects rising to the surface to take flight) is generally on early and late as well—especially late, though.

So, back to the tent. The tent just puts you in the right place at the right times if you like to meet animals. If you live in the cities, like most people do, it’s not an easy thing to get up when still completely dark (if you’re lucky enough to have a day off work), make breakfast, maybe get the family ready, load the car, drive to a place inhabited by animals, and still catch them before they turn in for the day. Same goes for fishing. People driving around the countryside during daylight hours get to see only a fraction of what’s actually living there. And, by the way, about as many animals live in the cities as live out in the country and these creatures generally take on even more crepuscular habits (“crepuscular” is what you call the animals most active at dawn and dusk).

Well, I’m going to tie it up now, put the writing away and tend to dinner on the zip stove down by the stream. I have the tent set up on some kind of a game trail right now here in north central Washington State and I can’t wait to see what kind of crepuscular or downright nocturnal creatures visit. I suspect elk—and a little owl.

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