Monday, January 28, 2013

The Hemingway House Preserve In Fall

By Caroline Clawson, Philanthropy Assistant

Ernest Hemingway wrote a eulogy for a Sun Valley friend, Gene Van Guilder, who died in a tragic bird hunting accident on an autumn day in 1939.  It reads in part:

“Best of all he loved the fall … the fall with the tawny and grey, the leaves yellow on the cottonwoods, leaves floating on the trout streams and above the hills the high blue windless skies. He loved to shoot, he loved to ride and he loved to fish.”

For three days this past October I spent time at the Hemingway House in Ketchum with artist Matthew Barney and his crew of a videographer, a producer, a tech and an actor.  I arrived early, before sunrise on the second morning to open the shades and meet the crew while Matthew and his photographer filmed the sun coming up over the hills across the river from the house on a ridge far away in the trails around the White Clouds above Sun Valley Resort.  I stood on the front lawn above the river bed and I also watched the sun come up.  While I sipped my coffee and waited in the chill, the grass, covered in a layer of thick frost, began to thaw as the sun settled over it.

Later in the day the filming continued in the bedroom upstairs; shots of Hemingway’s trunk brought back with him on his last voyage from Cuba, and video of his boots, and the view from the window.  While the crew worked, I was looking through the picture window down at the river bank, at the trees on the flood plain.  For a long while I watched a moose cow and calf moving through the woods.

During the three day filming I was able to see the Preserve in every possible light and it reminded me of the quote above.  There is something indescribable about how beautiful the light is, and the reflections on the water, something that we enjoy every fall all around Idaho. 

Mary Hemingway bequeathed the property to The Nature Conservancy after becoming familiar with the organization’s work at nearby Silver Creek Preserve, which Jack Hemingway helped create.  Today, thanks to Mary Hemingway’s bequest, The Nature Conservancy protects 12 acres of Big Wood River frontage just 2 miles north of Ketchum.   

Photos ©Caroline Clawson/The Nature Conservancy

Friday, January 18, 2013

Life Without Winter

By Lou Lunte, Associate State Director

Okay, like many people I can get pretty grumpy about winter. I’ll admit it, come mid-January, the darkness, bitter cold and icy roads get to me. Sure, I ski and like the view of a beautiful winter day, but that’s just not always enough to contain the grumpiness.  Sometimes my wife can hear me muttering about “Why is it so cold and dark? Couldn’t we just go from fall to spring and avoid winter?” She smiles and consoles me with a reminder to never move to Alaska.

Who would have guessed that an added benefit of hosting foreign exchange students would be a renewed enthusiasm for winter? Over the last few years my family has been lucky enough to host high school students from Thailand and Colombia. Though they both had long lists of experiences they hoped to have as part of their year in Idaho, near the top of both lists was winter and snow. They had never experienced four seasons and had never been in the snow.

Suddenly, everything about winter became exciting. There was so much to see and do and explain and photograph. First the leaves changed colors and fell. Then there were ice crystals in the crisp air, the colors of the winter sky and the clarity of the winter nights. Of course, we spent lots of time getting out to explore and enjoy winter. Walks along the Boise River, its side channels frozen into exquisite ice sculptures, always seeing fox, squirrel, weasel and geese prints in the snow. Many trips to Bogus Basin as they learned to ski and snowboard. Snow angels, snowmen, icicles and snowball throwing. How can you not sigh with pleasure as you settle down into Kirkham hot springs with light snow falling from the sky, watch the elk on the hillside near Tollgate or enjoy a snowy walk along the Oregon coast?

Wow, I remembered how fun and beautiful winter could be. How great it is to have four seasons, particularly when you live in Idaho and can so easily get outdoors and enjoy nature’s dramatic changes. Thanks to Daniela and Fa for reminding me how lucky I am to have fresh fallen snow. I’m thinking of you now as my wife, daughters and I grab our skis and head for a crisp but sunny day on Bogus – my daughters flying down Wildcat, while my wife and I swish along beneath the snow laden ponderosa pine.

Okay, maybe not Alaska yet, but I’m loving January in Idaho!

Photos ©Lou Lunte/The Nature Conservancy

Monday, January 07, 2013

Christmas Bird Count

By Marilynne Manguba, Idaho Protection Specialist

Maybe you read the news in October - “Most of Idaho town destroyed by fire - six buildings burn in Howe.” I thought of the Little Lost Store and the restaurant next door, a traditional stop on the way out of camping trips into the Little Lost Valley or the west side of the Lemhi mountains. Both closed the last few times I’d been through Howe and at the time of the fire. Howe is a tiny little town between Arco and Mud Lake, essentially where three roads meet at the bottom of the Little Lost Valley. The last time I was there was in December 2011 for the Christmas Bird Count. Every year in December and early January, thousands of volunteers count birds on established routes all over North and South America. Historic data and information on how the data is used can be found on the Audubon website. In Idaho there are over forty routes, including one centered near Howe. So, if the town was essentially burned down, what happened to all those trees where a pair of Great horned owls have been spotted for many years?

2012 Christmas Bird Count in Howe, Idaho. Photo ©Marilynne Manguba/The Nature Conservancy.

This past Saturday, on January 5th, I left Idaho Falls at 7:30 a.m. with two Snake River Audubon Society members to do the 2012 Christmas Bird Count. The sun was just starting to come up behind the Tetons. As we drove across the desert, places where normally you’d see hawks hanging out on fence posts and utility poles were empty, we were the only ones crazy enough to be out moving around in -3°.

In Howe, the store and restaurant and other buildings are just piles of rubble except for some scorched bark on the bottom of a few trees - they survived. The only birds around were a flock of Eurasian collared doves, and an American kestrel just warming up in the sun near the Howe Community Center, where we met to warm up and discuss routes with the rest of the crew.

We searched the farmyards, fields and skies for birds as we drove up the Little Lost Valley to a little warm oasis in the cold desert, an open water pond where a bunch of mallards were hanging out. Just up the road a golden eagle perched on a pole and was soon joined by a second eagle. Song sparrows, marsh wrens, and as the veterans knew, Virginia rails who have been found hanging out in the cattails, reeds, and grasses of freshwater marshes. We then headed over to a farm pond where a bald eagle was keeping an eye on a bunch of mallards and green-winged teals. Checking the temperature it finally got up to 14° midday but the birds still seemed to be hunkered down with just a few songbirds, a great blue heron, and a Townsend’s solitaire spotted along the river road.

Volunteers at 2012 Christmas Bird Count. Photo ©Marilynne MangubaThe Nature Conservancy.

We spent the afternoon driving the farm roads between Howe and the mountains where we found rough-legged hawks, a Northern harrier, and a few prairie falcons. Then just as we were ready to head in we spotted a flock of bohemian waxwings and to cap the day off, about 150 common redpolls alternately swirling around and perching in a big cottonwood, bringing our species total to 28, not bad for a very cold day.
Red polls at 2012 Christmas Bird Count. Photo ©Marilynne Marilynne Manguba/The Nature Conservancy.

And the great horned owls, we finally spotted them perched in the cottonwoods behind what was left of the store and all breathed a sigh of relief to see them.
Great horned owl at 2012 Christmas Bird Count. Photo ©Marilynne Manguba/The Nature Conservancy.