Outdoor Report

Muskrat Love?

Posted 1/12/21

Some days are better than others.

I was having a bad one when I remembered a friend telling me about some suspicious critters in the Garland Canal.

As I pulled into a nearby gravel lot, a flock …

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Outdoor Report

Muskrat Love?


Some days are better than others.

I was having a bad one when I remembered a friend telling me about some suspicious critters in the Garland Canal.

As I pulled into a nearby gravel lot, a flock of mallards scattered, golden light catching in the spray. The sun was about to go behind the Big Horn Co-op so I hurried my process of mounting a long lens and monopod to my camera. I positioned myself behind a utility pole — a lame attempt to hide my portly frame behind the thin wooden pole.

Within minutes little balls of fur began foraging in the water in front of me. Through my experience following a fur trapper in Nebraska, I recognized them as muskrats. I remember him telling me it takes three to make a hat.

That stupid Captain and Tennille tune suddenly came to mind.

I worked to get close, yet not so close as to make them nervous. They’re used to human pressure living in the canal near Powell’s busy main street as it crosses north to south along the highway. As they dived and propelled themselves up and down the canal with jet black tails and tiny legs, I could feel my bitterness ease.

Recently I got a phone call that my dear friend Vivian Hartwig, of Pender, Nebraska, had passed away. She had many health issues, including COVID-19. I met Vivian through her son, Bill. The two of us spent hours hiking in the Missouri and Platte River valleys every spring for years.

Through the years I became friends with the family. Vivian was a wonderful lady with an honest smile and bright eyes. After my mom died and I moved to Powell, Vivian and I exchanged letters. She said she could feel my pain and offered to be my second mom. I was touched.

Then, as the pandemic settled on us, we lost touch. My fault. When Bill called to break the news, I felt terrible. I had failed to stay in contact.

A similar thing happened with my mother. I was out of town on assignment when she lived her final full day. By the time I made it to the hospital she was unconscious. The decision to take the job haunts me. I never know what to say in times of trouble, but would have liked to have tried.

Vivian’s death brought home my regrets and I’ve been a bit depressed since. But, as I watched the muskrats, somewhat poisoned by that stupid song flashing in my head, my thoughts began to turn from morose. I might have even smiled a couple times as the furball family gathered dried crabapples for dinner, disappearing in one hole along the banks and popping out another.

“And they whirl and they twirl and they tango

Singing and Jinging a Jango

Floating like the heavens above

Looks like Muskrat Love”

Somebody shoot me. I was once told the only way to get a song out of your head is hearing the ending. It kind of works, but I refused to look up the 70s hit on YouTube.

Since moving to town I’ve seen or reported quite a few species of wildlife in our city. The list includes a bear, mountain lion (just outside city limits), snakes, hawks, eagles, pelicans, numerous song birds and quite a few bunnies. On Monday I saw a sharp-shinned hawk take what looked to be an English sparrow on Bent Street, perching above Plaza Diane to consume its dinner.

John Muir wrote “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.”

The problem may be that Muir never teamed up with a partner to match his words to catchy little tunes. But nature, even within the city limits, does have the power to heal the soul. Despite Captain and Tennille.

Outdoor Report


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