Dave Simpson: You Say Marmot, I Say Whistle Pig

in Dave Simpson/Column

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By Dave Simpson, columnist

You say marmot. I say whistle pig.

Most summer afternoons, I have a Pabst Blue Ribbon (OK, OK, usually two) next to the Medicine Bow River, up by the bridge that isn’t there anymore, and the tornado sign that isn’t there anymore either.

You can’t miss it.

Referring to things that used to be here but aren’t anymore, when giving directions, is one of the fun aspects of being an old timer. It’s a form of hazing newcomers. Let these young squirts figure it out like we did.

There’s an old gravel pit down the road where a seismic crew landed their helicopter about 30 years ago, and old coots like me refer to it as “the heliport.” Hasn’t been a helicopter there in decades. It isn’t even a gravel pit anymore, after trees were planted there.

The bridge was taken out many years ago, probably washed out, but the approaches are obvious on both sides. A new bridge was built upstream, and if you approach it quietly, whistle pigs (aka marmots) whistle a piercing warning that dangerous humans are around. Hence, the name.

The tornado sign was erected by the Forest Service to commemorate a rare mountain tornado that roared down the valley on July 4, 1976, knocking down thousands of trees.

Replacement trees were planted in subsequent years, and are doing great today. But idiots shot up the tornado sign, and now all that’s left is the frame. (Not a surprise. A stop sign at the intersection of Forest Service Roads 120 and 111 fell over 20 years ago, and laid on the ground for 10 years before someone finally stole it.)



I ride up to the tornado sign on an ancient Yamaha three-wheeler ATV that was given to me five years ago (my wife wouldn’t let me buy one) by a neighbor who took pity on me. It was built in 1984, and runs so reliably that you wonder how we won World War II.

Three wheelers were outlawed years ago because they can be dangerous. But not for a slow-moving hazard to navigation like me, who seldom gets out of second gear. The main threat for me is being hit from behind.

Someone tried to camouflage it years ago, so it’s kind of a melange of Yamaha yellow and Hershey Bar brown. The lights haven’t worked for years. But if the battery gets low, a single weak pull on the starter cord starts her right up, and gets me safely back to the cabin.

I’ve been told several times, by guys with fancy four-wheelers, “I wish I’d never sold my three-wheeler.”

Two years ago I was quaffing a Pabst by the river when I noticed movement on the other side. A cow moose – with a calf in tow – would grab a willow branch near the trunk and strip off every leaf and twig clear out to the end of the branch in one mouthful. “What a cast-iron stomach she’s got,” I thought, as she wandered upriver, her calf behind her.

The river roars in June, drops in July, and lately makes a monotone that sounds like people mumbling off in the distance. In July and August, after the river drops, I set up my folding chair next to the river, and spend about an hour listening to the water going by. It’s good for what ails you, and a bag of pretzels goes perfectly with the Blue Ribbon.

In July, I took a picture of a fat whistle pig eyeing me from the other side of the river. My wife posted it on “Wyoming Through the Lens,” explaining that we see lots of spectacular pictures of moose, elk and deer, but precious few whistle pigs. That post got over 1,000 views, and lots of discussion about what exactly a whistle pig really is. (They call them marmots in the Tetons. Whistle pigs in my neighborhood.)

We sit on opposite sides of the river, gazing at each other, enjoying the afternoon sun.

I’m a creature of habit, so most summer afternoons, up high in the Snowy Range, you’ll find me listening to the Medicine Bow River, keeping an eye out for moose. And whistle pigs.

I’m the guy next to the tornado sign that isn’t there anymore.

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