Twisted but Not Stirred
Expressive 2010 Honorable Mention
Professor: James M. Aton
The sounds of a tongue lapping up the bloody flesh from a fresh, half-decapitated, lifeless, yearling fawn can be heard by the nearby cliff chipmunk as it rests under the safety of a forearm-sized branch of a bristlecone pine tree, eating on a small oak nut or acorn. A ground dwelling species, the chipmunk has burrowed its home under a fine specimen of a twisted bristlecone tree. The sandy red dirt is piled outside of the home; this is an instrument of irrigation, designed to keep the flowing waters of floods and rain away from the residence.
Outside, a black ant is in search of a meal. It circles the exposed roots of the tree, climbing and reaching out for a scent with its antennae. This ant is a forager in the colony and has failed at his job of finding food for many days. Climbing back down to the base of the tree, the ant gets a scent and follows it for a few feet as it gets stronger and reveals an unresponsive, likely dead, grasshopper. The ant now secretes a pheromone chemical, and makes a trail with it back to the colony to get some troops to help retrieve the feast.
Getting back to the grasshopper, the ants find that a tarantula has made a meal of his own and has the grasshopper suspended, halfway hanging from his mouth. This Aphonopelma Iodius spider is native to Utah and not only has a silk-producing spinneret in its abdomen, but also has them on its hairy feet. Commonly stalking its prey late in the day or night, this tarantula can sit for hours waiting for an insect to emerge. This day the tarantula finds a susceptible meal, but can easily be prey itself to a nearby rattlesnake, and crawls back into its burrow.
A western rattlesnake sleeps coiled up next to a rock in the shade of a cave overhang that has weathered apart over hundreds of thousands of years by the elements. Small holes in the ceiling of the cave emit pinpricks of sunshine, which glisten upon the red, iron-rich ground. A brush mouse scurries across the ground in a quick fashion, almost as if ignorant to its dangerous surroundings. The quick rodent nearly grazes the snake, passing it within its domain, then turns uphill and continues to frolic aimlessly. Suddenly, a set of talons exhausts the breath from its lungs and then lifts the mouse into the air violently.
A red-tailed hawk now soars up into the sky with its prey clutched tightly, floating through the air using the lift from a breeze coming off the cliff ledge. The hawk, soaring high, is a witness to a scene of serene beauty. Tall mountains covered with thick trees take up the background with Brian Head peak to the east and Cedar Breaks taking up the majority of the landscape from the east to the southeast, with the grand amphitheatre of magnificent colors touching the edge of the Twisted Forest. The backdrop for these bristlecone pine trees looks like a reddish field, and the way these half-bare trees look from this height resemble greenish sagebrush scattered throughout the few acres. Just off the edge of Cedar Breaks stands a three-hundred-foot drop-off descending into the reddish limestone ledges. At the bottom of the colorful descent lies a thick forest that continues until reaching the Cedar Canyon road. The bristlecone forest slopes away from the drop off and bottoms out with a clump of spruce and pine trees, and then it ascends upon a green hill covered in wild grasses and aspen trees.
A tall narrow limestone peak looks like a secluded place for a meal, and the hawk lands. Its weight presses down on the mouse through the talons. Its beak opens, grasps the mouse, and now the hawk pulls, violently tearing the head from the body. With this action repeated, the mouse is devoured pieces at a time, which tear off with ease for the strong and able bird. Now the hawk takes flight and soars close to the ground, through the red cylindrical limestone caps, and into the ancient pines. The unique root system of the bristlecone pine tree can almost make it seem buried above the ground, almost as if the dirt washed away and nothing is attaching it to the ground. This species of tree, known as the world's oldest living organism, has been dated as old as five thousand years. In this particular area, they are around twelve hundred years old. The cylindrical branches resemble a bristle brush, which is where they get their name.
Passing through the trees, the hawk continues down the slope of the ridge and reaches the clump of spruce trees where a mountain lion is enjoying its kill. The feline has downed a young fawn by pouncing on it and biting its neck until it no longer shows signs of life. Now it feeds, taking in the energy of its prey. Cougars are widely found throughout the western hemisphere in most of the habitable locations in the Americas. It cannot roar due to missing the specialized larynx, but it yells with a distinct war cry. The mountain lion is king of this area, next to black bears, and balances out nature by taking out the weak.
The way cats, snakes, birds, mice, chipmunks, and even the tiny ants interact within the environment is a circle. It is a pattern of life. The big cat is going to meet something bigger, the small ant is going to meet something bigger; the dirt, the rocks, and the trees are all subject to something bigger. Elements constantly interact with the earth through weather, geology, and chemistry. These elements create and destroy, build up and erode, give life and unavoidably take it.