Of Mariposa Lilies and Memories

On Saturday, I went for a drive with my Dad and husband south of East Fork Reservoir up the Carp Ridge Road up to the  Maloney Basin trailhead  (now labeled Co Rd 5141 — why oh why must we replace names with numbers — but that’s another story).  The area has enjoyed plentiful rainfall this year allowing wild flowers that are often dead and gone by mid-July (on a good year) to still be flourishing in August.  We saw lupine, paintbrush, sulfur buckwheat, field pussytoes, praire smoke, sticky geranium, gaillardia, bog orchid, sitka valerian, shooting stars, mountain death camas — and mariposa lilies.

Mariposa lilies at Carp Ridge will always be tied in my mind to a day in July of 2006 when I was photographing mariposa lilies on Carp Ridge.

On Saturday July 15, 2006, my great uncle (in his seventies at the time), married his high-school sweetheart.  My sister, a professional floral designer, created their floral pieces for the wedding.   Southwest Montana enjoyed plentiful rain that summer, too, and so there was still beargrass (the grass, not the flower head) aplenty.  The commercially grown long grasses that my sister had ordered for use in the wedding pieces was yucky, so on Thursday, July 13, my sister sent me on a mission to collect some good bear grass.  I had been up in the Carp Ridge area a few days before and knew I would be able to collect some there, so I headed off on my mission, accompanied by my uncle.

We enjoyed a leisurely drive, stopping to enjoy wild flowers and the scenery.  When we arrived at Carp Ridge the slope was beautifully carpeted with mariposa lilies.  I had attached my Raynox DCR-250 macro adapter to my Fuji Finepix s5000, and was happily engaged in photographing the lilies and their pollinators while my uncle strolled around enjoying the variety of wild flowers and collecting bear grass.

Mariposa Lily

Our attention was diverted by a screaming/bleating noise. My uncle said “What was that?!” I replied that there had been open range cattle in the area the previous week that had since been rounded up. Perhaps a calf had been left behind. I surmised the noise was the bleating/crying of a lonely, forlorn calf. Back to photographing and collecting we went.

Shortly thereafter we heard the sound of heavy, labored, struggled breathing. We looked all around but could see nothing that was making that noise. However, the noises now had our full attention. We were up the slope a short way from the road. We walked back down onto the road and started walking back toward the parked vehicle, eyes and heads constantly moving, searching for the source of the noise — me leading and my uncle following. We could hear something struggling to breathe but still couldn’t see it, which was beginning to cause some apprehension on our parts. Then the struggled breathing noises ceased.

As I neared the vehicle, looking down the road and straight west into the setting sun — partially blinded by the sun and haze, I saw a shape come up the slope and up onto the road about 10 yards in front of me. It was an odd, unfamiliar shape. It was a head with curved somethings on the side. My first thought was that it was a large bighorn ram – perhaps sick, dying, struggling… That brief thought was shortly thereafter dispelled when a long tail stretched out, almost entirely across the road.

In the same moment that recognition dawned and I hissed “Cat!” back at my uncle, the mountain lion, for that’s what it was, with it’s front paws wrapped around the neck/head of the large mule deer doe it was dragging, realized that it wasn’t alone. It bolted.

Do I have photos? No. Despite that fact that my camera was around my neck I had two problems: 1) the macro adapter and 2) in the excitement of that briefest of moments of opportunity I quite forgot I even owned a camera. In all honesty I probably wouldn’t have achieved a photo no matter what, shooting straight into the sun, but, there you have it…

So, there we were: the still body of a doe, my uncle and me. No cat. I wanted to see the cat again. I WANTED PHOTOS. I suggested to my uncle that we get in the vehicle and move away then sneak back, but keeping our distance, with hopes that if we distanced ourselves the cat would return for its kill.

My uncle agreed. However, he thought that if we went out of sight the cat could return and drag the deer off and we’d miss it. He feared no one back home would believe our tale. He wanted some evidence to back our story. And so, I circled around the deer to take a photo of it without the sun directly on my lens. Just as I was pressing the shutter for a second photo, the deer jumped up and almost ran right over me. Apparently it had lost consciousness, being strangled by the cat, but had not yet expired before we interrupted the act.

So, my uncle and I left, continued on to the Maloney Basin trailhead, photographed a porcupine, then returned to Anaconda with photos of flowers and the porcupine, a bucket of bear grass, a story, and the memory of an evening we’ll never forget.

Cute & Cuddly

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