On Tuesday (July 7), I got to Cataloochee about an hour late since I had a book signing at Oconaluftee Visitor Center. I sat or stood for three hours greeting visitors outside the Visitor Center, gave them a bookmark and told them about my books.
At one o’clock, I left the Visitor Center and drove to the Cataloochee Valley. It took me as long to get to the Valley as driving from home in Asheville, which gave me a visceral sense about how physically isolated residents were.
I immediately picked up my two antlers, drove to the end of the Valley and walked to the Woody House.
The Rosebay rhododendron was still in bloom.Bee balm was out as well, a flower that always reminds me of Phyllis Diller’s crazy spiked hair.
Walking back, I saw a woman standing still in the middle of the trail. It could only mean one thing – an animal on the trail. I assumed that she would not be standing so still if it was a bear, so it must be an elk. Finally, I saw elk on my shift.
There were two elk. With a telephoto lens, someone else spotted the tag number – #104 and another elk without a tag. Both have radio collars but the second one must have rubbed her tag off. Later, the elk experts identified her as #60, a two year-old pregnant female. The animals browsed on bushes and ambled across the trail. “Why did the elk cross the road?” because the “grass is always greener on the other side.”
At the end of my shift, I met Joe Y., the biologist for the project. He confirmed that 13 calves were born this year so far and we still have 12 calves. Not bad odds. Now if I can see a young one.