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I was climbing Wellsville Mountain north of Brigham City on Saturday, looking for Spence shale and its trilobites. It was a hot day, probably around 100 degrees. Just below the bare rock crest I rested under a juniper tree.

A split-level brown farmhouse seemed at least a thousand feet lower. Lying tired, uncomfortable with the heat, not having brought enough to drink, pantcuffs and socks pierced with dozens of long seed-barbs, I could see the rocks clearly weren't shale.Swissshhh! A sound as if from a small jet plummeting without engines. A hawk rent the air directly over the juniper, then blasted on toward earth. It was probably a kestrel, though it moved so swiftly I didn't get a good look.

But I could see that it swerved a little left and then right as it went down, then curved around a hillock far down the mountainside as it finally came to earth. The hillock hid it from me, so I don't know if it caught the mouse or whatever it had spotted.

Almost as a mental afterimage, I could see the swerving in mid-flight, and wondered at first if that meant the hawk was uncertain about where it was going.

Then I decided this is what happened: the hawk was tracking the mouse, which was moving, and simultaneously making adjustments for the hump that was rising and threatening to obstruct the view.

With its rapidly changing perspective, descending with ruthless speed, the hummock grew larger and instantaneously the kestrel adjusted its flight to curve to the side, then back when it was out of the way.

But I perked up, delighted with the marvelous coordination of pinions and sight, the automatic shifts while the bird zeroed in.

The last couple of years have been awful for Utahns who love and try to protect nature. They've been kicked in the head a lot lately, especially by state and county governments.

Just a few examples:

- The outrageous plan by state officials to allow hunting of sandhill cranes, after protection for seven decades.

- The Burr Trail debacle.

- Months of work by members of a governor's task force over protecting integral vistas; the illusory triumph of reaching agreement among disparate parties, only to have the state government effectively nullify it.

- The trashing of any move to widen protection of Anasazi ruins near Hovenweep National Monument.

- Fury by certain politicos because Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, dared to suggest better mitigation of the Central Utah Project's environmental damage.

- The handing over of a square mile of state land to Garfield County for the express purpose of bringing pressure on the National Park Service.

- The indifference by state and county officials toward establishing a San Rafael National Park.

- One of the saddest changes is the fragmenting of old alliances. People who are natural allies, who were once and now should be friends, seem anxious to score points against each other. A bitter fragmentation has taken place in the conservation movement.

For any sympathetic heart, these are discouraging times. In fact, this is just the continuation of many discouraging decades. Over more than a century, exploitation has been roaring along like some runaway semitruck.

Just look back at the killing off of the buffalo, the destruction of the Indian tribes, the damming of the Colorado and Green rivers. It's hard to stop anything with that kind of momentum.

Nature's defenders are almost never paid. They tire of the nonesense, the unfair attacks, criticism, impugning of their integrity. Usually, their efforts will seem fruitless.

Why butt your head against a wall?

But then there's the kestrel.

It reminds me of the fragility and beauty of our wildlife and landscape.

You can't just give up. Besides, you just might win sometimes. In the long run, America has started to become conscious of the fagility of our natural setting.

The lesson is that you must swerve skillfully around the obstacles and keep your eyes on the prize.

Make quick adjustments, keep going, don't hesitate. Don't lose heart. If the will is strong, if the objective is worthy, if you're skillful and intelligent, that hillock will recede someday.