What a great weekend… and by the sounds of the many snowmobiles dashing along the Steele Line, I think that lots of people were enjoying the weather in their favourite ways.
On Saturday I went on a solo snowshoe hike and tracked a fox to its lair. This was a thrilling and completely unexpected discovery. Imagine my surprise when the fox tracks disappeared down a hole in the middle of the field, not far from our western slough. It extended as far in as I could see - yes I peered down it but refrained from sticking my arm into it… tempting though that was!
All around the opening of the hole was granular “corn” snow, far different in texture from the snow covering the fields because it was being warmed by the air from the earth below. The opening was also flecked with a few guard hairs from the fox’s coat.
On Sunday I returned, with Eric, to the den. We brought the camera because, as luck would have it, I had decided to leave it at home on Saturday. Wrong move. Imagine my disappointment when we arrived at the lair: the night’s wind had all but obliterated my snowshoe tracks - and completely obscured the foxhole.
And that is why one should always take one’s camera along. Always.
Discouraged, we nonetheless headed north and slipped inside the shelter of the woods, glad to be out of the biting wind.
Immediately we were greeted by a kinder world. In the bush, we were warm so we slowed our pace and that’s when we heard it.
Birdsong. Chortles, twitters and calls filled the air. What a difference from the windswept fields… and from the woods only a couple of weeks ago. In just a few days, the tone of the woods has changed: longer hours of sunlight are creating pockets of soft corn snow in patches of sheltered sunshine. The birds are singing spring songs… and there is renewed activity in the squirrel world, by the looks of the tracks.
In fact, seed-eaters have been extremely fortunate this year because trees produced a large seed crop last autumn. The density of cones on spruce and pine is quite beyond anything else I’ve noticed in my years in the woods. No wonder that the finches, redpolls and even chickadees have been almost totally absent at my feeders this year: there’s ample to eat in the woods.
Red squirrels like to dash up the trunks and along branches of white pine and nip off the cones, which fall to the earth and ring the trees. Then the rodents scamper down, grab a cone from the snow, and find a perch such as a tree stump upon which to eat their stash. All over the floor of the forest we came upon dozens and dozens of pine cones reduced to rubble.
And the ironwood seeds! They are everywhere, littering the snow. Gazing up and using my binoculars, I identified the songbirds as purple finches. All I saw were in male/female pairs, with the male adopting a higher perch than its mate, guarding her else singing his heart out as she dined. Early nuptials, I expect..
There’s nothing like seeing these birds in their own habitat. Even though it’s a pleasure to see them at the feeder, nothing compares to the sight of them aloft, filling the air with their trilling song with the brilliance of a sunny blue sky as backdrop. Other species were nuthatch and chickadees, the former making their nasal-sounding call.
And you can almost feel the maple sap stirring on a weekend like this… Soon plastic tubing will start delivering its sweet liquid through the woods again, and children and adults alike will wait impatiently for the boiling to finish in the sugar shack. Then there’s the sweet deliciousness of tire-sur-neige to enjoy..
We should count our blessings, here in Pontiac and in Canada. I’m sure that all of you share my horror and overwhelming sympathy with the farmers in the United Kingdom. Not only have beef farmers had to bear the agony of destroying many of their herds because of BSE (mad cow disease). Last week’s discovery of hoof-and-mouth disease has led to the destruction of thousands more animals, this time all cloven-hoofed creatures (cows, pigs, sheep and goats). What I thought was disturbing as well as very odd was that according to The Citizen, this virus also affects rats, but not other hoofed animals like horses, (nor humans).
That paper published a terrible photograph of thousands of slaughtered animals being burned, in an immense, hideous pyre.
I emphatically disagree with the letters to the Citizen’s editor from people claiming that it’s a timely wake-up call to warn us that we all “must be” vegetarians.
Human beings are omnivores and there’s nothing unethical about raising animals for meat as long as it’s done in a humane manner. And most farmers are just that: humane.
But many of us laypeople remain perplexed at why herbivores like beef cattle were ever fed other animals. I’ve been told it’s because “all protein is protein” - but am unconvinced by that line of reasoning. I imagine it’s because of money: feeding animals other dead animals must have appeared to be an economical way to get rid of (recycle) “animal byproducts” or waste.
Many livestock producers here in Pontiac must be experiencing feelings of overwhelming sympathy with their British counterparts. And soon, I fear, we’ll be sympathizing with farmers throughout Europe: we’re now hearing what we feared, that cloven animals in Belgium, Germany and France have been slaughtered as a precaution.
So far, we are fortunate here in Canada and here in our Pontiac. I hope BSE and hoof & mouth never infects our herds or threatens our neighbours’ livelihoods.
Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer based in Quyon, West Québec.