Elk on French Creek

We almost didn’t even see them, because of how dusty the road was, but Sarah pointed them out and we turned right back around to go and see them. Elk, right off the road! Before we were there, I had my camera in the right setting, zoomed in, lens cap off, and my window down, since I knew we’d probably end up startling them off.ElkElkThe deer grazing with them gave a wonderful sense of perspective – Deer are big enough animals as it is, but next to an elk, they appear tiny! On the way back home, we saw the elk again, more this time, though it was almost dark out. It is a good day if you see elk once at a distance of a half mile. It is a great day if you see elk twice, right next to the road, and actually manage to get pictures of them. Beautiful, beautiful creatures.

Laura Elizabeth


Parental Instincts

The parental instincts of wildlife are nothing short of miraculous – And, often, a sign that God Almighty has a sense of humor. If you’ve ever taken the time to marvel at a killdeer, and pester him a bit, you should be familiar with the miracle, and the humor. Killdeer are ground nesters, and mama and papa stick pretty close to their eggs to guard it, sit on it, and to steer predators away.
IMG_9500They are birds roughly the size of a robin,  not gifted in areas of strength or intimidation. But they are very talented actors. When a threat is near their nest, mama and papa tag-team to draw the predator away, by keening and taunting, staying just close enough to the predator to keep the attention of the predator, and always moving further away from the nest. But if the threat gets too close or approaches the nest, the little birds launch themselves into a charade of dying birds, flopping around on the ground rather realistically. KilldeerI had been informed of a killdeer nest near the shore of Canyon Lake and went to find it after work today. Sure enough, mama and papa successfully drew me away from the nest the first time, and put on a pretty convincing dying-bird act when I actually approached the nest. As quickly as possible, I snapped a few pictures,  staying a healthy distance from the nest and trying not to look too vicious – I would have felt pretty bad if one of the parents had a heart attack or something. Not to mention, if I had gotten any closer I’m not at all sure that one or both of the parents wouldn’t have flown at my head. Parental instincts, and all. And what beautiful treasures they had to protect! IMG_9508God’s creatures never cease to amaze me.

Laura Elizabeth

Findings | Elk on Hwy. 40

We were treated to the sight of a herd of elk grazing in a valley meadow along Hwy. 40 last night, a few miles from home. They come through there periodically, but it has been awhile since I saw them last!

Elk on Hwy. 40

What gorgeous, magnificent animals!

Laura Elizabeth

Straying from the Beaten Trail

IMG_9503One can cover a lot of beautiful ground by following a well-worn trail, a path countless feet have beaten down, smoothed and deepened. But there is sometimes something in my heart not quite satisfied with simply following a trail – being bound by miles or hours,  not knowing what is over this hill, or what the view looks like from the ridge above. There is something to not following a trail, giving oneself permission to stray to the side, to discovered unseen vistas, or subtle deer trails. There is something delightful about taking the long way around, of creating detours and following one’s sense of curiosity, and allowing oneself to revel in the beauty of the outdoors.

IMG_9632Sometimes that giving in to curiosity and delight comes with simply changing one’s vantage point. Walking along a ravine floor is a completely different view than walking along the rim. The enchantment of rising granite steps, moss covered, and slanting shadows and cool, green lichen contrasts with the beauty of the open sky, the rolling hills, quivering rabbitbrush, and the treelines. A ravine followed from top to bottom, with 5-foot ledges to scramble, looks wholly different when followed from bottom to top. The 5-foot ledges become a different sort of obstacle, when scrambling up instead of down.

IMG_9592A trail taken in the morning, when the air is cool and warming, when frost and dew shimmer in the grass, when the trees are singing with early birds, when the air in the sheltered valleys is damp and cool and rich, yet warm and fragrant on the sunlit hillsides above – it is entirely other than walking the trail in the afternoon or evening, when the birds have quieted, when the dew of morning has been replaced by the frost of evening, when quiet and hush have settled.

IMG_9538In the morning hours, the chickadees and bluebirds were talking to themselves and flitting from branch to shrub to rock. The bluebirds were like little pieces of sky, so bright and blue. And the chickadees, feisty little masked things, were darting and diving in a ravine, drinking ice melt from a little green pool. I clambered up on the ledge and tried quietly to take out my camera. They watched me curiously or indignantly, I wasn’t entirely sure which, and let me take their pictures before disappearing, their little hoarse, laughing calls disappearing with them.

IMG_9582Taking the time to chase down sunbeams on birchbark. Chatting with a sassy squirrel.  Watching migrating flocks of geese. Wondering at ancient trees, wizened and hunchbacked. Slipping and sliding down slopes covered in pine needles and loose rocks, crawling up ledges, ducking under deadfall, plunging into the shadow of the trees, where light filters through the deep green needles and glows and flickers on the bark, the earth, and snow white pieces of quartz – They say to take the path of least resistance. But sometimes the path of more resistance is a lot more rewarding. Giving in to the delight of curiosity, straying from the beaten trail, lingering to watch and listen and breathe deeply of the air. Halted by awe. Driven by a question: What’s next?

Laura Elizabeth

The Best Day of the Week

IMG_8518Sunday mornings tend to be a little hectic – Five of us on a Sunday morning in a cabin with one bathroom is a recipe for hurry and a few ruffled feathers. But in the midst of the hurry, there can be delightful moments, like catching sight of the deer on the dam as the sun is coming over the rim of our ridge, watching early-morning birds, or laughing at the kittens’ antics. There is the smell of coffee and eggs and oatmeal, and the bustle of activity. We’re all glad when we finally get out the door and miraculously are on time,  and any ruffled feathers have a chance to smooth before getting to church.

IMG_8528I left early this morning, early enough to enjoy a leisurely drive past Mount Rushmore and the scenic vistas along Hwy. 244. So much beauty, and the play of early morning light through the leafless trees was captivating. Sometimes it is hard to be a safe driver when the views are so lovely. The sky was crystal clear, and the profile view of the Monument was postcard-worthy. Couldn’t resist stopping. It is mornings like this that leave me breathless with wonder at a God who is so good that He, in His own good time, brought me to the place I love most on earth. What a trivial matter, on the one hand, and yet He worked it beautifully.

IMG_8689My gratitude is deepened when I think of my church family, and when I spend a morning and a meal in worship and fellowship and teaching – The closeness and intimacy and joy that we each share with one another leaves me filled to overflowing with gratitude. The conversations these brothers and sisters of mine desire to have with one another, the desire for openness, the desire to impact, the desire to bless, to convict and be convicted, to strengthen, to confess, to love…It has given me a beautiful perspective of what Christian relationships should and can be, and what it means to “be Christ” to one another.

IMG_8587Sarah and I took a scenic detour home after church. Since pretty much any route around here is “scenic,” what made this one scenic is that it took about 2 hours longer than normal, since we decided to drive the Custer Wildlife Loop. We stopped at Common Cents, got fuel, coffee, and a box of Saltines to feed the burros, and headed out of town. The prairie dogs were, as always, quite obliging. The fat little rodents squeaked and scurried and scampered, and one little pudgy guy let me get pretty close.

IMG_8671We watched and watched for the burros, and any other creatures of the prairie and foothills. A couple of herds of buffalo were right up by the road, licking salt off of vehicles as they went by. Such majestic creatures. When they are grazing so quietly, it is hard to reconcile their gentle appearance with their intense power and capacity for aggression.

IMG_8677Spending time in the wonder of God’s creation always drives me deeper into the conviction that none of this was an accident, but Divinely ordered. The uniqueness and distinctness, the quirky and delightful personalities of each individual animal, from Luna the Grey Cat who likes to watch the world from his seat on the lawnmower, to this shy doe who stared timidly as we drove past her on the road…Each animal, each plant, each rock and hill, bears the fingerprints of a Creator. I can’t but believe that.

IMG_8741We saw a handful of antelope, which tend to be pretty reserved creatures, but we saw no burros. We looked and looked, and even drove a short ways down a few side roads, but saw nor hide nor hair of the little beasties. It was rather disappointing. So, since there were no burros to eat the package of Saltines, Sarah and I ate them.

We got home as it was just beginning to be evening. A morning spent in worship and fellowship, and an afternoon spent in awe and sisterhood…What could be better?

Hands down, Sunday is the best day of the week.

Laura Elizabeth