The American Pine Marten is a beautiful animal. The triangular face is at once intelligent looking and, well, cute as can be.
Fifty yards in front of our speeding car, a small mammal darted across the road and into the lodgepole pines on the other side. It was larger than a squirrel yet smaller than a raccoon. I jammed on the brakes and pulled to the narrow shoulder.
“Marten!” I exclaimed to my wife as she jumped into the driver’s seat and I grabbed for my camera. Cathy had never seen a marten before and while I had, I have never gotten a decent photograph.
As Cathy maneuvered the truck back onto the road, I took off after the marten, hoping that I could find it. When I entered the trees, I began making a squeaking noise by kissing the back of my hand, hoping to attract this curious predator. Sure enough, within seconds, I saw a small intelligent face peering at me from behind a nearby branch.
A marten’s face is triangular, with large eyes, pointed ears and perky nose. Just about anyone would describe a marten as cute, and the more emotional among us might say adorable. But there was nothing adorable about its guttural chattering. It was a primal sound, one I had never heard before and totally incongruous with its looks.
Like most I have encountered, this marten was unafraid and curious. It approached me several times, and then, after deciding I wasn’t a likely meal, just ignored me.
I ended up with a couple of usable frames before the search for breakfast led it away and I climbed back up to the road to intercept Cathy on her next pass down the road.
Seeing a pine marten, officially known dually as the American marten or American pine marten, is a rare treat. It isn’t that martens are rare. They are common in mature forests from Alaska to New England and down to the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains. Martens are challenging to see because, like many predators, they cover a lot of territory. A male may cover six square miles. And marten territory is three dimensional, as they spend much time searching for squirrels, eggs, birds and more in the trees.
Martens will eat practically anything, living or dead. Squirrels may be preferred, but chipmunks, hares, rabbits, mice, voles, carrion and even nuts are on the menu.
Marten are actually easy to recognize. They are members of the weasel family and have the typical weasel-like long slender body. A long bushy tail gives them a total length of 21-26 inches. Their rich silky fur is medium brown, darker on legs and tail with a buff chest patch.
While you might not see a marten, you may find their tracks as they are active all winter long sustaining a metabolism that requires constant fueling. Their large tracks are easy to recognize: up to one and three-quarters inches wide, they have the customary five toes of a weasel (members of the dog and cat families have four toes). In snow, they have a bounding gait, much like a squirrel but longer.
In my wandering last weekend, I encountered another marten. It responded to my hand kissing by coming closer and standing up on its back legs for a better look. I don’t know what it thought of the encounter, but it made my day.
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. Go figure.
"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), The Best of Nature 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.
"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:
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center (425 Capital)
Perfect Light Photo Supply
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