By Sarah Pridgeon
Living in these wide open spaces, I have grown used to early morning visits from turkeys and deer and the occasional stench of a skunk. Before I moved here, on the other hand, I developed strong suspicions that Wyoming’s claims of abundant wildlife might be something of a myth.
During one of my early visits, in the heady days of pre-marriage romance when the husband and I would spend our vacations experiencing one another’s way of life, I was treated to an excursion into the forest, courtesy of my dad-in-law. The goal of the hike was to find a flying squirrel.
I prepared in my usual city girl manner, which consisted mainly of making sure I had my sunglasses. I wore slip-on shoes with absolutely no grip and a tendency to fall off if I walked too fast, because they matched my outfit. The rest of my wardrobe was little better.
Had I known back then what dad-in-law’s idea of a short stroll through the woods is, I might have put more thought into my preparations and at least added a layer of sunscreen. I should have taken his backpack and water bottle as fair warning but, as it was, sunglasses quickly became the least of my problems.
Uppermost on my new list of concerns was the fact that we really only had a vague idea where flying squirrels might live. Several miles later, I had a rockery’s worth of stones in my shoes and was regretting that I’d brought my most fashionable handbag.
The scenery was beautiful, the sun was shining, but the squirrels weren’t coming out to play. We wandered in circles, staring up at the trees in the hope that a kite-shaped mammal might fling itself towards us.
On a whim, we turned our attentions upward and began to climb what turned out to be an actual mountain. As the incline increased, we resorted to dragging ourselves along using extreme caution and a barbed wire fence.
High above what I would call a sensible altitude, we reached the zenith of our investigation. Hanging from a barb, desiccated beyond all recognition, was the carcass of a flying squirrel.
Dad-in-law stared at the sad little skeleton in contemplation. He picked it up, gingerly lifted its leg and, in a conciliatory sentence that only a father would think to offer, said, “Well, at least you can see how the wing structure works.”
A few days later, my sister-in-law and her husband invited us for a weekend in the Bighorns and promised I would meet a moose. This was another exotic animal I had never had chance to encounter, so how could I possibly have said no?
We saw many things over that weekend. I hiked alongside flowing dams, still wearing those slip-on shoes, and ate fish newly caught from the streams. I even took my first ride on a four-wheeler, although they prudently pointed me to the passenger’s seat.
What we did not see was a moose, though we searched high and low. We drove in every direction, down canyons and over hills, but the Bighorns were too busy that weekend for a moose to parade itself in public (although, to a city girl, I’ll admit that it was a baffling concept back then for three tents and a log cabin to constitute “busy”).
Out of time and out of places to look, my sister-in-law delivered the first of the many strokes of genius I have come to admire her for. As I emerged from the cabin on our final morning, she grabbed my hand and rushed me out into the forest.
Determined that I not return to England without a tale to tell, she had taped a photograph of a moose to the back of a tree. My mission was to locate that photograph so that I could tell my family I had “found a moose in the Big Horns.”
See? Genius. Even when the tale of her quick thinking turned out to be much more fun to tell, which rather ruined the plan.
Meanwhile, the saga of the squirrel is far from over. I feel sure that it won’t be long before I am ushered back out into the wilds, although this time I will be sure to wear shoes with laces.
My alarm bells first rang when I returned home from work to find a jubilant dad-in-law waving a magazine and pointing to the flying squirrel on the cover. “I’ve worked out why we didn’t find them!” he exclaimed, arguably a bit belatedly. “Flying squirrels are nocturnal.”