PAT NEAL: A marmot lover’s dream

IT WAS ANOTHER tough week in the news with rising concerns about economic uncertainty, constitutional crisis and the ever-present threat of climate change rearing their ugly heads to frightening levels unseen since the week before.

All of which leads some of us right-thinking nature lovers to suspect it’s all just a media conspiracy to distract us from one of the central questions of life on planet Earth itself: What is happening with the marmots?

The iconic Olympic marmot is a unique member of the groundhog family that is distinct from the iconic Vancouver Island marmot and the iconic Cascade Mountain marmot because of the millions of months of geographic isolation they experienced when their populations were cut off from one another by the 3-mile-thick glacier that covered this land in the last ice age.

The only thing these far flung marmot populations share in common these days is the fact that marmots are threatened or endangered by everything from coyotes to climate change.

That such a gregarious, outgoing and affectionate creature could be a candidate for an extinction list is an unacceptable option for those of us who admire the marmots as a role model in our own lives.

Marmot homes are generally in the most picturesque locations featuring a sun porch with what the real estate agents call a territorial view.

The burrow is secure from predators and well insulated, being tucked far away from the cruel winter storms beneath many feet of snow.

The marmots spend most of their lives hibernating and who wouldn’t love that?

The marmots’ free time is spent mating, playing, eating and raising their young.

Humans could learn a lot from studying marmot behavior.

Marmots have a language that consists of a series of whistles that indicate the imminent threat of dangerous predators or bothersome pests such as the invasive waffle-stomping granola-crunching backpackers that are invading the marmots’ territory.

In 2009, the Olympic marmot was designated Washington’s “endemic mammal.”

This, despite fierce bipartisan opposition to adding another critter to the long list of state symbols that range from the state trout, the steelhead to the state cryptid, the Sasquatch.

As heartwarming as it was to have the marmots honored in this way it brought back painful memories of attending the marmot survey academy.

Being a marmot surveyor meant the world to me.

At the time I was eager to share my cutting-edge survey techniques such as electro-shocking and dyeing the marmots to count them. Heck, it worked for the bull trout.

Then I washed out during hell week at the marmot survey academy.

After that I gave up on life.

Then I remembered what Momma told me.

How I should boldly go where no man has gone before to seek out new life forms.

“Marmots?” I asked.

“Yeah, that’s right,” Momma said. “Go talk to the marmots.”

After a good cry I knew what I had to do.

As you read this the tectonic plates are gnashing together deep beneath the Earth’s crust causing the Olympic Mountains to rise higher and higher every year.

This could be my last chance to be a marmot surveyor before the mountains get too steep for me to climb.

I’ve already met many of the requirements of a marmot surveyor. I stopped bathing. I grew my hair. I am currently unemployed.

I have been surveying mountain beavers just to practice up.

By dying the mountain beavers different colors, I have been able to identify individuals and give them names.

Can’t wait to share my research at the academy.

A dream delayed is a dream denied.

Marmot survey school here I come.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patneal [email protected].

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