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Meditation on Silver Creek

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Since that time, an awful lot of water has flowed under Kilpatrick Bridge. At Stalker Creek Ranch, one of Silver Creek’s tributaries, I experienced my first freezing duck hunts. I remember golden retrievers shivering next to me as steam rose up from the stream, ice chunks floating like mini-bergs and the dogs’ coats edged with frost, their whiskers drooping icicles. Winter mornings so cold the bone-dry snow popped and cracked underfoot as we crunched along in waders down to the stream, big mesh bags of decoys slung over our shoulders, the husking of our labored breathing as we tromped towards the blinds. Black V’s of ducks and geese cutting across the glimmering horizon at sunrise, the cries of their voices trilling against the morning stillness. 

In the late '70s my father acquired Dry Fly Ranch (now Loving Creek Ranch), a working barley ranch and idyllic piece of ground on Loving Creek, another of Silver Creek’s tributaries. I spent some years there, building a log cabin with a crew of friends and living down in the Picabo valley, moving hand line irrigation pipes in the summer and improving the place—to the extent that nature can ever be improved upon. And ultimately, on the first gorgeous day of August in 1987, I was married along the banks of Loving Creek.

Dry Fly Ranch is long-since sold, and most of my wedding pictures are piled in boxes out in the garage now, but my memories of my time on Silver Creek remain fixed and constant, though certainly with time the details fade. Every moment I have ever spent there, I now realize, has been a wondrous gift.

One spring, walking out to the big pond at the head of Loving Creek, I encountered a pair of enormous rust-brown storkish birds in the stubble field only fifty yards from me. Their foreheads gleamed red in the sun and they strutted around, their long necks moving forward and back as they surveyed one another. Courting sandhill cranes, it turned out. The male would parade and circle, head bobbing, then leap high in the air, his great wings flapping once, and I hunkered in a ditch and watched, mesmerized by the amazing span of his wings, by the ease with which he lofted and hovered, showing off.

Above us in the slate-gray skies another theatrical performance took place during the mating and nesting season. High over the creeks and marshes a lone, dun-colored bird would shoot skyward, its small body just a fleck as it rose, and I’d have to squint into the sun as it presented its sky dance, wings beating frantically as it ascended and plummeted, jetting and darting, careening off in frenetic angles. The showy courtship flight of the snipe was punctuated by the distinct sound, the hollow and tremulous who-who-who-who-who called “winnowing” or “drumming.”

FACTS ABOUT  THE PRESERVE

• 882 acres, with an additional 9,500 acres protected through conservation easements

• Haven for more than 150 species of birds

• One of the highest densities of aquatic insects in North America

• Exceptionally high density of healthy (and large) brown and rainbow trout—about 5,000 per mile

• Provides habitat for eagles, hawks, elk, deer, coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, pheasant, waterfowl, and many other migratory birds

• A one-mile self-guided nature trail starts at the visitor center

• Approximately 7,000 people visit the Preserve annually to fly fish, birdwatch, canoe, hike, hunt, paint, or simply walk and enjoy nature.

  

WHY IT'S IMPORTANT

“The importance of Silver Creek lies in the incredibly rich biodiversity it supports,” says Preserve Manager Dayna Smith. “The insect life and diversity of aquatic vegetation is just staggering. You can actually see three or four different insect hatches throughout the course of a single day,” she adds, "and, in the winter, it is a mecca for all sizes of different mammals because it is one of the few places that doesn’t freeze.” Smith’s favorite aspect about living and working on the Preserve remains constant: “Every day I look out the window I see something new. And even though it is always changing, there is a quiet sacred quality to the landscape that never changes.”

Silver Creek is one of the best remaining examples of a high desert, cold spring ecosystem in the western United States. Dozens of springs percolate up from an aquifer and merge to form Silver Creek, which provides a nutrient-rich habitat for a wide range of insects, fish, and wildlife. With 882 acres protected in the core of the Preserve and an additional 9,500 acres of the Silver Creek Valley protected through conservation easements and landowner partnerships, it stands as one of the country’s most successful examples of community-based conservation.

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