Weblog of Leland Rucker
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The Gutpile

Another journal entry from Yellowstone. Save for Alaska, there is no place we love more than the area around the Lamar Valley, the valley of the wolves.

Anne says she thinks there is a gutpile at the west end of the valley that we can check out, so we are in the Lamar by quarter to seven. Lots of clouds and dark, so we sit out at the spot where we left the wolves last night and just listen.

It’s not the finding, it’s the looking, as John the Ranger says.

We are listening for wolf howls, which are usually faint but can echo across the valley when you’re lucky. All we could hear was a bison across the road snoring. Making a real racket, too.

Then it was over to Slough Creek, where we spotted Carl, a friend of Anne’s and a WMD. He’s got a couple of Christian women from Livingston who have paid him a couple hundred bucks each to show them megafauna and take pictures.

With Carl at the helm, it is money well spent; these women have a power stronger than prayer. We drove it yesterday, so we know that Livingston is a good two hours away. It’s seven fifteen a.m., and they beat us here — do the math. Carl is on the gutpile hotline, too.

The carcass is down below us in a valley of dense sage near the river. I know the spot well, having watched bears and coyotes feed on a kill in the sage a couple years ago when a grizz treed a black bear while a mom and cubs chewed down the carcass.

We’re not more than a hundred and fifty yards from a grizzly tearing at a hunk of bison. A shrub conceals the carcass, but at one point you can see him lift the rib cage, pulling for another chop.

Gutpiles are important to lots of critters. Five very healthy looking coyotes, coats shining, are around the carcass, too, skittering around waiting for their chance at scraps. We are downwind, and you begin to notice the change in smell, which quickly brings on nausea even at this distance. Remembering bears’ powerful sense of smell, if it affects me this far away, how far away can bears smell it? Bears and humans are alike in so many aspects, but here we part ways; the more rancid the carcass, the more bears seem to enjoy it.

The coyotes go off on a tear, yipping, yelping, making those strange coyote noises. Since we are so close, we don’t want to disturb the bear, so Anne goes to move the car, Carl heads off for the Lamar with the Christian ladies and Billie and I watch the bear for awhile, scratching and tearing at what’s left of the carcass.

Suddenly, it heads off, and the coyotes take over. In a moment, the bear disappears behind a knoll, and for a few disconcerting moments, I’m trying to figure out if it might be heading in our direction or down where Anne is parking the car.

As it turns out, the bear had already crossed the road by the time I got to Anne. In minutes, he is in the high country and a boulder field hides his path.

- October 13, 2005


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