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The personal journal of technology journalist and conference speaker Randall S. Newton.

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Monday, December 30, 2002

Watching Bighorn Sheep
My office is in the attic, the third floor of our house (fourth if you count the basement). My only window looks west across most of my farm and toward the village of Loomis. Today it is a scene out of a Currier and Ives painting. Recent snowfall has coated everything in white. Fog shrouds Gold Hill, the mountain that defines the western boundary of town. The occasional car glides across the white ribbon that has become Main Street. Five Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep saunter through town, oblivious to humans.

About 50 years ago a small herd of bighorn sheep were planted on Aeneas Mountain, just south of town, in the Sinlahekin Wildlife Refuge (known locally as "the game farm"). For many years the herd did not thrive, and numbers remained low. But in recent years the health of the herd has improved, and their numbers are now increasing to the point where the herd is separating and expanding into new territory. Loomis sits in a narrow valley between Aeneas Mountain and Palmer Mountain. The bunchgrass and sagebrush are abundant on Palmer, so the herd rountinely marches through town to move from one mountain to the other.

Quite often the sheep walk along my western fence line and climb the bluff just to the west. They sit on the rocks to take in the winter sun, and, perhaps, to amuse themselves watching the humans below. If they do take note of the people below, it is an exception to their normal behavior. When passing through town, they act as if there is no human presence at all. They will enter yards and eat rose bushes, walk up and down main street, or use Bob Garrett's used car sales lot as a passage way to Palmer Mountain. I have seen as many as 11 move through town at one time; today only five are active.

We are very familiar with mule deer here; Loomis is considered one of Washington State's best hunting destinations. Mule deer calculate their every move based on reacting to humans, which makes watching the sheep so interesting by comparision. Deer would never walk up main street at midday, let along in the middle of the night. Too many lights, too many dogs, too many chances to be observed. To the bighorn, these are non-issues.


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