The short drive between Cooke City and Gardiner, the only road through Yellowstone National Park open to automobiles in winter, revealed a medley of wildlife last weekend.
A red fox, its fur thick and lush, wandered a field near Pebble Creek in search of voles. When its prey was located, the fox catapulted straight up into the air and inverted at the jump’s apex to nose-dive into the snow. Reappearing the fox made a few quick, crunchy bites, before swallowing its tiny meal and continuing the search.
Bull bison walked a ridgeline, the peaks of the Beartooth Mountains behind them mirroring their shoulder humps. The group of four males appeared stout and stoic despite the looming threat of winter and food scarcity presented by their high-mountain home.
Pronghorns blend so perfectly into their surroundings at this time of year, their tan and white fur a natural camouflage amid the golden grass and snow. Although they should be used to tourists by now, they still look surprised when a tourist stops for a photograph.
By walking away from the road the snow soon suffocated all sounds of traffic. Only the tinkle of water passing under the hazy ice on Slough Creek broke the all-encompassing shroud of silence. Sun warmed my face. Each breath tasted like a cool cocktail of gently crushed pine needles.
Yellowstone in November is not supposed to be this hospitable. There was no wind, sunshine and a temperature above freezing. The low angle of the sunlight suffused the dried grass in a warm glow. The snow-dusted mountains and valleys were bathed in a days-long “golden hour,” that short timeframe typically only seen around sunrise and sunset.
It is days like this one that I want to capture in a flask, to uncork on dark winter days. What a pleasure it would be, when confined indoors as a blizzard rattles the windows, to sit snug under a blanket and savor a tonic of nature, sunshine and bliss.