Barbershop Geese

    Guest Posts on County 10 are provided by contributors and the opinions, thoughts, and comments within are their own and may not necessarily reflect those of County 10.

    “Night Riders Lament” a song done equally well by Chris LeDoux or Garth Brooks brings up images of Western life like no other, aside from a salute to the ballads of Marty Robbins.

    As the sun gradually rises earlier each day, I throw hay to the cows before my morning walk, as the sounds of the season arise around me.


    Call it the soundtrack of the seasons, but the resonant honking of the local flock of Canada Geese takes on a different timbre.

    They live a few hundred yards north of the house year-round. Their low-level flight pattern often comes within 20 feet of our upstairs bedroom window, but they always announce their intentions as they cruise by.

    Perhaps it’s just the sonic dimension of subzero weather in December versus the temperate above freezing air we now enjoy, but the big birds do sound different from winter to summer. Their calls are sharper more staccato in the winter. In the warmer months, they have a deeper tone. If wild geese could be trained to sing in a barbershop quartet, they could sing all four parts.

    It’s not just our not-so-migratory friends that herald the wonderous arrival of summer. The Meadowlarks and a few early arriving songbirds bring afternoon symphonies as well.


    We don’t hear them often near town, but as the summer arrives, I look forward to hearing the howls and barks of coyotes in the cattails and heavy brush of Lake Cameahwait as we chase largemouth bass in the backdrop of the setting sun.

    Bass hitting a surface plug make their own music, a gurgling, sputtering sound of unleashed anger as these apex predators hammer a topwater lure. Yep, they are terrific fish to tie into and fight with.

    A tail-dancing rainbow trout adds a perfect chorus of splashing water to the soundtrack of glorious summer.


    Nothing against the almost ethereal bugle of a bull elk on a late afternoon so cold, that the approaching twilight has a purple tint to it. They have their place in the winter months and are arguably the most atavistic sound our section of paradise can produce. The nearby howl of a wolf will make your hair stand on end, but the distance howling is a song unto itself.

    These sounds were all heard for millennia by the indigenous people of the plains, foothills, and mountains.

    My grandfather heard them when he first arrived from Switzerland in 1921, and the ancestors of my friends on the reservation many generations before that.


    I sat in on a fascinating lecture by my friend Todd Guenther, a retired anthropology instructor at Central Wyoming College last Saturday.

    Todd’s presentation was on bison jumps (officially bison, but they remain buffalo to me) in the upper county, near Dubois.

    Something he said struck me. He described the area as the Serengeti of the Rockies. I’ve hiked, fished, and hunted the area for most of my life and it never occurred to me that this was once heavily populated with wildlife, shoulder to shoulder populated.

    If you’re an outdoorsman (or woman) you’ve seen elk, mule deer, and Big Horn sheep. If you’ve hiked into the higher elevations, you might have seen a few invasive Rocky Mountain goats as well.

    But none of us have seen wild bison in their native habitat.

    If you were to travel back in time, 200, 300, or perhaps 5,000 years, the bounty of the grasslands, foothills, and mountains would defy description.

    We’ve all heard the wild claims that American cattle are destroying the ozone layer with excessive flatulence. There are 1.5 billion cattle on earth, yet the only dangerous flatulence comes from the 89 million here in the USA. The 307 million in India, the 195 million calling Brazil home and the roughly 100 million Chinese cattle evidently don’t pollute.

    Ironically, the Serengeti of the Rockies as Todd so succinctly labeled it, was a haven for at least several hundred thousand of the estimated 65 to 80 million bison that roamed North America. They were must have been flatulent free according to the politically correct experts.

    Imagine a mountain valley filled with bison as far as the eye can see. Joining them are thousands of elk, and equally large numbers of pronghorn and mule deer with the adjoining slopes dotted with Big Horn sheep.

    The invasive whitetails that have upended the balance of nature across the West were still east of the Mississippi.

    Mixed in with this cornucopia of high plains and mountain fauna were the predators. Lewis and Clark estimated a grizzly in every square mile of land they crossed. Wolves, (smaller, native wolves, not the beasts brought in from Canada after the “experts” attempted to eradicate the naturally occurring indigenous wolves) kept the herds in balance, taking the old, weak, and injured. So did cougars and coyotes.

    Only coyotes are more common today than they were a thousand years ago. That holds true for raccoons as well. These guys adapt well to the human world, thriving in such urban confines as New York City’s Central Park and the Inland Empire of the megalopolis surrounding Los Angeles.

    If humans were to magically vanish overnight, it would only take a couple of decades for nature to return to its primordial balance.

    If that happens, you and I won’t be around to enjoy it. What we can enjoy is the blessings we have in our little corner of paradise.

    That gurgling sound of water running down the ditch in the early morning as you race the rising sun moving canvases to reach another section of beans, beets, corn, or alfalfa is a song. More than likely, it’s the manmade sound of water filling gated pipe, then spurting out of the gates as it fills. Or the subtle misting noise of a pivot strategically dropping precise amounts of water on the same crops.

    I’ll take the honking geese, the whistling wings of ducks, the erratic hammering of a woodpecker, or the distant howl of a coyote every time.

    The distant rumbling of semi-truck tires on pavement, carried on sub-zero twilight evening as the sky turns from pink to purple, and then utter darkness has its place as well.

    We don’t have trains in the county as we once did, but the mournful whistle of a distant train is another connection to a vanished age.

    This symphony awaits all of us each morning, and I’m thankful for the orchestra.


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