Holiday brings memories of critters

Pika country: The little animals live among the rocks, subsisting on hay they put up during the summer.

Elizabeth Widel
Pika country: The little animals live among the rocks, subsisting on hay they put up during the summer.

It has been a long time since I have heard the cry of the pika, a small member of the hare family.

While the North Cascades Highway was being built, the roadbed was in, but not yet surfaced, as far as Lone Fir Campground. If you wanted to go farther up, you walked.

It was still in those days – feet don’t make much noise – and you could hear the rush of Early Winters Creek at the bottom of the valley. And over and among the cries of birds, the wind in the trees, the rushing water, would come the bright “Pitt!” of a pika. I don’t think I ever saw one, but they were there and made themselves known.

The pika is much smaller than a hare. He’s a farmer, cutting grasses and curing them in the sun, then storing them in places that offer cover for use when snow locks up the high country where pikas live.

But he has to be cautious, for all kinds of other wildlife prey on him, all the way from other ground animals to the huge raptor birds that can swoop down soundlessly - flying death for the careless.

A poem I once read concluded: “Here where the wild things stay, peace is so deep. Dear God, I do not wonder they can sleep.” Beautiful, but it isn’t that simple for the wild things.

I have wondered many times if the pikas up that long stretch of road that leads to the hairpin curves around the base of Liberty Bell Mountain are still there, still calling “Pitt!” and still harvesting their crops of hay, dodging predators, and holing up for winter.

Have they become used to the rushing sounds of passing cars, or have they moved on to a quieter locale? I’ll never know.

Another example of how hard life can be for some of the wild things: This comes from a movie broadcast of some years ago. It depicted a fight between a raptor and a large snake. (How the photographer managed to be there just then is a marvel.)

The photographer got a picture of the snake and the arrival of the raptor, who landed in front of the snake with a bump. The fight followed, and the raptor won. The final shot was of the big bird flying off with the snake dangling from its talons.

I presume it was taking the snake to a nest and nestlings somewhere.

My nephew, some years ago on a Boy Scout campout, said one of the things they did was eat some rattlesnake. It tasted something like chicken, he said, but had an awful lot of bones. I don’t know who provided the snake for them.

Well, thanks, but no thanks.

I am writing this on Thanksgiving Day. I hope yours was pleasant and satisfactory.

Elizabeth Widel is a columnist for

The Chronicle. This is the 2,827th column in a series. She may be reached at 509-826-1110.


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