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The Mountain Goat and I


I had heard that mountain goats aren't very afraid of people, but I still was surprised when I saw one walking in front of me on the trail last summer. I was on Mount Shavano, at about 12,500 feet, and he was less than 40 feet away from me. As I watched him, he watched me, and I had the feeling I could just about walk right over to him. When other hikers came up the trail however, he was nervous. We all took our photos and moved on up the mountain.

There had been a lot of wildlife that day. The numerous red squirrels angrily chirped at me in the woods, and a snowshoe hare ran by, his feet still white with his winter camouflage coat. Above the tree-line, the pikas scrambled over rocks. Large birds watched them hungrily from above.

Well before noon, most of us hikers were at 14,229 feet - at the top. People lounged around the summit, using cell phones to tell distant friends where they were, and snapping digital photos of a fat marmot who was showing off. I visited for a while, then climbed through the boulders and hiked along the ridge to Mount Tabeguache (14155 feet), a mile away from Shavano's peak.

I had the summit to myself. I removed off my shoes and socks and put my feet over the edge to cool them. I soaked up the sun, and then enjoyed the snow flurries, and then soaked up the sun, and then enjoyed the snow flurries. Weather changes quickly in these mountains. I shared a meal of crackers and peanuts with the local chipmunks, then started back down.

The Mountain Goat

All the other hikers were gone - it's always a good idea to get off the summit before afternoon. By one or two o'clock the killer lightning usually comes to the peaks. Back around 12,500 feet, the mountain goat was waiting for me, so I stopped and sat on a rock.Mountain Goat

He might have thought I was related somehow, since I was browsing on the wild plants like he was. I always do this. There wasn't much in the way of edible plants in June, but I had stopped to peel and eat a couple thistle stalks earlier. Perhaps he saw this and assumed I must be a mountain goat or other grazing animal like himself.

In any case, he seemed ready to walk right up to me, so I took out my camera and invited him over. It occurred to me that if I held the camera in my right hand I could hold out my left hand and take a photo of him licking it. He agreed, and walked right up to lick my hand while I took the photo.

Touching his horns or shaking his hoof, however, was too much for him. Maybe he just didn't want to lose his footing on the rocks. I let him have another lick and then headed down the trail. He went back to grazing, working his way higher onto the mountain.

Whenever I show the photo to friends, I tell them that he probably wanted the salt from my hand - that's why he licked it. However, I like to think that it was because he saw me grazing up there like another mountain goat, and he wanted to say hello. I wonder if he'll be there this summer.


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