Once I carried a bow to the top of my favorite ridge, finding fresh deer beds in a marshy area, grass still springing up in them when I arrived. The only thing still grazing in that little meadow was the large hump-backed rodent we call a porcupine. The sun was slipping beneath the hills to the west and a rosy glow filled the basin.
The spiny-quilled fellow looked up at me when I spoke to him then continued eating. As I approached, he left off. “Hey Bud,” I called out again and he broke into a waddling run, making tracks for quieter environs. Where he could finish a meal in peace without noisy humans interfering.
I pulled up my tent after a two day hunting trip another year. My shelter had been erected at night, on top of the entrance to the den of a mouse. It occurred to me that I had, without a doubt, inconvenienced my little neighbor. In no immediate hurry, I sat down on a folding chair, opened a can of peaches and proceeded to eat them.
Presently, a mouse stuck his head and shoulders from the hole and looked about him. Not perceiving me to be an immediate threat to his existence, he took a bite of the succulent growth at the edge of the hole and ducked back in. Within a minute he was back for more.
He had what appeared to be a scruffy beard. Looking like somebody’s dopey sidekick in a B Western. He peered at me for a moment, sizing me up, analyzing the potential threat that I might pose to him. Then he grabbed a mouthful of clover and ducked back in.
I was feeling bad. The poor old mouse had been locked inside his home by the floor of my tent for two days. What could I do to show him how sorry I was? I had little to give him. My peaches had long since disappeared.
Then I spotted a wedge of onion that had fallen from my companion’s plate during the course of dinner two nights earlier. The onion is a plant of the lily family with an edible bulb and I figured that this critter, being somewhat of an herbivore might forgive my intrusion if I proffered it to him. I moved the onion to the side of the hole and sat back to watch him enjoy it.
I can peacefully co-exist, I told myself, with the lowliest of the fur-bearing critters, an elderly mouse in an alpine meadow. Yet the rodent spurned my offering. Not only did he leave the onion where it was without so much as a nibble, he permanently sealed that doorway, piling, while I watched, fresh dirt in the mouth of the hole. So he didn’t have to smell that pungent member of the lily family any longer.
I packed my things away and left, chastised by a mouse.
It was the opening day of another rifle deer season. Yes, I’d seen some deer. Or, at least, their rear ends. Still, I prowled the rimrock, watching and waiting.
The October sun had warmed the hillside boulders and I stalked among them, following tracks made just the night before.
What was that? It sounded like a smoke alarm when the battery goes low. Only louder.
There it was again. I followed the sound until I came to the edge of the rim and was able to peer over. The sound had come from here. My searching eyes finally made out a creature no bigger than my fist.
It had a stocky body, short legs and no tail. It sat on a flat rock about the size of a coffee table, looking out over the valley. Could that big sound have come from the little guy? As I watched, he answered my question, his body quivering with the effort.
As far as I could tell it made its home among the boulders there above the shale slide, close to forage, but protected from predators.
I hadn’t seen one before, nor have I seen one since, but the book at the library tells me that it was a pika, sometimes called a rock rabbit.
I asked myself, how long would I have gone without seeing a pika if I wasn’t a hunter? How else would I have slowed my life down enough to see a mouse pop his head from a hole in a meadow or take the time to watch a porcupine grazing in tall green grass?
Whether or not we end up with the game we pursue, there is a lot more to hunting than just looking for a deer or an elk.