Beach Combing

If you are in the right frame of mind, beach combing at Mud Lake can yield treasures equal to any ocean beach.

A little girl, about four years old, raced up to me holding up a grocery sack like it was full of Halloween candy and declared, “Look what I found!”  I peered inside to see lots of shells, gritty with sand, and an assortment of odds and ends fascinating to a child. The little girl scampered away before I thought to ask her name and continued beach combing alongside her father and brother.

We weren’t on some exotic beach in the Caribbean.  In fact, we were less than 45 minutes from Idaho Falls on the shores of Mud Lake. Beaches at Mud Lake? Yes, sort of.

Mud Lake is a shallow natural lake on Camas Creek that has been augmented via a dam to impound water for irrigation. Early in the spring, before the snow begins to melt and pumps are turned on, Mud Lake is at its lowest level of the year. For a short season, that leaves a wide ring of beach sand around much of the lake.

The sands of Mud Lake are not ocean beaches where you can find dozens of varieties of fantastic seashells washed up with the tides each day. Nor will treasures of far-traveled flotsam dance on crashing waves.

Mud Lake has no tides and the most exotic thing you are likely to find is a Starbucks coffee cup, a rusted out shotgun shell or an aged tractor part. There are plenty of mollusk shells there, though little diversity, but they are as plain as vegetables and as colorful as dirt.  

 So, why go beach combing at Mud Lake?—because beach combing isn’t about what you find. It is about what finds you. Mud Lake beaches serve in that way every bit as well as the ocean beaches I have visited.

I started my own beach combing the next day with grand objectives. I wanted to find cool stuff. I wandered down the beach right at the waterline, eyes focused for anything out of the ordinary.  There were plenty of spiraled shells and I tried to ignore them, hoping for something unique.  Several though, were big and perfect and irresistible. Despite myself, I picked them up and carefully put them in my bag.

Tracks in the mud diverted my attention too. There were goose and duck tracks everywhere and there was one small mammal track that puzzled me. As I gazed out over the water, a muskrat was swimming toward the shore and the mystery was solved.

This continued for several hours as I wandered far further than I had anticipated. With each new discovery, I shed a layer of stifling adulthood. The marveling child, so long suppressed and told to let the grown-ups talk, peaked out and dared to speak. His voice found me once again.

And that is really what beach combing, whether at the world’s most beautiful beaches or at Mud Lake, is all about—remembering the joy of the ordinary and wandering without destination just to find what is there.  

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

TAX DAY is coming! Here is a chance to do something good with a bit of your tax return and make the day less painful.

Donate part of your tax return to support wildlife in Idaho!

On the second page of the Idaho Individual Tax form 40 you have the opportunity to donate to the “Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund”.

Check-off this box on your next return or ask your tax preparer to mark the Nongame check-off on your behalf. You can donate any amount you wish, it all helps to support the wildlife you love.

If you are not from Idaho, check with your own state wildlife agency about how you can help. Many states have a similar program.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho