When everyone looked up, I looked down

Well, not exactly. I watched the moon take a chunk out of the sun on the morning of August 21 from high up on the Beaver Rim in central Wyoming. First the eclipse looked a little bit like the sun and the moon were telling time — the sun a clock registering 10 minutes after the hour as the moon cut a swath between the 12 and the 2. A few minutes later, it registered 20 minutes after the hour. But soon the clock disappeared and a crescent sun emerged as the moon continued in its orbit, slowly sliding into place between the Rocky Mountains of North America and the sun 90 million miles away.

From where we camped, on a plateau of federal grazing land looking out over the Wind River Basin a few hundred feet below, there wasn’t a soul in sight. Unless you think cows have souls. Or wild horses. Or pronghorn. Or rattlesnakes. Because all of these creatures shared the plateau and the basin with us. They may or may not have souls. (I’m kind of leaning towards yes they do.) But one thing they certainly have in spades is poop. And as a transplant from the East, exploring this wide- open arid space with almost no trees or shrubs, it suddenly struck me that there was poop all around us. Big cow patties of course, but also perfectly shaped pellets from pronghorn, and huge piles of horse shit. (I don’t know what rattlesnake poop looks like, but I’m sure it was there too because we got rattled at by a snake the evening before.)

The poop appeared in varying stages of desiccation, from ancient flat beige patties to nicely brown pellets to impressive piles of manure. (“What’s up with that?” my husband asked as we confronted a stack piled particularly high. The biologist in me suggested that the stallions mark their territories with pyramids of poop. Note to self: look that up). There was so much of it everywhere, mostly hard and harmless from the harsh sun and constant wind, that you really didn’t pay it any mind. Even when chowing down on your camp stew in a dusty canvas chair inches away from samples provided by a menagerie of local species.

Well it must be the same back East, I thought; that is, we must have been surrounded by poop all the time on our wild treks on the Appalachian Trail and at various national parks and monuments. All that dense wooded habitat housing fox, deer, bear, rabbits, squirrels, skunks, raccoons, and more must have been covered in poop. It’s just that with all those trees and shrubs and grass and cover, we rarely saw it. Or not. Maybe it decomposed more quickly back East in the rich moist soil with hundreds of species of bugs and bacteria just waiting to attack it and we really were never surrounded by poop. Maybe that eastern poop just didn’t stand a chance in that environment. (Note to self: look that up.)

Regardless, here we are living in a poop-prominent zone and loving it. Funny how perspective can change from one place to another. Suddenly an 11-hour drive to stand in the middle of nowhere wearing goofy glasses surrounded by poop seemed like a reasonable thing to do for a long weekend. Just like suddenly, from where we were standing on the morning of August 21, the moon looked as big as the sun for a minute and a half.

Note to self: a new perspective on just about anything, can change everything.

Photo by John Amos

Writer of wildlife, wild lands, community & the American West Selector of films for @ConservationFF #scicomm coach for @COMPASSonline Tweets are my own.