Losing–The Baldy Pack

Photo Credit: Mark Dumont Flickr via Compfight cc

My short piece about the Baldy Pack and the politics of wolf reintroduction is in the June issue of The Sun in the “Readers Write” column.

As published:

On November 8, 2016, Donald J. Trump was elected president of the United States. Now, three weeks later, winter has arrived in the White Mountains of Arizona.  Temperatures have dropped to single digits, and there is new snow on the ground.  Undeterred by the cold, two Mexican wolves trot through stands of ponderosa pine and weave among bare aspen trees.  A mated pair, they are tracking a herd of elk.  The heavy undercoats they have grown over the last few months keep them warm and dry.

The wolves know nothing of politics or national borders.  Their territory straddles the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest (ASNF) and the Fort Apache Indian Reservation (FAIR) in the shadow of Mount Baldy.  They are two of fewer than a hundred Mexican gray wolves left in the wild.  Threats to their population abound:  A blow to the head from the hoof of an elk.  Ambush by a mountain lion.  Starvation.  Humans with vehicles and guns.  And inbreeding.  Local resistance—primarily from ranchers and hunters—to reintroducing wolves has made it nearly impossible to move animals bred in captivity into the wild.

Our pair of wolves, though, are not related.  In January or February, if all goes well, they will breed.  By then a new president will have been sworn in.  So far the incoming administration has shown little regard for endangered species.  There are numerous bills and amendments in Congress that aim to cut funding for the reintroduction effort and possibly remove wolves from the endangered-species list, stripping all protection.  These bills are nothing new, but after January 20 we will have a president who is likely to sign them.

The days are growing shorter.  The two wolves run silently through the woods.  They are lucky: they do not know they have lost.


Six months have passed since I wrote those words.  In November and December the two wolves, M1347 and f1445, were “located within their traditional territory in the eastern portion of the FAIR and the northern portion of the ASNF.”  Since then they have not been located according to the monthly status reports.

I hope for the best, but fear the worst.





Birdwatching in Orlando

In the end I left my binoculars and field guide at home. The trip was a short one for Dave to attend a convention in Orlando where we stayed on International Drive (I-Drive)—an eleven-mile strip of chain restaurants, outlet malls, and amusement parks—not an obvious place to look for nature.

April was a hectic travel month with one day between west and east coast trips, so I only had time for a quick glance at a map before we repacked our suitcases and ran for a flight to Florida. A wildlife refuge had caught my eye, but it wasn’t until my first morning in Orlando that I got a chance to check it out more closely.

Dusky Seaside Sparrow by John James Audubon

St. Johns Refuge is located 45 miles east of the city, established in 1971 along the St. Johns River to protect the habitat of the endangered dusky seaside sparrow.  The little songbird has since been declared extinct.  The refuge is maintained today for several other threatened and endangered species but is closed to the public.

On my second day I was drinking a cup of coffee at a sidewalk table when I noticed the ducks.  Mallards—youngsters, I think.  They were foraging in the planter between I-Drive and the parking lot.  Two of them got into a scrap just before one of the females waddled  into the parking lot to cross over to another landscaped area, no different from the first: crape myrtles, honeysuckle, monkey grass.  I held my breath as she dawdled, crossing the driveway leading to the Starbuck’s drive-thru.  I feared a caffeine-deprived, late-to-work commuter would come wheeling in and run over her, but she made it.  The others were wise enough to fly across the drive into the Walgreen’s flower bed.  When I left a group of noisy crows had gathered on the roof to lecture the invading ducks.

Photo Credit: Paula Nixon

A few hours later at a bustling outdoor mall this guy with the crazy hairdo caught my eye.  It took me a moment to figure out he was a fledging—a starling, I think.  I stopped and watched from a distance as his mom encouraged him and he made a short clumsy flight up to an awning.  Shoppers hurried through the plaza never giving the birds a second glance. When Mom disappeared the youngster was stuck, couldn’t remember how to get his wings moving.  I forced myself to leave, certain she was nearby and would soon return to continue his flying lessons.

And that was the highlight of my trip to Orlando—not bad for never straying more than a few blocks off of I-Drive!


To Eat Just Once

To Eat Just Once:
Remembering a Ranger Lecture at
Yellowstone National Park
For Mel

After they kill, the wolves eat just once.

The pack, all tooth and jaw, with ribcages that jut
like opened Texas toothpick knives, feasts.

Their gray bellies fill and sag with new meat.

They used to eat twice or even three times
from downed prey, a straggling old deer or a slow fawn—

their dead eyes, like tumbled obsidian, still catching light—
the body dragged into an old tree

or quickly buried and left for later.
However, ranchers started poisoning

hidden carcasses so that at the second
meal, the wolves, bloated with pain,

would die.  Some, however, did live
and taught the others to eat just once

and leave like a swift wind,
a scattered gray line galloping into night.
—Kevin Rabas Lisa’s Flying Electric Piano

I am ending where I started, at the beginning of April, with a poem about wolves.   I have never met Kevin Rabas, but he was kind enough to allow me to reprint the full text of his poem. In this interview with KCUR 89.3 he offered three tips for writers.

Thank you Kevin and congratulations on being named the next Poet Laureate of Kansas!

Bear Season

We all want to see a mammal.
Squirrels & snowshoe hares don’t count.
Voles don’t count. Something, preferably,
that could do us harm.
Elizabeth Bradfield

Across the country from Connecticut to Mississippi* to California  bears are waking up and lumbering out of their dens.

No sign of them in my neighborhood yet–I’m hoping there’s enough food on the mountain to satisfy them and keep them out of trouble.

*Natchez: A wildlife biologist is warning people not to feed a young black bear that’s been wandering the streets of downtown.  US Today 4/19/17

Discovering William Stafford

Traveling through the dark I found a deer
dead on the edge of the Wilson River road.
It is usually best to roll them into the canyon:
that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.
—William Stafford

Years ago I heard my first William Stafford poem on the radio program Writer’s Almanac.  Garrison Keillor mentioned that Stafford was born in Hutchinson, Kansas in 1914 and I was curious to know more about him. Much to my surprise he had graduated from Liberal High School, my high school, but I  don’t remember ever hearing him mentioned.  Maybe I wasn’t paying attention.  

I’ve been looking for the perfect poem of his to share but have been unable to find the one about minnows that I wanted to post.  The one linked below is a new one to me, a chance encounter on a dark road.

Traveling through the Dark 



Spring Cleaning

Don’t worry, spiders,
I keep house
Kobayashi Issa

My housekeeping philosophy until the imminent arrival of company. Time to get out the dust mop—all spiders have got to go!



a big-nosed roan gelding, calm as a president’s portrait
lives in the rectangle that leads to the stalls.  We call it
the motel lobby. Wise old campaigner, he dunks his

hay in the water bucket to soften it, then visits the others
who hang their heads over their dutch doors. Sometimes
he sprawls out flat to nap in his commodious quarters.
Maxine Cumin

One of my favorites—a poem about a horse named Jack and so much more.




Little Goats

The little goats like my mouth and fingers,
and one stands up against the wire fence, and taps on the fence board
a hoof made blacker by the dirt of the field.
Mark Doty

I discovered Pescadero and Mark Doty in The New Yorker.  The magazine recently launched a new feature on Twitter, a poem a day from their archives.  Check it out at @tnypoetry.

Yes.  I know my formatting was messed up on yesterday’s poem-—the trials of trying to post from a smart phone.  It’s fixed now.


Coyote, with Mange

Why have you chosen to punish the coyote
rummaging for chicken bones in the dung heap,
shucked the fur from his tail
and fashioned it into a scabby cane?
Mark Wunderlich

Photo By: Paula Nixon

I said no photos but couldn’t resist posting this one again.  It goes so well with today’s poem, Coyote, with Mange.

My little corner of New Mexico would not be the same without our native canid.  This year our state legislature came close to banning coyote killing contests, but it didn’t happen.  The bill passed three committees and the Senate, but died at the end of the  session before it made it to a vote on the floor of the House.

Maybe next year.


Breakfast with Mary

a fainting, ghostly presence
with a tail so naked it was
embarrassed to drag behind him.
Faith Shearin

My mother-in-law and I sat at the kitchen table.  She was eating oatmeal while I read Possum in the Garbage aloud.  Mary doesn’t say much, so I wasn’t sure if she liked the poem or not.  She has her favorites, many memorized in grammar school back in New Jersey.  Somewhere, I have a recording of her reciting Wordsworth’s I wandered lonely as a cloud.