Preliminary Numbers

Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I’ve been digging into the numbers from the election.

It’s hard for me to make any firm conclusions since I don’t know how many people voted in the Pierre city election. The tallies I have are County numbers which include people who could not vote for me. The Secretary of State’s voter turn out reports shows 3,721 people voted in this election but not all 3,721 were eligible to vote for me.

The numbers are further complicated by the fact that people could cast two votes. In total there were 6,092 votes cast. This is not 6,092 people. And you can’t simply divide 6,092 in half because there are people who bullet voted, or voted for only one candidate.

I’ve done some back of envelope math using votes in the presidential primaries and voting centers (though people in the county can also vote in the in-town voting centers) to get a rough estimate of how many people voted in the city election. A good working number is 3,500. It may be lower but I don’t think it’s much higher.

I did have 1155 people vote for me but that is not a clear number of supporters. If people could only vote for one, would they have voted for me? It’s hard to tell how many people would pick me as their first choice.

So looking at the numbers, with all the caveats the explanation above suggests, this is what I see.

There are about 7,000 registered voters in Pierre of about 10,500 residents over the age of 18. Of those 7,000 about 42% are age 50-69.

Screenshot from Census Viewer

About half of the registered voters in Pierre voted in this election.

Because Steve and Blake were close in numbers, and Jamie and I were close in numbers, I am going to assume there was a lot of paired voting: Steve/Blake and Jamie/me. There might have been a few people who voted in some other combination and then there are the people who bullet voted

This means that had Jamie not run, I don’t think my numbers would have gone up much. And my gut tells me that Jamie, hometown resident, would have won over me had Steve or Blake not run.

I have an email into Kevin Hipple to find out how to get the demographic information of voters in this election, assuming it’s possible at all. I’m curious how many of the 18-39 year old voted.

I suspect that one of the reasons I did so poorly was that a goodly percentage of voters who actually voted were in that 50-69 demographic. During the chicken ordinance hearing at city commission, the age demographics of who supported it (younger) and who opposed it (older) were clearly demarcated.

The only scenario where I can see that I might (stress might) have gotten elected is if there were a lot of new voters from that younger demographic, especially if it turns out they were not already well represented.

Campaign Debrief

Yesterday, the day after the election, was rough. The only thing that made it less rough was that I knew going into Election Day the day after would be hard and I would just have to ride it out.

Fortunately, it was a short ride. At my darkest moment, I seriously contemplated heading out to Yellowstone National Park for a week. In hindsight, I have to say if going to National Parks is how I respond to emotional distress, then I’m in a very good place in life.

I am feeling well enough today that I am able to think about the campaign with some objectivity. I am convinced that the reason I did so poorly despite a strong online presence, solid command of the issues, effective communication, more door to door than the other candidates, and a clear, positive message was the chickens.


Chickens kept coming up throughout the campaign, even as late as Sunday when a man told my mother in law Lona “I’m not voting for Anne Lewis. She wants chickens!” Then he shut the door before she could say anything.

If I had to do it all over again, I might have made “I’m not running for chickens” a bigger talking point. Maybe my tag line should have been for a strong and healthy, chicken-free Pierre?

I don’t know if a stronger no chicken message would have helped since I am so closely identified with the urban chicken ordinance. The reason I didn’t talk more about chickens is I thought I was letting the issue fade into the background. I would let other messages define my campaign. I didn’t want to remind people about the chickens, but as it turns out that’s already what they were thinking.


The gut puncher in all this is not that I lost –  I knew Steve and Blake were very strong candidates – but that I lost by so much. I thought a realistic scenario was that I would place high enough to legitimize another run.

But coming in after Jamie who was the protest candidate (always a hard position to win from) and only had her long standing in the community and strong sign coverage to her advantage was the wake up call that I am un-electable in Pierre.

The way I look at this now is not that I only got 18.9% of the vote but that I managed to get 18.9%. I’m convinced that had we not done the work we did I would have showed even worse. So while I don’t feel good about the election, I do realize that there were 1155 people out there that supported me and not all of them were tree hugging hippies. They were also the people who pay close attention to the issues.  But, they are the exception than the rule.

Anyway. I’ve been reading this quote by Theodore Roosevelt. It comes from his speech Citizenship in a Republic given at the Sorbonne in April 1910.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

I know defeat.  I am not cold and timid. But I’m also not stupid so once I get my emotional wind back, I think I’ll find a hobby other than city politics.


I’ve been thinking about stretch.

I’ve been thinking about resilience too.

Resilience is the ability to bounce back after some hardship or trauma. Having slack in your life, a little breathing room, helps with resilience. If you are maxed out, it’s hard to have enough give or slack to absorb any impact.

This is a good thing to keep in mind when thinking about stretch. When you stretch, make sure you leave a little in reserve. A maxed out stretch is ok for a bit – that’s way you gain flexibility – but you can’t live that way.

Like almost everything else, this is both/and not either/or thinking.


Is it too late to do a New Year’s post? It’s January 3rd and some people have already set and abandoned their resolutions. I feel like I am behind the curve in that I am just now publicly committing to my One Word.

First, some background. One Word is a new, social way to approach resolutions You pick one word that will be your theme for the coming year, find others who have picked the same or similar words and then spend the coming year focusing on that word.

I know myself well enough that I will not commit to actively engaging around one word for a full year. A season, maybe, but not a year. Last year, I was looking at texture for my one word, mainly in the context of my personal life though parsing apart personal and professional is not always possible.

This year I am noodling on the word “stretch”. The word is more professional than personal for me. Professionally, I’ve made it a point to continue to grow and learn and acquire new skills. But I can tell – perhaps from age or familiarity with my job (12 years this summer) – it’s been a while since I’ve extended myself beyond my usual range of motion.

Stretch implies going for something just out of reach, expanding. When you are young (or new) everything is a stretch because you are learning the basics and essentials. At some point, you should master them. But once you do, then what?

The risk is you stop stretching, staying within the range of what is comfortable. The concern there is once you stop you imperceptibly begin to contract and that in turn eventually leads to stiffness.

The metaphor abounds here.

I’m aware of the dangers of stretching, continuing with the metaphor; reach exceeding grasp, pulls and tears and so forth.

Despite the risks the word for the next six to twelve weeks is stretch. It feels right.

What Watson Told Me

Watson, the supercomputer, can get a read on your personality based on your writing.

I was curious (which killed the cat so you have been warned) so I plunked into the analyzer some recent blog posts from my personal and work blogs, some Facebook posts and a few tweets. This is what it said about me after analyzing 6,073 words I’ve written online.



You are inner-directed and shrewd.

You are independent: you have a strong desire to have time to yourself. You are reserved: you are a private person and don’t let many people in. And you are empathetic: you feel what others feel and are compassionate towards them.

You are motivated to seek out experiences that provide a strong feeling of well-being.

You are relatively unconcerned with tradition: you care more about making your own path than following what others have done. You value independence a bit more: you like to set your own goals to decide how to best achieve them.

I think this is mostly accurate. Not terribly flattering (shrewd? who wants to be called shrewd?) but accurate-ish.

I’m scratching my head about the things that I am lower in according to the full profile. It says, for example, that I’m low in curiosity (33%) which is A need to pursue experiences that foster learning, exploration, and growth.

It also says that I’m unlikely to respond on social media, buy eco-friendly, or treat myself.


Re: social media. I think I over respond if anything. Not so much in the comments section of news articles, the place where civility and discourse has gone to die killed by people more concerned with making their points than contributing substantively to the conversation. Rather, I respond to more personal posts and news.

Eco-friendly? I buy eco-friendly!…. ok, I’m thinking about this and I realize my eco-friendly may be different than other people’s eco-friendly. Life cycle analysis, people. It’s REDUCE first, reuse, then recycle.

And treat myself? Have you seen my clothing purchases the last year? After years and years of buying WalMart clothes I’m upgrading my wardrobe. I flirted with upscale cosmetics (not for long, didn’t justify the expense). I also spend a lot of money on my hair but my stylist is a professional and I think she deserves to be well paid.

Some of my lowest scores ring very true.

I’m at 13% on the introversion/extroversion scale.
Higher: More energetic and pronounced engagement with the external world. Likes high group visibility, talking, and asserting themselves. Lower: Needs less stimulation and are more independent of their social world. 

11% Tradition. Respect, commitment, and acceptance of the customs and ideas that one’s culture and/or religion provides. Actually, this one explains a lot.

7% Ideal. A desire to satisfy one’s idea of perfection in a lifestyle or experience, oftentimes seen as pursuing a sense of community.

3% Gregariousness. Fondness for the company of others; sociability.

Geeze, this makes me sound like a grumpy old man.

There are things that I am high in that seem to contradict the lower scores.

Stimulation (66%) Excitement, novelty, and challenge in life. How can I be lower in curiosity but higher in stimulation?

And openness to experience (79% one of my highest scores) seems to contradict this too.

Openness to experience. Higher: Intellectually curious, emotionally-aware, sensitive to beauty and willing to try new things. Lower: Preferring the plain, straightforward, and obvious over the complex, ambiguous, and subtle.

More than any other quality I think openness to experience describes me.

I am relieved to see that I rate fairly high in Helping Others and Harmony.

I also score high in emotional range. Higher: More likely to have negative emotions or get upset. It could mean they are going through a tough time. Lower: More calm and less likely to get upset. It does not mean they are positive, or happy people.

I like to think of this as I feel deeply. I don’t see myself as someone who is chronically or easily upset. Maybe I am but I’ve learned to process the emotions? Or maybe this is where the tool needs some refining.

Now what?

I breathed a little too many toxic fumes of fear and hate this week so I set my mind to finding an antidote.

Pushing back on fear and hate is tough but not impossible. You do have to be careful. You don’t want to stoke the fire because you fear and hate hate and fear.

I have a thesis that the secret to the good people winning is they do good things. It’s doing what you can, where you are; to first be and then spread integrity, compassion, order, wonder, humbleness, beauty, and hope. My experience says fear and hate don’t do well in those conditions.

This is my checklist of actions when the world feels like it’s on fire, and I’m too far away to aim a hose at it. This is a list for my anxious, angry self from my best self.

Pick and choose, start one and do it imperfectly or incompletely. Accomplishment is not the goal; being is.

  • Read a book. It should be a book that won’t automatically confirm your biases. Avoid books by pundits and columnists. Pride and Prejudice is a good one to read. If you don’t want to reread that one search 100 must read books.  There are a lot of lists out there.
  • Tidy up. Start by throwing away garbage. (This is a literal and metaphorical task. Pick the one that best fits for your situation.) Then put stuff away. If your stuff doesn’t have an “away” spot, find one. If you don’t have room for it, get rid of other stuff till you do.
  • Move. Not move as in get a new house but get up and do something. I recently found out that any type of exercise helps lower blood pressure, apparently by “altering blood vessel stiffness so blood flows more freely”. Again, there are literal and metaphorical applications. Regardless if your ailment is physical or emotional stiffness, movement will help.
  • Get outdoors. Look, this is just how I roll. And when you go outside, breathe deeply. Look at things. Take pictures if you want. Sharpening your photographer’s eye will help you find moments of beauty as you go through your day.
  • Sharpening your photographer’s eye brings me to the next one, learn. I’ve learned a few basic photography principles and now I take occasionally good photos. Learning has been therapeutic. Learning takes time and energy yes, but it’s time and energy you would have spent on despairing.
  • Give. Give money. Give time. Give kindness. Give someone the benefit of a doubt. Give forgiveness. Give patience and understanding. Give the security of kind and consistent firmness. Give yourself a break.

And just as a reminder, the world has often felt dark. Apparently, it felt dark in 1973 for a certain Mr Nadeau who had lost faith in humanity. He wrote to E.B. White and Mr White responded.

Since we’ve made it this far, I have hope.

White’s missive, penned on March 30, 1973, when he was 74, endures as a spectacular celebration of the human spirit:

Dear Mr. Nadeau:

As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.

Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society — things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.

Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.


E. B. White

A cold night, a long hike, a good story.

I went to the Badlands for a microadventure Friday Nov 7. I needed a change of scenery and a chance to clear my mind. The weather predictions called for chilly temps (overnight low of 27°) but no precip nor high winds. Since I have a cot and 20°F rated sleeping bag, not to mention performance base layer tights and a stove to boil water, I was good to go.

I got out of Pierre later than I intended, around 3:30pm central time. It takes two solid hours to get to Sage Creek Wilderness campground. I knew local Pierre sunset was around 5:30 CST. Surely sunset at the Badlands National Park would be a little later, closer to 6 central.

It wasn’t. The official sunset time, as it turned out, for Friday Nov 7 at Badlands National Park was 4:35 MST (5:35 Central).  As I drove, I watched the sinking sun and doing the “how many fingers between the sun and horizon” math, I realized I was in a race with sunset.   I drove to Wall, stopping for doughnuts (there is always time for doughnuts) and entered the park through the Pinnacles entrance.

Aside: I have an annual national park pass. I also have an annual state park pass. Parks are underfunded but give you some of the best recreation value you can get for the money. Stop trying to sneak into parks without paying. Buy the damn pass.

The sun had dropped below the highest ridges when I turned onto Sage Creek Rim Road. I passed by Hay Butte overlook. The basin below was a cold gray of twilight. The golden sunset still lit the upper reaches of the basin along the road which is why I suppose there was so much wildlife to be seen there.

The Sage Creek Rim Road is washboard gravel. You don’t speed even if you aren’t looking at scenery or wildlife.  This was a good thing because just As I passed the Hay Butte overlook I saw a large animal in the road. What was it? It wasn’t a bison. I didn’t think there were elk in the park. I slowed to a crawl. Closer, closer… it was a big horn sheep.

I stopped the car to let the bighorn approach me and pass. The sheep glanced at me as it neared. For one tiny nanosecond, I thought it was going to drop its head and charge. I’m amazed by what can flit through your mind in such a short amount of time; images of airbags and crumpled grills, trying to explain to a body shop. Happily the sheep veered off the road and trotted around me.

A little further along the road, there were bison. Lots and lots of bison. Bison, in my opinion, are the original FU animals. They just don’t care and if you annoy them for reasons known only to them, they are perfectly ok ramming into you. I have never heard of a bison actually ramming a car.… Wait. I just googled this. Apparently bison do ram cars. I’m not surprised, not surprised at all.

Fortunately, I did not have to navigate the bison jam alone. I pulled up behind another car so I let him take the lead and the ramming risk in clearing the bison from the road. They trudged off and in two memorable cases trudged back on the road (see? they don’t care) but I made it through without incident. So many bison congregated in one spot made me hopeful that this meant that most of the bison would be up on the road rather than in the campground.

The Sage Creek Wilderness area campground is not really a campground by most people’s standards. A side gravel road leads you a mile off the main gravel road to an oval approximately a quarter mile round with about a ten picnic tables in the center, and a few more off to one side for the horse area. There are pit toilets at either end along with trash receptacles and an announcement board warning of bison and rattlesnakes. There are no electrical hooks up, water spigots, lights, campfire rings (in fact, campfires are prohibited) or designated spots. It’s first come, first serve, according to the literature. I’ve been there on Labor Day weekend and while there were a lot of tents, it could hardly be called full.

Google Maps satellite photo of Sage Creek Campground.

Every time I’ve been to the Sage Creek campground, either for camping or hiking, I’ve seen bison nearby. They wander through the campground regularly as the numerous bison pies that dot the interior of the loop attest. My last visit I had a too close for comfort encounter so I’m very happy with bison being someplace else if I’m there. I suppose they feel same way so we make an uneasy peace. Well, I make the uneasy peace. The bison, being the FU animals, don’t care and will continue to do as they please

I followed the car into the turn off to the campground where we navigated another herd standing in the road. When we pulled up to the loop, we pulled over, me passing and parking in front of him far enough to give us both “elbow room”. I hopped out of my car and ran back to thank him for taking the lead. I didn’t get his name. He was British by accent and had been there once before in February (February!). I told him I was from Pierre.

Since the light was getting fainter that was as far as our conversation got. I was curious about what brought him there in February but the looming dark meant that I needed to get my tent up and dinner on. It was also a little chilly for a casual chat.

I have an REI half dome tent which is easy to put up. Five minutes, claim the advertisements and I can do it in just about that amount of time, even in low light, cold conditions. Tent up; cot, sleeping bag and liner (darn, I forgot my sleeping pad) into the tent along with a few other bags and it was time to make dinner.

My stove of choice is a biolite stove which uses twigs as its fuel source. It’s as much for emergency preparedness as camping since fuel is plentiful and free. I start mine with a firestarter stick lit by a butane lighter. The stove creates a nice flame (another benefit when camping and you can’t have a campfire) which heats things quickly. A disadvantage is I only know how to get one setting, roaring, which makes cooking tricky.

I heated up the beans and corn stew with tortilla almost without incident. The tortilla got a little black in spots but I’m casual about burned food. I think char adds a nice smoky note to almost any dish.

I ate, had a glass of wine, did some low level clean up, spent a few moments gazing at the night sky (spectacular with no moon and no light pollution) and then retired to my tent before 7:30pm central. I sat on my cot, toes buried in my sleeping bag, reading and hearing the occasional coyote howl.

It did not take long before even that, with my multiple layers of clothes (3 below the waist, five above including a Patagonia nanopuff) was not enough. I crawled into my sleeping bag to stay warm and promptly fell asleep.

I woke up intermittently through the night, partly because of coyote howls, partly because a flair up of chronic aches and pains. Around 4am I tweeted “Don’t coyotes ever sleep?”. I was as dyspeptic as I sounded. I was buried deep in my sleeping bag but when I stuck my nose out the night air felt sharp and cold. What a cold wimp I had become over the summer, I thought.

The next time I woke up it was about 7am central and it was almost sunrise. I disentangled myself from bag, remarking to myself – again – on the cold.

My morning was … challenging. My fingers, despite my cotton gloves, got painfully cold. It took me longer than it should have to get a flame off the butane lighter to start the fire for my coffee. The twigs I had for fuel were too long which made heating the coffee difficult and in fact, the pot tipped over and I lost half my coffee. (I know, right?). And my toes got colder and colder, past pain to numbness.

Good sense finally prevailed over a tough-it-out attitude and once I had a cup of coffee I got in the car to warm my feet and to defrost the car which had a solid crust of ice on it.

When I took my shoes off my feet were the waxy white with bluish tinge of mild frostbite.  I’ve had mild frostbite before and previous history is a risk factor for it happening again. As a wilderness first responder I know the symptoms, I know the risk factors.  Knowing all this didn’t help with prevention, though.

I warmed my feet up; the pain level for such is about a 3, a smidge too high to distract myself with a book or even my phone so I watched the sunrise light move down the ridges into the little valley and ached.

Once the worst passed I ate the doughnuts. As a wilderness first responder I also know that when you eat your metabolism revs up so I was, technically, administering first aid. Plus, it was doughnuts.

After about 40 minutes both the car and I were defrosted. I decided to break down camp and head into Wall for more coffee. I noticed that the car of the guy who had led me into the campground was gone but his tent was still there. I like to imagine he was researcher of some sort.

As I packed up, I saw the half full gallon jug of water I had put in my tent was slushy. And the tent fly interior was rimed with ice, frozen condensation from breathing. Wow, I thought, 27° weather is harsher than I thought.<

I got into a conversation with one of the other five, widely dispersed sets of campers (elbow room, it’s a thing). He had an REI quarter dome and I wanted his opinion on it. We chatted at length the way you do when an extrovert is part of the conversation (not me). He was from Colorado. He was camping with his daughter to do some hiking. I gave him some recommendations. We both commented on the cold and he said that his thermometer read 16° that morning.

16°. Well, that explained a lot. I made a note to buy a good pair of warm boots for next time.

I sat on the picnic bench in my camp chair in the sun enjoying being in the light. The coffee I had spilled earlier had frozen into a a half inch thick rim of ice on the table and sparkled. That it wasn’t melting right away even in the sun told me that it was still plenty cold out. But the sun made it feel warmer. I’m aware this might have been due more to psychology than physics.

I realized I would have to move eventually if I wanted to get any hiking in. Time to leave. First stop, Wall for coffee.

But it’s hard to make a beeline trip  through the Badlands. The basin stretched out below which had been gray the previous night was bright in the late morning sun. I had to stop.

I was not the only one who was called to pull over. I passed a car on the shoulder. A photographer with a large camera that implied money and skill was at work about 50 feet off the road.

I use my phone for all my pictures. I do this as my own personal challenge. How good can I make my pictures with equipment that is within reach of most people? (I use a low end phone and a low end phone service too.) I do this out of conviction that almost anyone can add beauty and discovery and adventure into their lives.

I confess that I have camera envy and sometimes when a picture doesn’t come out well I give serious thought about buying a better quality camera.

But I don’t. I’m already creeping up in cost of my outdoor gear and that feels like I’m cheating.

Unfortunately, I have yet to get a really good picture of the Badlands with my phone. There is a series of red and yellow paleosols that when juxtaposed with the sage green of the grass makes me wish I could paint the world or at least a room in those colors. Can I capture them with my camera? Not yet.

But there is plenty I can record to my satisfaction. (Please note that I said satisfaction. I know I’m not a professional photographer for many reasons, the camera being the least of them).

The signs in this part of the park are surrounded by stout wooden poles. I don’t know for sure but I suspect this is to keep the bison and perhaps the bighorn sheep from using the signs as scratching posts. The life of a bison must be an itchy one because if bison are in proximity to a post you will often see one scratching itself.

At the Sage Creek Basin overlook, there is a tree below the overlook.

I walked down and noted that one of the branches was polished smooth.

There were bison tracks and even a tuft of bison hair on the ground below the tree.

Plus nearby “bison pie.” I will spare you the pictures.

I’m certain that this tree branch is a favorite scratching post. But when I was there, there were no bison in the vicinity.

The trip into Wall took longer than I intended. It’s only 8 miles from the Pinnacles entrance so I expected to be back into the park in less than 45 minutes.

But there was a delay because of road construction.Then once in Wall I went and looked at camping supplies (because camping supplies) and I needed to use the restroom. You know how it goes…<

I dillydallied longer than I intended to. I decided to cut back into the park via Big Foot Road  to avoid construction. Big Foot Road, alternatively spelled Big Foote Road, leads through the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands and brings you into the park east of where I entered the previous night.  I headed for the more developed part of the park with the scenic loop and visitor center with gift shop and flush toilets; the part of the park with the marked trails.

I was not feeling overly adventurous.A moderate hike, five-ish miles, would do. I wasn’t up for forging my own trail in the park’s back country. After the morning’s challenges I wanted a marked path.

Badlands National Park allows you to go off trail into the backcountry. As of this writing, you don’t need a permit but it’s a good idea to register at one of the trailheads even if going for “just” a day hike. A sprained ankle can happen just as easily on a three mile hike as it can on a three day trek. I also recommend carrying a day pack (see below).

I’d done variations of the Castle trail, a popular, marked trail, so I decided I would do the same again. I pulled off into the trailhead parking lot. I had a bite of lunch – how did it get to be so late? – and went across the highway to the trailhead for the Castle trail.

The signage was confusing. The distances to Medicine Root, Castle and Saddle Pass trails were marked. Or was that the length of the trail? Was Saddle Pass 0.2 miles or 2 miles from where I was? Two signs each said something different or at least that is how I read it at the time.

The day by this time had warmed nicely into the 50’s. I pulled off the nanopuff, tied it around my waist and rolled up my pant legs. I struck out around 1:30pm, my toes still tender from that morning’s deep chill. I texted my husband to let him know where I was going.  I was ready. I had my camera/phone with intermittent service and my day pack which had my full kit: headlamp, 2 liter water bladder, first aid kit, granola bar, whistle, rain poncho.

I am one of those that carries a well equipped–one might even say robustly equipped–day pack even on outings that are more walk than hike.  I’ve heard one too many stories about Hikes Gone Bad. In Wilderness First Responder training you learn quickly to never be without a first aid kit. Obviously, I paid more attention to that lesson than the one about preventing frostbite.

I walked as I always do, sometimes looking at the ground, sometimes the sky, listening to the wind and the birds. There is almost always wind in the Badlands, but at this time of year there weren’t many vocalizing birds.

When I look at the ground, I am watching the footing but also for rattlesnakes. I’m also looking for tracks and scat.  Trackwise, I saw the hooved prints of deer or antelope. Scatwise, I saw their pelleted poop. Experts can tell the difference or so they say. I’m no expert.

I also saw a lot of canid looking scat which I assume came from coyotes. On two different samples, I saw large orange and black insects crawling over scat. They turned out to be burying beetles; not American burying beetles which are endangered (how cool would that have been) but some other species. I spent about 20 minutes observing, taking pictures.

Apologies to the squeamish.

I came to Saddle Pass (FYI, it wasn’t 0.2 miles) which was also the intersection of Medicine Root and Castle trail. On a whim, just because, I decided to follow Medicine Root trail.

Future Me, here’s a reminder. Study a trail map before embarking on a new trail. Otherwise you will get all turned around. Fortunately, if you stay on the trail, you will be fine mostly.

I thought the Medicine Loop trail brought me back towards my start. It didn’t. It paralleled the Castle trail going forward. It wasn’t till it intersected again 2 miles plus along with the Castle trail that I started the loop back. My trip would have been a lot more comfortable emotionally had I this mental picture in my mind.

It was halfway through the Medicine Loop trail that I began to worry about time. By then, it was mid afternoon. I could tell I wasn’t headed back to the trailhead but wasn’t sure exactly where I was in relationship to my start. I finally caved and brought up a Google map to see where I was. Yikes, I was further away from the trailhead than I realized. Would it be better to turn around or go on? Go on, I thought.

I almost always will choose go on. I don’t know if this a strength or a weakness.

I eventually reached the point where the Medicine Root and Castle trails intersected just by the Old Northeast Road. I checked the time, checked the sun. I did some quick and dirty computations and realized that once again I would be coming in close to sunset. I had my headlamp and I could re-layer my clothes so I would be ok evening hiking but I was not relishing trying to navigate the trail in the dark.

In the Badlands, trails don’t always have clearly worn paths. Such is the reality of a hiking in a highly erodible landscape. The official trails are marked with colored poles placed at distances of about a tenth of a mile apart. Sometimes it wasn’t easy to see the marking poles, you had to scan the distance to find the next one.

Right. I had to be straight away about getting back.

The return trip was no-nonsense. I didn’t stop for a prolonged time to look at bugs on poop. The sun was low enough in the sky that the chill had returned to the air so I put the nanopuff back on. I still made a point of savoring the view. The Badlands are beautiful at any time but especially in the late afternoon golden hours.

I made it back to my car in good order. I arrived at the trailhead with about half an hour of light left. I hit the vault toilet, stretched out some tight spots and even got a few last pictures.

Not surprisingly my feet were sore. I checked the map again and tallied up the miles. I hiked eight when I meant to hike five.

One of the many reasons I hike is that I collect interesting experiences which are the mother of stories. When you do something, anything, that is an experience. Most of our experiences are safe and predictable which make things physically and emotionally comfortable, but not particularly interesting. If you try to make a story out of your comfortable experience you will sound like you are whining.

If your experience isn’t safe or predictable that is when it becomes the source for an interesting story. Honestly, it won’t be interesting to everyone. It probably won’t even be interesting to most people. But it will be interesting to some and above all, it will be interesting to you.

I collect experiences because first and foremost they are for myself. They make my internal life deeper and more textured.

But I like to share some of my stories from these experiences with others partly because I hope I inspire or instruct (even a bad example shows you want not to do) and partly because I just like to tell stories. Stories are part of what makes us human.

I try to be thoughtful about when and what to share from an experience, even an interesting one. It does not take much to sound full of yourself even if you throw in some self deprecation. Humblebrag is a thing, after all.

A hot dinner, a glass of wine, and comfy chair were about two hours in my future from that parking lot by trailhead. It was time to go home.

So I went.

Christmas Bird Count

I finally participated in my first Christmas Bird Count, something I have wanted to do ever since I read George Plimpton’s essay (Tis-lick Goes the Henslow’s Sparrow) several decades ago.

I was fortunate in that my first count was at Badlands National Park, a place of incomparable beauty and majesty. Am I overwrought? Perhaps. But only a little. Hey, it was a brilliant (if cold) sunny winter’s day. Try to dial it back; not possible.

I spent the day in the company of Joci and Jenn, birders extraordinaire. After 7 hours of driving and hiking around the Badlands,  I’m home and finally warmed after having all or parts of me really, really cold all day long. I’m also tired and my cough which was an annoyance yesterday is threatening to blossom into something more worrisome.

But it was worth it. Every single second.

I’ll write more at a future date. For now, I share these photos. Judging by the number of photos I took of a snow dusted Badlands there is no limit to the number of pictures I will take trying to capture their beauty and awesomeness (old school awesomeness, when it still meant awe inspiring).

You will only see one picture of a bird, partly because when an interesting bird opportunity presented itself I was looking through binos, partly because my camera isn’t a high end one, but mostly because I’m not that good of a photographer. You have to know your stuff to take good pictures of birds.

Edited to add: Final results from Nancy. Pictures below.

For the last day of 2014, seven observers in four parties contributed to a record-breaking Badlands Christmas Count. We recorded 37 species, breaking the previous record of 36 species in 1990. The list is below. We did not technically add any new birds to the count, but had  two species (Mountain Bluebird, Cedar Waxwing) that previously had only been seen during count week. We also had record high numbers of  Sharp-tailed Grouse, Prairie Falcons, Northern Shrikes, Horned Larks, Red-winged Blackbirds, Western Meadowlarks, and House Finches. And the Badlands scenery, as usual, was sublime.

Northern Harrier (1)

Northern Goshawk (1) – female devouring a Sharp-tailed grouse

Rough-legged Hawk (23)

Ferruginous Hawk (1)

Red-tailed Hawk (2)

Golden Eagle (3)

Prairie Falcon (4)

American Kestrel (1)

Ring-necked Pheasant (12)

Sharp-tailed Grouse (113)

Wild Turky (4)

Rock Pigeon (110)

Eurasian Collared-dove (22)

Great Horned Owl (1)

Eastern Screech-owl (1)

Northern Flicker (4)

Downy Woodpecker (5)

Hairy Woodpecker (3)

Horned Lark (763)

Black-billed Magpie (9)

American Crow (77)

Black-capped Chickadee (11)

White-breasted Nuthatch (4)

Townsend’s Solitaire (4)

American Robin (37)

Mountain Bluebird (3) – one male, two females

Northern Shrike (5)

European Starling (91)

Cedar Waxwing (2)

American Tree Sparrow (116)

Dark-eyed Junco (15)

Lapland Longspur (82)

Red-winged Blackbird (20)

Western Meadowlark (5)

House Finch (4)

American Goldfinch (60)

House Sparrow (47)

Total Species: 37

Total Individuals: 1667