A raven’s eye on the sky

Wildlife abounds during winter trip to Utah

A light haze filters a mid-morning view of Fisher Towers, a popular landmark along the Colorado River east of Moab, Utah.

Ripples frozen in rock are memories of an ancient sea’s ribs, perhaps from 150 million years ago, now on permanent display in eastern Utah.


Oh, Christmas tree, oh, Christmas tree…

By now we all have had our annual overload of holiday carols and presents under the tree and it’s time, really, you did something about that tree leaning precariously in your living room.

Sure, it’s nice to add some real pine (or juniper or fir) fragrance to the Great Indoors but enough is enough.

This year, I’ll borrow from an idea passed on by colleague Bill Monroe of The (Portland) Oregonian who suggests you use that tree to spruce up your fish habitat.

Stripped of the human-added utilities (lights, tinsel, that re-gifted fruit cake you hid amongst the branches in hopes of it disappearing) and placed with some thought (and maybe tied to a large rock) on the ice of your favorite pond, backwater or slough, that tree sometime this spring will sink.

Small fish (and fish that require vegetation for securing their eggs) love the immense amount of tiny spaces and predator-safe cover a drowned tree provides.

Plus, as Monroe notes, the tree quickly develops “an organic scheme of moss, algae and other growths - a bouillabaisse of invertebrates and natural fish food.”

“Christmas trees are really complex, with a lot of debris,” Todd Alsbury, fish biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said. “That bio-film is a magnet for juvenile fish to come in and rear.”

Gravel pits especially benefit from tree plantings, since most pits have as much fish cover as your bathtub.

A few caveats, of course: First, check before dumping your tree. That means get prior permission if it’s private property and check with local and state officials (park managers, etc.) if it’s one of the local public ponds.

Only real trees accepted, no plastic, aluminum or artificial trees will do. Make sure they sink enough (hence the rock or cement block) to get them below a boat’s propeller.

Of course, check the ice thickness before you wander out on any pond or lake. So far, this Grand Valley winter has not been good for ice formation, so any ice is suspect.

And do take that fruitcake out of the tree. You can always pass it on next year.

— Dave Buchanan

FISHER VALLEY, Utah — A raven’s voice brought me to a stop.

Busy fiddling with camera and tripod, surrounded by the stillness of blood-red mesas, I had been lost in the chore immediately before me until a sudden “quork” revealed I was not alone.

I hadn’t seen many ravens that morning, a suspect item that had been mildly noted in a land where the beat of raven wings is a regular part of the aural landscape.

Ubiquitous and brashly curious birds that they are, I was nonetheless startled to have one sneak in so close, perching on a nearby juniper branch as if to inspect my work.

But when I looked up, I saw it wasn’t me the raven was speaking to, but rather two other visitors just as surprised to see me as I was them.

As I lifted my head, two mule deer bucks lifted theirs, perhaps wondering, as was I, how they managed to come so close, enough to where I could see patterns in their velvet antlers and soft light reflected in their liquid brown eyes.

Unsure what to do, I waited a second or two longer and by then they had moved away, slowly at first and then bounding across a small brushy wash and over the rise. Gone.

The raven turned its piercing gaze to me, dark bill agape, croaked what surely must have been a hoarse chuckle, and it, too, fled.

Morning on the final day of a fading year found a blue haze filling the canyons and valleys along the Colorado River, a gauzy light from the low-lying winter sun obscuring details of what surely must the most-photographed sandstone towers in eastern Utah.

A mild winter’s day, even one mid-holiday, attracts tourists to Fisher Towers, that series of eye-catching erosional features just off Utah Highway 128 east of Moab. The bent and bony fingers of Cutler Formation sandstone are popular with photographers and rock climbers, the tallest one (Titan at 900-feet high) having first been climbed in 1962.

Along the river, the layered cliffs of hematic Wingate sandstone are washed by ribbons of sunlight and mirrored in the quieter sections of the slow-moving river. Fled are the imperturbable Great Blue herons of warmer months, replaced by cadres of Canada geese winging low and vocal through the canyons.

Ignoring the cold, a visitor dares a few minutes walking barefoot on the flood-packed gravel bars revealed by the winter-low river. The jewel-like coloration of pebbles and cobbles is pressed into a surface smooth, flat and consistent enough to have been done by a master stonemason.

Farther along, as the morning wanes and traffic begins to pick up, there are stops for more tourist-like endeavors, among them watching a silhouette of horseback riders meander across flats lined with greasewood and juniper, a short hike along Grandstaff Trail, named after a Moab-area cowboy and prospector in the late 1870s, and a refill at Matrimony Spring, the popular watering spot for residents and wired tourists just short of the canyon entrance.

And then the road home, fleeing ahead of the advancing shadows as one year ends and the new one — as full of questions as it of promise — draws near.


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