by Steph Wood

There I was, on top of a hill peering down on Elk Lake Resort. It was my first project, I was nestled in the heart of Red Rock Lake Wildlife Refuge, if I was going to see a moose anywhere, it was going to be here. But lets back up a bit and talk about WHY I was on the top of a hill above my work site. 

It was lunch time, Team Blue had been working all morning on constructing a Jack Leg fence around the resort to keep free roaming cattle from harming the guests. It was a beautiful day and we were making great progress, but I wasn’t feeling too happy. That day I came to the realization that I have a lot of skills, but hammering six inch nails into large wooden poles is not one of them. It seemed like everyone else on my team was sinking their nails into the fence in three swings or less. I, however, I tapping away with my mini-sledge hammer, bending nails with almost every swing. Needless to say, I was frustrated and feeling a little self-conscious. 

My salvation came at lunch time. Team Blue was working under the direction for three USFS Rangers; Darcy, Pat, and Mark. Mark had just joined the team that day and was immediately tasked with going on a scouting hike across from the resort to gather intel about the barbed wire fence that was supposed to be keeping the cattle from even reaching the resort. Considering Darcy was seven months pregnant, and Pat was covered in mud from attempting to extend the Jack Leg fence thirty feet into the lake, Mark was the best man for the job. When he asked for a volunteer to accompany him, I jumped at the chance. While I might excel at hammering, I know for a fact that I can hike. Sadly, Laurel, our contact had very kindly cooked our team fresh hamburgers and potato wedges for lunch and I could not fill my belly as full as I would have liked too. 

After lunch, we set out. Our hike took us on a big loop around the fence. We discovered that there was about a 50 foot section of barbed wire down, which explains the influx of cattle in the resort. After we had walked the length of the fence, we decided to follow a “bluff” fence that ran up the hill into the treeline, to see if that fence was helping keep the cattle out. It was not. The barbed wire ended right at the treeline. Cows could easily walk up the hill and pass the fence. 

So Mark and I found ourselves on top of a hill above the resort. Looking to our right, we could see the Centennial Mountain range, to the left the Madison range. It was breath taking. It was way better than trying and failing to hammer a nail straight into a fence post. And when Mark pointed to two large black creatures standing on the hillside directly across from us, I had a feeling it was about to get even better.
Since I arrived in Montana, my own personal goal was to see a grizzly bear or a moose. I was excited to learn how to use a chainsaw and to get to know my teammates better, but I also had an agenda. I wanted to see some of the wild Montana wildlife. 

The creatures across from us were big. One of them looked like it had a large light colored rack on it’s head. This was going to be my moment. Mark started to walk faster, trying to see them closer up before the moved off the hillside. We picked up the pace, both excited about the creature sighting. As we moved closer, the animals appeared even bigger than they seemed when we first spotted them. 

Suddenly, one of them lifted it’s head and let out a long, low rumble. 
My heart stopped…

The creature said “MOOOOOO!”
It was a cow.

Mark and I stopped, looked at each other, and bursted into laughter. He raised his fist to the sky and shouted “Dang cows!” and we laughed some more.

Even though I didn’t get to see a moose (or grizzly bear) I did get to see a pair or swans and a pair of golden eagles. Plus, Mark taught me everything he knew about Wolverines, which was pretty fascinating. People should really learn more about them, because they are crazy animals.

I have high hopes for this upcoming summer when we return to Montana. There is a moose in my future, I can feel it.

stephwood

 

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