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The Bear Tree (and eyes in the night)


The trail camera sees what moves around the fringes when we are asleep.

We hike up through the burn, and while I can go on and on about fire ecology, succession plant species, and amazing birds and animals, we see seeking out fire scars among the verdancy, I am focused on a particular tree today.

The Bear tree.

Or the Mountain Lion tree.

Or the Alice Gleason tree.

Or, by it’s scientific name, the pseudotsuga menziesii tree.

Many names for one tree; one enormous Douglas fir tree, somewhere close to ten feet in diameter, but no taller than its small offspring, crowding in around it. All the names for this tree tell us something about it: if you look closely at the thick bark, you can see the long, curly, blonde hairs of a grizzly bear that scratched his back on this tree in early spring, the shorter, brown hairs of a black bear, and the needle thin claw marks of a mountain lion that climbed up the branches in the dark of night.


Another wildlife camera picture

The couple that started this guest ranch in the 1930’s, Kenny and Alice Gleason, marveled at this venerable giant of the forest, and so to honor their dedication in preserving this incredible chunk of the Rocky Mountain Front—we call this the Alice tree.

It is, tagged by science, pseudotsuga menziesii— a Douglas fir tree. It’s only good enough to be a pseudo tree—a pseudo fir (tsuga)…not a real fir tree. You can see the difference between the Douglas fir and other true fir trees in the cones.

Pick up a cone, and look for the mouse sticking its head in to steal the seeds.

A mouse? In a mousetrap?

You have to use a little imagination, but not a lot. The three-pronged bracts protruding from the cone are shaped like the hind ends of mice, as though the mouse stuck it’s head into the cone, got stuck, and now the tail and two back legs are all that is visible.


These three-pronged bracts are diagnostic for a Douglas fir tree, so if the mousetrap sticks in your head, you can identify these trees from the California coast to the Rocky Mountains.

Below this tree shedding cones full of mice, are tracks. An expert tracker could tell you a lot about what has been here. I can tell you a little, but most of the story is hidden from me. Jeff can tell you more, because he has been working hard on his tracking skills.

A motion-activated camera fills in some of the story.

A long, furry trail in the night.

A nose, smearing the lens and readjusting the camera.

I can show just a glimpse of how much I miss. These tracks are all here, undoubtedly, but I don’t see them.  And we move loudly through the forest when we walk or ride, pushing wildlife out in front of us.


I’d hide that beautiful rack in the cover of darkness too (Elk)

That’s not always a bad thing. I certainly don’t enjoy surprising a black bear with cubs. I worry about them, incredible climbers though the cubs are, but surely that must be too high!

Since the wildlife usually moves around us—invisible, out of sight, or during the darkness—I want to show you a little of what the camera’s saw in 2010. Jeff set these up in places we walk or ride, but places that take a while to get to.


ImageMule deer


New fawn


The illusive, unsuspecting current (and former) Pine Butte Staff

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Elizabeth Leverage Hilles #

    I have a huge smile on my face reading this. You are a gifted writer, Nikki — I can feel it and see it just from your words. Can’t wait to see you guys!

    May 5, 2012
  2. Judy #

    wonderful pictures!

    May 5, 2012
  3. Marco #

    Hey Nikki! Love the photos and the text as always . . . the best photo was the last;-) Hope all is well for you both!

    May 5, 2012
  4. Emily Gray #

    You and Jeff are going back to the ranch! I’m so sorry that I won’t get to spend another summer with the two of you. I’ll keep in touch and please do to if you find the time 🙂

    May 9, 2012
    • Thanks Emily! I am sorry we won’t being seeing you as well, but keep checking the blog and we will at least post photos and updates from Pine Butte =)

      May 11, 2012

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