In the early 1980s, while hiking through a dry wash in southern Utah, I rounded a bend and encountered an unknown animal a few feet away. It was rotund, looked to weigh about 30 pounds, and had distinct black and white stripes down its head. We locked eyes, each of us astounded to see the other. My mind searched through mental wildlife databases: Bear? No. Porcupine? No quills. Wolverine? Doesn’t live around here. Finally, no matches found. I was in a truly unknown realm.
The animal gazed at me steadily without moving. After a while, it became apparent that it was me, not he or she, who was going to back out of this encounter. I slowly retreated back up the wash. It did not follow.
Later, back at camp, I described this strange animal to my fellow campers. “Might have been a badger”, said one. “Sounds like a big one”, said another. No one had seen one recently.
What I remember most about that moment was the primal feeling of all senses on high alert when surprised by the wildness, the unpredictability, and possible danger of facing something so unfamiliar. I recall the humility with which I retreated, aware that I was an intruder in a wild being’s domain. This brief and solitary experience was to me the essence of wild Utah, to which I cast my memory back again and again.