Bears on the run – the school run

Sunset Buffalo Valley

You know I don’t like to brag – however. At the moment I have, possibly the best school run in the world.

I confess, I have, traditionally, found any school run extremely stressful but when I first saw my school run here, I quaked – now added to the usual stress would be snowy precipices!

School runs are difficult enough without precipices. You have to discuss whose fault it is that the lunch boxes are still on the kitchen table.  Or why, after you said, ‘please go and do your homework,’ somebody (mentioning no names) just completely ‘forgot’ and ended up playing Lego instead, so now he is doing it in the car.   

On the school run, the coffee hasn’t really kicked in yet so you’re brain is still remembering everything that has been forgotten.  You have to do things like making last minute spelling tests fun – you do not have any spare brain space to concentrate on precipices.

Yet, in just one term, oops, sorry, semester, thanks to Wyoming, my school run stress scars have healed.

Together the kids and I have battled through all weathers; thick snow, heavy rain and scorching sun.  The beautiful landscape has changed completely, from thick, white snow to bright green grass strewn with yellow flowers but none of that is what is really extraordinary.  What is really extraordinary about our school run here, is the wildlife.

We first became familiar first of all with the iconic silhouette of mousse.  They seemed to be obsessed with the river, lurking in its bends and eddies.  We wondered if they were actually warming their feet, until we realised that they were walking up and down the rivers because they are so rubbish at walking through snow.  What a ridiculous oversight in adaptation technology, given that it is snowy here from October through till May.  Can you imagine the cursing of the moose as it is hunted by wolves, stumbling in the snow, and realises that it has spent millennia evolving completely the wrong feet for the job.

Most mornings a Red tailed hawk was to be seen sitting in superiority.  One was on the same post for the morning and the evening school run.  I couldn’t decide whether this was some rarely observed ambush hunting technique or just a case of being bone idle.  I’d done the shopping, cleaned the house, answered some emails and done two loads of washing while he was just sitting there pretending to be important.

We were delighted to discover two osprey nests, huge scruffy piles of sticks at the tops of telegraph poles.  It is rare to see an osprey at all in our normal lives and now we would see them every day, resident nesting pairs about to hatch a new family.  So romantic. However, one day, we were shocked to observe three adult ospreys all at one nest, so much for pairing for life, if only we had the school run gossip on that one.

As spring progressed, elk began their annual migration, from the Jackson Hole elk refuge, to higher ground. Our way was often barred by bemused looking doe eyed creatures with huge white bottoms, dithering about whether they should all run across the road together, seperately, or just go back – clearly elk never evolved a need for snap decision making.  They never seemed to have any idea of the urgency of my school run. 

Actually, over time, the school run took on less and less of an urgent feel. We even started to look forward to it.

Every day hid a new surprise, a bald eagle swooping low over the car, or a feathery footed grouse.  This humble creature had no idea of how hilarious it was.  For a few days in a row, we met him on a tight bend (near a precipice).  His response to our rather large and noisy car stopping beside him, was to freeze in the middle of the road, as if he had suddenly found himself in an early morning game of musical statues.  He blended in nicely, I’ll give him that – beautiful tawny shades, but really, this kind of behavioural adaptation to a school run road is bound to get you killed sooner or later.   

We didn’t kill him but we enjoyed a little game of chicken with him. After a minute or so of statue impersonation, he could take the stress no longer. Finally he would  lift a huge, over-feathered foot and take a super slow motion step forward, then another.  If I nudged the car forward an inch,he would warble, ‘run away,’ and, as if someone had wound up his legs, would suddenly run across the road in front of us.  At least I’m pretty sure he shouted ‘run away.’ Well, if it wasn’t him, it was one of the kids.

The day we finally gave up trying to get to school on time at all, was the day that three grizzly bears casually walked across the road in front of us.  Even my middle son said, ‘Come on, lets just stay and watch, when we explain, they’ll understand.’ On the many thousands of school runs that I will do, there may never be another where I have to stop for three grizzly bears, so I agreed.

What better biology lesson is there than watching three bears showing off how perfectly adapted they are?  As they wandered across the field below us the babies played rough and tumble.  Play is the way mammals learn I announced, ‘they are soooo cute.’ countered my youngest. 

One of the cubs became particularly interested in the herd of horses in the adjacent ranch paddock and so I explained that we were about to observe some predator-prey interaction. ‘Those horses are having none of it Mum.’

Meanwhile, grizzly Mum, (not me) had a good scratch, rubbing her back up and down a telegraph pole – tool use? No, just brilliant to watch.

So you see, finally, in response to my environment I have evolved adaptations which are really paying off in terms of survival of my offspring – I have adapted to thoroughly enjoying my school run.  Precipices, what precipices?

PS. For some of my local neighbours here, I do appreciate this will all sound like the ravings of a very strange English woman.  You see they haven’t been as scarred as me by extreme worries like what on earth will happen to my poor child, if I can’t find a matching pair of the same size football socks in a clock countdown situation.  Live TV was easy by comparison. I always hit the news on time but in England very rarely do my children make it to school with the right socks or on time.


  • lucy says:

    Hey, I love the writing in your blog – so vivid I can imagine tramping down snow rivers and straining to hear the wolves — great great great – glad I’m not the only one who doesnt do matching sock xx

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