Marmots

a productive meander on Gold Ridge

As I slowly meandered up the Gold Ridge trail above the tram, a grouse stepped out of the brush and strode calmly up the trail ahead of me. We walked together but apart for many yards. Next to the trail, a young marmot sat with its head out of its burrow, watching the approaching trail-walkers. As the grouse drew near, the youngster hurriedly pulled back underground. When the grouse passed by, the marmot crept out a little way and carefully watched the bird go on up the trail until it was out of sight. The marmot was quite unconcerned about the human standing next to the burrow—the big worry seemed to be the grouse! Maybe the young marmot had never before seen such a bird, while the humans were too common to warrant a second thought?

Fall is in the air, although it is only the middle of August. (Surely, it’s too soon??? I’m not ready for this!) Alder leaves are brown and crumpling; cottonwood leaves are bronzed. Robins are flocking on beaches and in blueberry patches, and warblers of several species keep company while searching for bugs in the shrubs. Fireweed has gone to seed, spectacularly. During our recent spell of sun, the fluff on the seeds was showing off, especially when backlit. I’ve noticed some visitors admiring the display of open seed pods; they didn’t know what it is, but they saw how pretty it can be. I like to look closely at the open pods (when they are dry) that still contain seeds; they and their fluff are arranged very artistically, arching across between the open sides of the pod. Of course, to the amusement of my hiking companion, I had to help the breeze blow some seeds away to their destiny.

It was a perfect fall day on the ridge. A few hawks migrated along the ridgetops and ravens cavorted in the breeze. The dwarf willows had gone to seed, making mats of seed-bearing white fluff against the dark green of the leaves. Most plants with wind-dispersed seeds bear them high above the ground, where the wide can reach them, but somehow the prostrate dwarf willows must manage to send their seeds aloft despite being so close to the ground. Many of the wildflowers were past blooming too, although we found some louseworts, blue harebells, yellow arnicas, lavender fleabanes, and lots of yellow groundsel. Most of the monkshood flowers were the usual intense purple, while others were purple veined with white.

The best show was stands of the sky-blue broad-petaled gentian. Under sunny skies the flowers opened, and we looked attentively for visiting bumblebees. No luck—the bees were visiting the groundsels, fleabanes, and arnicas. August had seen drenching downpours for days and days, so this was perhaps the first chance for these alpine gentians to open and be pollinated. Did they miss their chance this year?

marmot-with-hay-by-bob-armstrong
Photo by Bob Armstrong

Juvenile marmots were out foraging in many places, intent on filling up before hibernation. One juvenile carried a mouthful of dry grass for a hibernation bed. The few adults we saw were lounging on rocks in the warm sun, letting the kids do the work.

Part of the Parks and Rec hiking group went on up Gastineau Peak, while the rest of us found a cushy spot for lunch at the end of Gold Ridge. The marmots could keep their rocks—we chose a springy cushion of mountain heather on which to sprawl and soak up the rays. It doesn’t get much better than that!

Well, perhaps some cookies….

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