Scientists tell us that the earth is about 4 billion years old; the Rocky Mountains, 70 million. In another 4 billion or so the Sun will have used up its hydrogen fuel and our lovely blue planet will no longer be habitable. Measured against those time scales the span of a human life is short indeed.
Which is why, when you find one of earth’s special places, you should spend as much time there as possible. Especially if the birding is good. The Fat Finchers spent last week at one of those special places, a Colorado guest ranch called 4UR.
The owners of 4UR, the Leavell family, could shut the place down tomorrow if they wanted and they must be tempted from time to time. Fortunately for those of us who know this mountain valley to be one of the earth’s special places, they haven’t. They regard themselves as stewards first; owners second. The 4UR is in good hands and available to those willing and able to pay the freight.
The ranch is best known as a fly fishing destination. Goose Creek flows through the property and is proof of the adage that trout live in beautiful places. Divided into 15 fishing stations the six miles of river traverses at least three zones of flora providing diverse habitat for many birds and four species of trout. (It is a well known secret of private fishing streams that the really large trout are often stockers. They stocked some while we were there. One leviathan was holding in a shallow riffle and allowed me to tickle him. Trout tickling — scratching their bellies until they become semi-comatose is an old method of catching them. And when I say old, I mean it. Shakespeare refers to it more than once. Here is Maria in Twelfth Night, talking about Malvolio, “. . . here comes the trout that must be caught with tickling.” Because it is a “catch and release” stream, I only tickled; I did not catch.)
One of the offerings at the ranch is what they call “The Fifteen Stations Marathon.” To participate you begin fishing at Station One and, as soon as you catch a fish there, move on to the next station and so on until you catch your last fish on Station Fifteen which is almost 1500 feet higher than Station One. You must catch a fish in each station before moving to the next. The current record belongs to the guest ranch manager, Aaron Christensen, who completed the six-mile fishing marathon in 2 hours and 37 minutes. Someone gave it a try last week but surrendered at Station Ten after six hours. It’s not an easy thing to do.
We suggested a similar marathon for birders, one species at each station. Probably, given the number of bird species which summer here, the river could be birded in less time than it takes to fish it. Here is a list of birds we saw:
Mallard duck, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Spotted Sandpiper, Great Horned Owl, Belted Kingfisher, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Rufous Hummingbird, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Dusky Flycatcher, Western Kingbird, Steller’s Jay, Black-billed Magpie, Common Raven, Tree Swallow, Violet Green Swallow, Barn Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Mountain Chickadee, House Wren, American Dipper, Mountain Bluebird, American Robin, Starling, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, MacGillivray’s Warbler, Western Tanager, Green-tailed Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, White-crowned Sparrow, Western Meadowlark, Red-winged Blackbird, and Pine Siskin.
The naturalist Sigurd Olson had what he called his “listening point” to the universe and everyone ought to have a place like it. A place to sit and contemplate and attempt to comprehend the wonder of the planet. Olson’s was in the Boundary Waters of Northern Minnesota; Thoreau had Walden Pond in Massachusetts; John Muir listened in the California Sierra; Edward Abbey in the high deserts of the Southwest; Robert Service in the Yukon; and Wendell Berry on his farm in Kentucky.
If you haven’t found yours yet, you might try 4UR.
By the way, if one of your loved ones is a fly-fisher, here is a photo of one of the fish we caught this week and it is by no means the largest one caught.