with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Rocket Scientists, White Mice and Dolphins – An Eco-Story

The dew-filled morning burned away under the bright sun. Our job for the morning was done. Rising in the dark to be on the Mt. Rainier mountainside for dawn, our goal was to photograph the heavy dewdrops on the spring wildflowers. We were worn out after four hours on our knees and stomachs along twisting paths, staring through our viewfinders at red, purple, yellow, pink and eternal green. We paused to giggle at a group of baby Hoary Marmots rolling around and chasing each other.

A young woman, the first of the day’s crowd, came hiking up over the hill, arms and (unfortunately) blonde hair swinging. She stopped near us with a gasp. “Oh! Like, what are those?”

Marmot standing, Olympic National Park, photo by Brent VanFossenEver patient and honestly enjoying the experience of sharing with others their discovery in the wonders of nature, I answered, “Baby marmots.”

She cocked her head and stared. “Oh! So, like, what do they DO?”

I explained that they eat grasses during the summer and provide food for other animals and that they hibernate during the winter.

She cocked her head to the other side and tossed back her blonde hair. “Oh! So, they, like, just hang around?”

There is that little something, that precious little thing which compels all of us at one time or another to open our mouths and let something out we probably shouldn’t, but can’t help. Oh, Lord, we try to be good. We refrain from most public cries of outrage and frustration. But sometimes that little something that says, “Go ahead. Say it. You know you want to. And if you don’t, you’ll kick yourself!” Honestly, I tried to be good. Blame it on exhaustion and sore knees. I mean, like, how would you, like, respond?

Marmot children gather together, Olympic National Park, photo by Brent VanFossen“Well, not really. They are actually rocket scientists.”

My husband was pushed by that same “something.” I don’t blame him either. He was just as tired with sorer knees. “Yep, they rule the world. We used to think it was the white mice and dolphins but it’s really the marmots.”

She tossed her head and looked at us intently. “Oh, like WOW.”

Just then, the rest of her group arrived over the crest of the hill. She turned back, with a swish of long hair, and called to them. “Hey, guys! Come quick! I just, like, learned something!”

We quickly moved away. Actually we ran – exit stage right! Scooted like rabbits. We could just imagine her explaining to her friends that the marmots are rocket scientists who ruled the world when we really thought it was the white mice and dolphins. We didn’t want to be witnesses or provide evidence to substantiate her claim.

I know what motivates someone to come out of the city or their “nest” to first explore the wilds of nature: parents, church groups, social clubs or school. Within these groups, you would think someone would help to teach children and young people about the value of nature and what it all means.

Marmot yelling, Olympic National Park, photo by Brent VanFossenI’m sorry, but marmots just hang around. That is their job. And it’s an important part of the chain of life. Under Marmot in the dictionary see Job Description: Just hanging around as part of the food chain.

We, the “veteran” explorers of this planet, need to remind others that this is a fragile and sophisticated place. Though some never learn, we must try. My father grew up in Coast Guard lighthouses along the Columbia River and in the San Juan Islands of Washington. He tells stories of taking a raft, more holes than wood, out among hundreds and hundreds of killer whales (orcas) during their migration. But he will flick his cigarette butt on the ground or water of a lake without thought. I explain there are laws now against that. One day he will get caught and pay a fine. He laughs. He, who profited from a life among a natural world that is almost extinct, is part of the problem. But don’t tell him that.

There is an old saying that if you teach a child the name of something, it’s harder for the child to kill it. When you name a weed, it suddenly becomes a flower. Makes mowing the lawn a little harder, but who knows what miracle cure may rest in their lawn. I know exploring and seeing the wonders of the world is important. But don’t forget to learn along the way.

Make a plan to learn the name of one new piece of nature every day. And see what happens next time you point your camera at it or walk on it or mow it. Makes a big difference.


  • Posted June 20, 2005 at 19:45 | Permalink

    I like the first picture, of the baby marmot standing up.

    Nice photography, by the way.

  • Posted June 20, 2005 at 20:30 | Permalink

    That marmot is an adult. The grey ones are the babies. Their fur changes as they age.

    And they spray urine in their tunnels to “mark territory” and as they age, they rub against the urine and it bleaches out their fur on their backs, often making odd discolorations on their backs. We’ve heard people unfamiliar with marmots call them skunks. Totally wrong color.

    People need to get out more. :-)

  • Angharad
    Posted September 30, 2005 at 12:44 | Permalink

    i think that marmot is really really cool it looks like a man eater hehehehehehe which is really cool, i think it is way cool. i love marmots ive seen real ones in Austria and absolutely loved them, and im hopin 2 c some more at some point soon.

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