Thursday, December 20, 2007

End of Year Reflections, and a Holiday Wish

At the end of the classic holiday movie It's A Wonderful Life, George Bailey is proclaimed "the richest man in town." There are many days I feel this same way for the opportunity to live and work for conservation in Idaho.

As I take stock in another year outdoors, I'm filled with memories of day hikes and snowshoe treks, deer hunts and duck blinds, beautiful picture-perfect mountains and the seemingly endless sagebrush country. And even the occasional sandstorm:
Even in our own backyard, our wild neighbors are never far away. A chorus of coyotes, a flock of quail scratching underneath the birdfeeder, a raccoon that surprises me when I take out the compost on a recent evening. With snow coming in the high country, the deer have begun showing up, including "Bucky," as my wife Jennifer has dubbed this youngster who appears regularly for an afternoon nap.
This year, as every year in Idaho, I've spent a good deal of time at Silver Creek. If you've been there, you already know why: the moose, the sandhill cranes overhead, the deer moving into the Picabo Hills. The light. And, yes, the trout. Each year, I love to share the beautiful clear waters with family, with friends, with writers and photographers. I think they all walk away with that same feeling of awe, particularly if they've visited during the trico hatch. It's a true blizzard of mayflies, and a true feeding frenzy of trout. You fumble with tiny flies, you focus, you know you have to catch something with so many fish feeding. You cast in pod of boiling trout, and...nothing. Fish sitting in a current with perpetually open mouths will shut them to let your fly pass. Does it get any better?
Aldo Loepold began A Sand County Almanac with "There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot." Me too. What would Idaho be without racing pronghorns, bugling elk, raptors soaring over the Snake River Canyon, strutting sage grouse...
Our wildlife encounters are free for everyone to enjoy on Idaho's vast public lands. You might be lucky to see a moose or a pine marten, a Lewis' woodpecker or a rattlesnake. You never know. One minute you can be just walking along, and the next minute you're face to face with a badger, as happened to me this fall.
And then there was the encounter with a much larger predator, far, far away from Idaho in Brazil's Pantanal. It's the stuff of dreams, and always humbling to be so close to one of the large carnivores. The big critters with fangs and claws remind us that it's still a big world out there.
These are a few of my favorite things. It's what keeps me going as a conservationist. As I reflect back upon the year, I feel incredibly lucky to experience the beauty of the natural world and to encounter the many dedicated and talented people who care enough about their home and their fellow creatures to want to protect them for the future.

Edward Abbey once wrote "It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it's still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate that precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space."

I hope the new year affords you many opportunities to do just that.

Happy holidays from all of us at The Nature Conservancy.

--Matt Miller

Photo credits: Bruneau Sand Dunes by Phares Book, trico hatch by Kathleen Cameron, sage grouse by Robert Griffith. Other photos by Matt and Jennifer Miller.

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