Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Winter Day

Yesterday I went x-country skiing. Fresh snow had fallen the day before on old hard-packed snow, and I was eager to ski on the snowmobile trails through the forest. The sun was bright, the sky an intense blue, and the temperature only -2C - quite warm for this time of year. The trail I choose was packed by a snowmobile, yet the snow was soft and as I skimmed along, it whispered beneath my skis.

Fresh wolf tracks were pressed into the snowmobile tracks, and I followed them as the trail descended gradually, twisting through the forest. In three minutes I was past the last turn and onto flat ground and soon reached a large abandoned gravel pit.

I was a half mile from the Alaska Highway and the centre of Watson Lake town, but the only sounds I heard were from my skis and surroundings. The wind shook bushy tops of spruce and pine and snow cascaded down the trees. Two gray jays fluttered across the sky. A pine grosbeak called from the forest. Ravens flew on their air path from the garbage dump to the sewage lagoon, and at times circled downward to check on this creature on the trail.

The gravel pit opened up before me and snowmobile tracks led off in numerous directions. Do I ski an hour longer down to the Liard River? Do I go upward on a snow covered road to circle back to my pickup? Or do I continue through the gravel pit where the wolf had gone? I follow the wolf tracks.

Other animals had left signs of passage. Snow hare prints were in the soft snow and disappeared into willows and brush. Tiny paw prints stopped where long feather marks were spread out on each side of the snowmobile tracks.  An owl had found a meal.

The open gravel pit allowed me a wide view of the sky and landscape. Clouds floated lazily through the blue expanse, often changing shape from elongated pools to swirls and spirals created by a master artist on a canvas. Sun rays dressed poplar and birch trees and spread as fingers across snow covered side hills.

As the sun lowered, the sky and clouds turned purple, rose and deep orange. Time to leave the wolf tracks and return to my pick up. A squeaky chirp from the forest stopped me and I 'cheed cheed' back to the boreal chickadee. It chirped back. We continued the conversation until the wind shook the trees and the bird flew away.

When people ask me how I deal with northern winter cold and darkness, I smile and remember a day such as this, and reply, "Oh, I survive."

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Boss Squirrel

I have holes and tunnels in my yard. Mind you, there's two feet of snow on the ground, and the holes and tunnels are in the snow, made by the Boss Squirrel of the front yard.  When I watch the birds at the feeders, there is Boss Squirrel with his head poking above the snow for a look around. His head disappears and seconds later, he reappears farther down the lawn. He rushes to the trees and runs up the branches - here and there - chasing the birds from the trees and feeders. More birds are arriving every day, more birds spread out in 10 trees, but Boss Squirrel is persistent.

Even the large Common Ravens don't escape Boss Squirrel's wrath. As they feed on the fallen sunflower seeds, they hop into the air to escape this crazy creature running amok in their midst and escaping into the brush or up a tree. From the tree, Boss Squirrel will jump down into the flock of ravens, making them scatter. Eventually, the ravens leave to eat in quieter surroundings such as the garbage dump or grocery store parking lot.

Boss Squirrel has a difficult life. On the house roof,  I blocked the narrow space between two roof lines where Boss Squirrel was squeezing through to cache his pine cones.  Our truck repair centre cleaned out his huge nest that he had built behind the glove compartment by crawling through the truck engine. I took away the small towel that he had pulled out from under the garage door (that was filling a space caused by ground imbalance) and was tearing apart for bedding. Some of his holes in the snowbanks along the driveway were covered when I shoveled snow. Once, he barely escaped me stepping on him when I stepped off the snow path through the lawn. His squeak and rapid movement warned me to tread carefully.

There's Boss Squirrel now, eating on the sunflower seeds that I scattered far down the driveway. Closer to the house, also eating on sunflower seeds, are two juncos and a common red poll. Oh, no - Boss Squirrel sees them and he's charging over twenty feet to scatter the birds. He settles down to eat the seed, content that he's the boss of the front yard.