SMOOTH SAILIN’: Gathering moments in the animal kingdom

In the small circles I run in the conversation often circles back around to encounters with wildlife. It is like we all watched a little bit too much of “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” show on Sunday nights when were kids: The closer the encounter, the better.


Granted, I spend a lot more time looking at the canals of Treasure Beach than some of my neighbors, but I feel I have been blessed. One day while I was actually staining the back dock, a big, scrapped up manatee cruised right by. I stopped in my tracks and put my paint roller down. There is not a lot of nourishment in the dredged up mud of the canals, so I had a feeling he would be back shortly. He just looked like he was looking for some grub on the bottom. He (and I really have no idea what sex this sea cow was) swam rather swiftly in the approximately 6 feet of near high tide water down to the end of the canal and turned around. On his way back he crested the water right near my dock, and while he didn’t give me a wink I like to think he did. Animal encounters are magical.

Traveling this week, I was lucky enough to catch up with my 11-year-old friend, Olivia, who lives in the country outside of Missoula. I had not seen Olivia for almost five years, which is almost half her life, so I was concerned she might not remember me. You don’t know with kids. But the minute I walked up her path her eyes widened and she shouted, “Bob!”

My heart filled, of course, because there is really nothing like the honesty and innocence of a young person. When we had some time to sit on the couch and chat later we naturally talked about the old days. Our birthdays come in the winter and one year for hers we organized a rather elaborate strawberry shortcake party, which is no small task in a Montana winter. She remembered that, but only vaguely. Then we talked about the day she saw the mountain lion.

It was on a cool fall morning and Olivia was sitting in the living room all by herself. The big cat strolled down the mountain and looked right inside the bay windows at little Olivia. They made eye contact. Olivia was frozen at first but then had the insight to call for her mother in the laundry room. Mom came but only in time to watch the majestic cat strolling away. Olivia remains famous for this encounter and retells the event like a seasoned storyteller.

I was also lucky enough to catch up with friends Steve and Michelle while traveling under the Big Sky last week. It was Steven’s 53rd birthday and we spent the day riding mountain bikes and playing bocce. We camped out on a mountain above a lake about a dozen miles east of Helena.

The days in Montana go on forever in the summer and we were enjoying the alpine glow from the mountain when two rather large birds flew overhead. We stopped talking and just watched. They circled back over us and it was clear they were bald eagles. They appeared to be hunting but not in any big hurry. It looked like they were friends or lovers in the way they negotiated the thermals as they surveyed the land together from above. Their heads were brilliant white and their bodies were brown. I want to say we felt their eyes on us but that might be exaggerating. It definitely was magical.

Their ride over us only lasted for a few minutes. But it was certainly a moment for us and a memorable one, a moment we won’t forget anytime soon.

And in the end, the memorable moments in our life are the most valuable things that we have. We are truly blessed to spend our time with all the amazing creatures of this world.

Bob Tis is a former Record reporter.



Bob Tis is a former Record reporter.