Bearspaw Nature Notes – Life in the Country

02/27/14

The weather has been cold, cold, cold!  Last year it seemed there was more snow and less cold, although there’s been plenty of snow this year, too.

Yet, as we approach the end of February and the beginning of March, I can’t help but think that spring is right around the corner.

I know!  I’m an Albertan!  I could be jailed for saying that out loud and possibly jinxing the whole thing.  Spring really won’t come until mid-April or maybe even early May.

It seems to me that spring used to come in March when I was a kid.  Not until the very end of March to be sure, but the adage that March “comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb” certainly seemed well reasoned at the time.

Oh, but March was a LONG month.  My selective memory has Easter occurring most often in April when I was young, making March thirty-one days with NO break from the monotony of school AT ALL!

March was the month of cold winds, sudden snowstorms and sunny days that turned all that snow into slush on the playground.  If you looked hard enough, you’d be sure to find marbles that some unlucky kid had lost in the winter.  I don’t know why marbles were a “winter sport”, but they were.

Just when you’d think it was finally over, winter would deal another blow and the whole process would start over.  March was the month that would inevitably find the teenage me at the Greyhound Station, watching the people as they came and went, wishing that I, too, had somewhere to go.

Growing up in Central Alberta meant that I wasn’t afforded the same luxury as Southern Albertans with their mysterious Chinook winds that offered a respite from the rigors of the season.

No, for us, and those in the North, March was a battle between the forces of good and evil, and as a child, I could only watch and keep my fingers crossed that it would end the way it should.

I spent a long time away from the wonders of nature and it’s only since moving to the country a couple of years ago that I’ve become more in tune with my surroundings.  So, I couldn’t really say if this feeling is more instinct or optimism.  All I know is that it’s different from when I was a kid.

When they took down the boards of the hockey rink across the street, that’s when we knew that spring had arrived.

02/28/14

Just before dawn this morning, the neighborhood fox made an appearance.  He was as close to our house as I’ve ever seen him – just inside the fence.  Of course, as fast as he is, by the time I raced to the office for my camera and back to the kitchen he was already across the yard and headed down the neighbor’s driveway.  So, my efforts yielded a couple of long distance, fuzzy photos in dim, pre-dawn light.

Foiled again.

I remember the first time I saw him, shortly after moving here.  I’d put the garbage out early in the morning, but the truck hadn’t yet arrived.  I pulled into the driveway and saw him dash out from between two bags, through the fence and into the meadow, where I quickly lost sight of him.  I was so excited.  I remember telling a friend:

“The bad news is there was a fox in my garbage.  The good news is THERE WAS A FOX IN MY GARBAGE!”

Of all the wild dogs, I am perhaps most intrigued by the fox.  Like the coyote, a fox can easily adapt to urban or rural surroundings, but unlike the coyote, a fox will remain largely secretive.  One of the other interesting things about foxes is the closeness of the family unit.   Young females will remain in the den to assist with the raising of a new brood, putting off their own reproduction.

Since that first brief encounter, there have been a few “fox alerts” raised, but no real decent photo opportunities.  I’m watching, though.  I’ll get him one day.

03/01/14

The temperature reads -29o C, but the added factor of wind chill makes it a cool      -41o C.  A good day to stay indoors.  So that is exactly what I am doing.

But looking out my kitchen window, I can see that one male House Sparrow crouched up on the feeder, feathers fluffed up against the cold.

I’m a little worried.  Where are the three Black-capped Chickadees that have been keeping the House Sparrow company all winter?  Has this cold snap finally broken them?

There are a lot of people that disagree with the idea of putting out bird feeders, believing that all wild creatures should be left completely wild, with no help or influence from the human world.

But I’m of the opinion that our very existence has already had an influence whether we want to admit it or not, and those tiny little birds that brave the wicked Alberta winters could use a little help now and then.

The mortality rate for first year birds is an incredible 90%.

90%.  That’s huge.

So, I will continue to fill my feeders (which are barely touched in the summer months, by the way) and hope that not having to expend that extra energy in the search for food might mean the survival of another bird or two.

I look out again at the sparrow on the feeder and wish there were something else I could do.  The weather is supposed to remain in this range for another week or so.  That’s gotta hurt.

03/02/14

We got home around five this morning and there, in the yard next to the driveway, was the most amazing, incredible moose!

He was standing at the fence, calmly nibbling branches from the huge poplar tree, nonchalant about either the truck or the people emerging from it.  In fact, if anything, he showed signs of curiosity, leaning forward and looking us over.

I have never seen a moose as big as this one.  I assume it was a male, just from the sheer bulk.  Moose drop their antlers around mid-January and I wasn’t close enough to see if he had the nubs on the top of his head.  Who am I kidding?  I couldn’t see the top of his head.  He must have stood seven feet tall.  That height isn’t uncommon among the Northern sub-species, but it’s big for a local.  It was still viciously cold out, so I didn’t linger.

Once the sun rose, I bundled up and took my camera out to see if he was still around.  He had moved to the end of the yard, or the little forest, as we call the small stand of trees there.  He was ducking and munching his way through.  I managed to take a few pictures before the camera froze up, but I was a fair distance away, having frozen up a bit myself, and none of the shots turned out very well.

But the trip back outside was well worth taking, despite the cold; just for one more look at that magnificent creature.

03/03/14

I woke up from a morning nap to sunshine pouring through the window and the familiar song of the Black-capped Chickadee.

I raced to the window to have a look and there they were – the three missing Chickadees.  The temperature still hovered around -20o C, but with calm winds and blue skies, I guess they just couldn’t stay away.

If Chickadees were people, they’d probably be like those people who spread happiness wherever they go, just because they can’t see the bad side of anything.

We could probably all use a few more Chickadee people in our lives.

While I watched what I assumed to be a joyful reunion between the Chickadees and the House Sparrow, I couldn’t help but think about how different this year is from last.

Last winter was the first winter I had the feeders up and I entertained quite a different crowd.  I’ve always had Chickadees, but in late fall I also had House Finches and Blue Jays.  In the winter there were Common Redpolls living in the hedge.  Once the Redpolls had retreated, their place was taken by a flock of American Tree Sparrows, a pair of Dark-eyed Juncos, a pair of Downy Woodpeckers, and one Northern Flicker.

By the time the first Goldfinch appeared, spring had arrived.

Throughout the winter, though, there was one special visitor.  A lone Song Sparrow decided to over-winter in the shrubs below my bedroom window.  Unlike the Chickadees and the Redpolls, the Song Sparrow preferred to stay low to the ground.  It’s so uncommon for a Song Sparrow to over-winter that I began to feel a deep sense of personal responsibility for this tiny bird.

Every two days, I would pour a cup full of birdseed out my window to the ground below and every three or four days, I would sneak around the side of the house with my camera to take a few shots from a distance.

The over-winter was a success and when an assortment of other Sparrows moved through, my funny little friend moved right along with them.

Although much quieter, the feeders have still been well used this season, with appearances almost daily.  In fact, now that I’m thinking about it, I should pick up some more seed.

03/04/14

Right on the corner of Bearspaw Road and TWP 262 are two large hay fields, one on each corner.  There’s something breathtaking about the sight of one of those big round bales of hay against the backdrop of a cerulean sky.

The gently rolling hills add texture, and the only snow that hasn’t blown off is captured in the golden stubble left to prevent soil erosion.

I like to look out across the fields.  You never know what you might see.  Often there are herds of White-tail or Mule Deer, flocks of Canadian Geese or a lone Coyote.

Just last week, I was surprised to see – not one – but FIVE Coyotes running across one of the fields.  I’d never seen more than two coyotes in one place before, so at first, I wasn’t even sure they were coyotes.  I took a closer look through the lens of my camera to see what I could about their tails.

The rule, when it comes to wild dogs is, if they run with their tails up, they’re wolves, tails straight out, foxes, and if they run with their tails down, they’re coyotes.

These were coyotes.  I snapped a few pictures as they ran and within a few moments, they had disappeared into the hills.

Earlier today, I got around to uploading the photos, and while most of them were blurry and distant, there was one that had all five coyotes in the frame.

I was telling the kids about the five coyotes and pointing out where I had seen them as we came home in the afternoon.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw movement in the other hay field and pulled over to take a closer look.

There, running through the field and much closer, were three coyotes – tails bushy and sunlight glinting from their coats.  Two of them appeared to be a couple and were running together while the third gave chase.

As close as we were, the coyotes barely gave us a second glance and we were able to watch them until they were out of sight.  As we prepared to pull away, Bear looked at me and said, “THAT was cool.”

Yes.  It was.

03/05/14

When we first moved here, I claimed the smallest of the bedrooms and declared it would be my office.  I put a table in front of the window to hold my computer and … well, that’s about as far as I got.  It’s still a work in progress.

The people who lived here before we did were hunters.  Not just hunters, but TROPHY hunters.  My office once had a black bear in the corner, a hawk suspended from the ceiling, and naturally, a deer head mounted on the wall.

Once I set up shop, I endeavored to make the room a place of life, not death.  Again, progress has been slow.  But I love my office, for the window, if nothing else.

It was from my window that I saw my very first hummingbird and first noticed the Northern Pocket Gophers shifting piles of earth in the yard.

I’ve watched a parade of wildlife, the cats as they hunt, and storms moving in across the prairies.  When it’s too cold to be outside, this is my window on the world.  When I’m too busy to be outside, this window is my coffee break.

And what new and wonderful experience did my window offer up today?

Coyotes – five of them, maybe even the same five that I saw last week – in the middle of the day.  And what’s more, this was not a pack travelling together.  Nope.  This was a battle.  These coyotes were fighting.  Generally speaking, there are only two reasons for wild animals to fight – territory and women.  Given the time of year, it’s a safe bet that this was about a woman.

Female coyotes go into “heat” anytime from mid-January to early March.  Their cycle lasts for five days.  During that time, she chooses a mate and will often remain monogamous for several years. I’m guessing that one of these coyotes was the prize that the others were competing for, probably a young female preparing to take a mate for the first time.

I grabbed my camera and made for the patio doors, but I think I must have yelled out in excitement because by the time I got outside, the pack had broken up, with two coyotes chasing a third (who was bleeding) and the other two headed in the opposite direction.  Given the fact that coyotes can reach speeds of up to 63km/hour, there wasn’t much time to get pictures in, although I did get a few.

I’m so glad I happened to be there to see that, although had I been quieter, I’m sure I would have seen more.  It makes me wonder what I miss when I’m not here, or at night.  Judging from the tracks we often find in the morning, there is a lot going on out there.

03/06/14

I had a delivery to make in a low-income apartment complex just on the outskirts of downtown today.  There, in the yard, were a flock of Mallards, both male and female.  The combination of sunlight and shade showed off the bold colors of both sexes.  Usually by autumn, the drake’s colors are all faded and tacky, but in spring, there is a depth and brilliance to them.

I just can’t wait for the ponds to start thawing and the migrant birds to start arriving.

I drove over to the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, but it’s still closed to the public until the damage from last June’s flood can be repaired.  It’s not just the sanctuary, though – the entire riverbank throughout Inglewood is closed for rebuilding.

I knew the damage was extensive, but I guess I didn’t expect it to be this long in recovery.

03/07/14

At last! At last!  This morning the weather finally broke.  I took the kids to school with a thermometer reading of -19o C, before wind chill.  By the time I finished service, the mercury had climbed to -9.  By the time I reached Frank Lake, it was 3o above zero.  Yes, anticipating the predicted Chinook, I packed a lunch and set off on an “owl prowl”.  The idea was to head to Frank Lake where Short-eared Owls are often spotted near the gate.  If I didn’t find an owl there, I would head over to Mossleigh, where I have twice seen a Snowy Owl.  If, by any chance, I still hadn’t seen an owl, I would head back along TWP250, where a group of people spotted ten Snowies just last week

I was certain to see an owl.

Except I didn’t.

TWP 250 turned out to be mile after mile of gravel road, mostly plowed, with eight-foot banks on either side. It was impossible to drive over 40 km/hr, so it wasn’t like I didn’t have time to look for Snowies.  They just weren’t there.

I probably shouldn’t have gone east.  I complain every time I do.  In the winter, there’s nothing but snow-covered prairie.  Miles and miles and miles of snow-covered prairie.  If you don’t find what you’re looking for (Snowy Owls), it can be the most boring drive of your life.

Ah, but that’s the problem.  To find the Snowy Owls, you HAVE to go east.  They are only rarely found West of Deerfoot Trail.

And in the spring and fall, the lure of migrating shore birds at Frank Lake, Weed Lake, Blackie, and every roadside puddle in between makes going East a necessity.

Although I didn’t manage to spot a single owl, the hours on the road were made all worthwhile by the appearance of a flock of Gray Partridge.  As common as they are in Alberta, this is a life bird for me (meaning that this is the first time in my life I have seen one).  And at least I tried.  I would have regretted it if I hadn’t.  And it really was a beautiful day.

03/08/14

The morning dawned clear and bright.  Saturday, and the CEI; Bear and I missed last week due to the extremely low temperatures and unreliability of the Jimmy. I was doubly glad to head West today.  We have been volunteering at the Cochrane Ecological Institute (or Cochrane Wildlife Reserve) since August of 2012.

As we crested the big hill on Big Hill Springs Road, the mountains came into view, looming large and crisp.  I sighed and as I did, I swear I felt every ounce of stress leave my body.

We didn’t have much that needed doing other than the usual feeding of the wildlife, so we took our time and enjoyed the experience of just being there.

“Sitting in silence” is something that Monks do, and it seems appropriate that Bear and I do the same, as the CEI is where I come to set my soul straight.

But while there is quiet in the sitting, it is not always silent.

There is the sound of the wind moving through the trees, the whoosh, whoosh, whoosh of Raven wings, the teasing and gossip of the squirrels and the squawkward call of the Blue Jay as he announces his arrival.

The dogs in the kennel howl and bark at every imagined movement, the wild turkeys raise an alarm if the wind should change direction, and my own voice laughs at the antics of a Mountain Chickadee as he photo-bombs my every attempt to capture his Boreal cousin.

And then there is the continued knock-knock-knocking of a Hairy Woodpecker as he attempts to bore yet another hole in the roof of the house.  Would someone let that bird in already!?!

But there is silence too, and in the silence, joy.

There is silence in the sun, warm on my face, silence in the step of an orphaned fawn as she rests her head on my knee, and there is silence in the breath of the bison, even as I watch the steam escape his nostrils.

In the words of Van Morrison – “This must be what paradise is like.  It’s so quiet in here.”

03/09/14

Another bright, beautiful day.  In the yard, small piles of dirt are beginning to appear as the Northern Pocket Gophers are becoming more active and beginning their spring renovations.

As I think about all the awakening that must be going on beneath the earth and in the roots and veins of trees and grasses, I can’t help wanting to be a part of it although my track record with gardening has been far from stellar.  But maybe this year will be different.  I know we are weeks away from the final frost (maybe even months) but armed with a plastic tray and some peat moss, I didn’t let that stop me.  I am now the proud owner of a neatly labeled herb garden.

Daylight saving started today.

03/10/14

I work in some of the oldest neighborhoods in the city.  Last year, when the flood came, most of the inner city found itself under water.  It was heartbreaking to see beautiful old homes – some of them beyond the century mark – damaged or destroyed.  I don’t really think anyone expected the recovery to take as long as it has.  In the hardest hit areas, there are still more dumpsters than cars parked on the streets.  And although my family and I live far away from the destruction, our daily exposure left us deeply affected.

Now that the weather has begun to warm, and the snow has begun to melt, I’m beginning to worry.  Pools of water are forming.  Either the ground is still too saturated to absorb it or the sewer system is not equipped to handle this year’s onslaught.  It’s only March.  What happens when the rains begin in June and the snowcaps begin to melt?

They called it a “100-year flood”, but what if they were wrong?

The river remembers.

The waters will rise, and the river will remember which path it took, and it will be easier this time.  And the devastation and the loss and the sadness will begin anew.  Families that were strong and made it through might not survive it again.

There will be mud and stink and tears.  There will be orphaned animals and elderly people who die because they don’t want to leave and don’t have anywhere to go.

The river remembers. So do I.

03/11/14

The day dawned with such brilliance that I couldn’t help stopping for a cup of coffee and taking a moment to appreciate the ever-changing mood of the Rocky Mountains.  This morning the colors of the sunrise, soft pinks and lilacs, were reflected on the snowy peaks of the Eastern slopes.

This afternoon, I wrapped myself in a shawl, brushed the debris from the cushions of the wicker love seat on the patio and spent a couple of hours in quiet contemplation, thinking about where and what to plant, composing a poem and laughing about something I saw on the internet.

It was a pie chart, showing the seasons in Canada.

Winter, of course, took up 2/3 of the chart.  Of what remained, ½ was summer, and the other 2 quarters represented fall and spring.  But there was one line, near the end of winter and that one line was labeled “that one really warm day in March that makes you insanely optimistic”.

I guess today is that day.

03/12/14

Armed with a ploughman’s lunch and my camera, I took a drive into K-Country today.  It was in my head to try and find some of the smaller owls that I have yet to see, the Saw-Whet Owl, Northern Pygmy Owl, and the Northern Hawk Owl.  Sibbald Creek is mentioned as one of the best locations for two of the three and someone on-line mentioned having seen the third there a couple of weeks ago.  I knew my chances of finding small owls were… well, smaller than looking for any of the larger ones, but it couldn’t hurt to try.

It was another gorgeous sunlit day with minimal cloudiness.  I was driving slowly with my window down and the music off, listening for any unusual bird calls.  I took the Jumping Pound Demonstration Forest loop and with the forest close on both sides, I was struck by the smells all around me.  The smell of the mud on the road, the smell of the trees, the smell of running water and the smell of last year’s leaves rising from the forest floor.

Because it is a mixed forest, the smell of last year’s leaves is more akin to the powerful memory-trigger smell of my Uncle Hank’s rural Alberta farm that the West Coast rainforest.  Rich, loamy, earthy smells that made me glad to feel a part of the forest, even if I didn’t find the looked-for owls.

I’d planned to have my lunch at the popular fishing pond on Sibbald Trail, but I found the snow sun-softened and knee-deep and not worth the effort to try and reach the picnic table that was only an exposed tabletop surrounded by snow.

Instead, I found a picnic table at the forest edge where I could hear the Kananaskis River in the valley below me.

Other than a couple of Black-capped Chickadees and a small flock of Bohemian Waxwings, I didn’t find any birds or any other wildlife for that matter until I was a few miles from home.  But even without fur or feathers, it was a drive well worth taking.

03/13/14

The first sprouts have appeared in my herb garden.  I’m so excited I just want to run out and buy more seeds and plant, plant, plant!

There was a pair of geese on a melt water pond in the big field.

03/14/14

I left the house at twilight to pick up my daughter from a friend’s house.  In the big field on the corner, there was a herd of mule deer, at least 50 strong.

I love mule deer, with their big ears and funny “eyebrows”.

03/15/14

It snowed again last night – just slightly more than what would be referred to as a dusting.  And while temperatures are sub-zero, it’s only JUST.  Still, with overcast skies and a gusty wind, it’s definitely wintery out there.

Despite the temperatures, it was another wonderful day at the CEI.  The fawns seemed happy to see us, or at least the bucket of alfalfa and oats that we brought. Or was it the strawberries?

While Bear patrolled the perimeter of the Swift Fox enclosure, I parked myself beneath the trees, a respectful distance from the feed boxes and waited to see if any of the foxes would show up.  Alas, there were no foxes for me, but I was kept vastly amused by the antics of a Red Squirrel attempting to steal kibble.

He had me convinced that there was some other animal in the box.  Eventually I had to go and have a look.  It was, of course, empty.  I could hear that squirrel.  It sounded like he was laughing.

03/16/14

The stars were bright, and the moon was full this morning when I headed into the city to start work.

The Snowshoe Hares that are prevalent in the inner city are all in various stages of coat change, going from the snowy-white of winter to the light, gray-brown of summer.  Right now, they are mottled and confused looking – showing up brown against the snow and white against the newly exposed grass.  They make easy targets for the coyotes who often hunt in pairs, even here within the city limits.

I think most people would be surprised to know how much wildlife wanders their neighborhoods while they sleep.  During the day, they might see the occasional Hare, an assortment of songbirds and the Grey Squirrels.  But at night, in addition to the hares and the coyotes, it’s not uncommon to see skunks.  Although I’ve only ever seen one, there are plenty of porcupines, deer, if you are near the river, the odd fox and of course, there are always owls.  I love the city at night.  You know, when all the people are sleeping.

03/17/14

Steel-blue storm clouds obscured the mountains today and I thought for sure it was going to rain.  But as the day grew on, the clouds grew soft and grey and it began to look more like snow than rain.

Daisy went into labor tonight. Yes, some strange cat (possibly her own father) violated our kitten and now she is a mother.

She came into the family room, doing her strange little meow-without-noise.  I looked at her and knew it was time.  I told the kids to get a box and where to find an old blanket and had them set her up.

She had her first kitten shortly after.

For hours, there was only one.  I went to the office for 15 minutes and when I came back there were two.  There were two for a long time.  I went back into the office to get my glass of water, came back and there were three.

I guess it’s true what they say –

A watched cat never…?

Yeah.  Maybe I’ve got that wrong.

Anyway, I can’t wait anymore.  I have to go to bed.  Who knows how many there will be by morning?

03/18/14

Four.  The grand total is four kittens.  And every single one of them is orange and white like their mother and their aunt.  Aunt Jezabelle is very unimpressed, by the way.

I woke up, not only to four kittens, but the snow I thought was going to come yesterday.

I know it’s been a long winter and I’m as excited as anyone about the coming of spring, but sometimes the snow is just so pretty.

This morning, in the dark, the snow was delightful.  Large, wet flakes that hypnotize you as you watch, covering the world in a layer of soft, white lace and muting all sound.  It was incredibly beautiful.

That is, until it was time to drive home in rush hour traffic.

Something went wrong with my truck and the four-wheel drive wouldn’t engage.   I was stuck with rear-wheel drive.  I had a near miss on Crowchild Trail and ended up seeking out the back roads where, at least if I crashed, I wasn’t likely to hurt anyone else.

That was the scariest, white-knuckle drive home I’ve ever had.  It took me an hour and a half to get home and reminded me again why four-wheel drive is a necessity when you live in the country.

With apologies to the children, I announced that I was NOT going back out in that.

It’s official.  Snow day.

03/19/14

The sun came out yesterday afternoon and melted all that soft, wet snow.  And since the forecast for tomorrow is for more of the same, today seemed like a good day to go for a drive.

Lured by the knowledge that the gates were open, once again I made the journey to Frank Lake.

There wasn’t much to see yet.  The open water required a hike through the snow, something I wasn’t quite prepared to do.  I satisfied myself with what I could see from the roadway.

What I could see were Canada Geese, Northern Pintails, a few Common Goldeneye, and a pair of Tundra Swans.  There were other flocks – birds in the thousands – but I was too far to be able to identify them.

But it didn’t matter.

The first faint traces of that feeling – that pulse-pounding, silent thrill – that comes when I’m out alone among the birds was there, just a hint, a promise of what’s to come.

From Frank Lake, I headed west to Sheep River Provincial Park, taking secondary roads along the way.  I only stopped twice; once for a herd of Mule Deer resting in a field, and once for a windy but spectacular view of rolling ranchland with a mountain backdrop.

Sheep River Provincial Park is still closed, and will be until mid-May, but the trip wasn’t wasted.  All that fresh air restored the chemical balance in my head.  I’m sticking with that story.

03/20/14

It’s the first official day of spring and Mother Nature decided to celebrate by sending us a straight-up blizzard.

85km/hr winds driving the snow sideways in from the north.  Brrr.  I watched through the kitchen window as my poor House Sparrow tried to come in for a landing on the feeder and was blown right off.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bird get blown away before.

It was a good day to stay indoors.  But that gave me the opportunity to spend some time just watching and photographing the new kittens.  They’ve stopped looking entirely like aliens now and seem a little fluffier.  Of course, their eyes are still closed, and you can’t play with them yet, but kittens are amusing to watch at any stage.

03/21/14

It’s back to wintery weather.  The mercury has dropped to a frosty -18o C.  On days like this, I feel like telling a story.  Here it goes.

Once upon a time, in an effort to bring order to the chaos, it was decided that the stewardship of the Earth would be given in equal parts to four gods.  Those gods were Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.

Spring was a young girl with hair of a rich, dark brown.  She was quick to laugh, but just as quick to anger.  When Spring got angry, her violet eyes would flash with grey.  But Spring wasn’t one to hold a grudge and soon her laughter would ring out across the land.

Summer was a young man with eyes of green and hair the color of sunshine.  He was a good-natured sort, even if he was prone to laziness.

Autumn was a woman whose hair seemed to reflect many colors – gold, russet and copper, whose deep brown eyes were capable of being both somber and joyful.  When Autumn laughed, the whole world wanted to laugh with her.  She was fond of the other gods and would sometimes show up early or stay late, just for the pleasure of their company.

Winter was an old man, with watery blue eyes and hair as white as the snow he brought with him.  But Winter was a bitter and jealous god.  He believed that his age and wisdom decreed that he should have a larger portion of the year.

He didn’t mind Autumn so much.  She at least understood the need for the Earth to sleep under a blanket of snow and did her best to prepare for it. 

Summer he barely knew and had no use for.  The less involvement there, the better.

But Spring – oh, how Winter hated Spring, all that noise and ruckus.  And what right did a mere child have to an equal portion?  It was insulting, that’s what it was.

Winter made up his mind to do away with Spring altogether.  When the time came for Winter to turn the Earth over to Spring, he launched an attack instead, catching Spring off guard.

At first, Spring was confused by Winter’s actions.  Dismissing it as a case of “Grumpy Old Man”, Spring was content to let him have his say.  But after a few days, when it became apparent that Winter’s attacks were growing in fury rather than abating, Spring knew that there was something more going on and decided it was time to fight back.  She launched an attack of her own.

Winter was taken aback.  He had expected little or no resistance from the child.  But this child was showing uncommon strength.  He redoubled his efforts and Spring matched him, blow for blow.

And so it went.

Eventually, Winter began to tire and conceded the battle.  Spring had triumphed.

But in his own way, Winter had also won, for Spring’s quarter of the year had been much reduced.

And that is why every year Winter tries again to wrest control from the child, Spring, and every year, in the end, Spring wins out.

But it’s never easy.

03/22/14

The fawns are always happy to see us.  Because Bear and I go to the CEI in the afternoon, their feeding time is pushed back a little on Saturdays.  They’re always standing at the gate of their enclosure as soon as they see us pull up in the driveway.

But I can’t remember a day (with this set of fawns) where they were as happy to see us as today.

The skies were clear and sunny, and the winds were calm.  In spite of the temperature being around -12o C, it was still comfortable enough to be sitting outside.

Once we had been mobbed at the gate, and the food had been distributed, Bear and I sat down to watch them for a while.

Normally, they are so busy eating that we hardly see their faces.  Every so often, Tawny will come over to see us, get his neck rubbed and his ears scratched.  One of the mulies is also friendly and will pause to say hello as she moves between the two food dishes.  We watch them eat, and occasionally, when one raises its head, I snap a photo or two.

But today was somehow different.  It was almost as though one fawn was assigned to stay with us at all times.  Even the female White-tail that NEVER comes near us came close enough to sniff my camera lens before hopping away sideways.  I didn’t make a move to touch her, hoping that eventually she’ll trust us enough to let us.  I doubt it will ever happen, but even the fact that she came as close as she did was impressive.

As soon as one fawn moved away, another would move in and take its place.  Eventually, they all settled in, lying in the hay near us.  I took dozens of pictures.

But more importantly, I spent the afternoon being nuzzled and cuddled by wild animals.  I can’t even begin to describe how that makes me feel.

Whether it’s the soft fur of their necks beneath my hands, or wet noses snuffling my ears and hair, it is a balm for my soul, and an experience beyond price.

There were buds on the Aspens along the drive.

03/23/14

Sunday is one of my favorite days of the week.  Work is relaxed, and once home and rested, it’s the day I like to putter around and do the things I like to do.

The weather was cold, but the kitchen was cozy, and I didn’t venture out any further than was necessary to refill the bird feeders.

Staying in wasn’t what Jezabelle wanted.  She spent a good portion of her day outdoors and when she did come in, she had snow on her head and nose and a meadow vole in her mouth.

03/24/14

Another sure sign of spring to come – the appearance of fruits and vegetables in the grocery store that are hard to come by during the colder months.  Now if winter would just let go already!

03/25/14

Driving to work in the middle of the night, I could have sworn I saw a lynx on a hillside adjacent to the road.  I was unable to pull over as there was a lane merging in.

Whatever it was, it was slightly smaller than a coyote and may have even been a young coyote.  But it sure didn’t run like one.

03/26/14

Today was a day of little things that made me smile.

I finally had a chance to go through my photographs from last week

While driving to Cochrane I saw a coyote in the snowstorm, almost completely camouflaged.

One of the kittens has opened its eyes.

And finally, the three Chickadees and one House Sparrow have been joined by another House Sparrow.

03/27/14

It’s been almost a week of snow, blowing snow, falling snow, drifting snow, snow, snow, snow.  Today, at least, the sun managed to shine for a few minutes, turning the world into a picture postcard.

It would just be nice to receive a postcard from a different season, wherever it is.

03/28/14

Complete and total chaos today, as Daisy decided it was time to move her kittens.  She moved one into my bedroom.  One.

In the coldest corner, of the coldest room in the house, she deposited one kitten on the hardwood floor and left it there.

Its cries woke me from the earliest stages of sleep.  After first locating the source of all this noise, I went searching for Daisy and found her back in her box with the other three kittens.  I returned to the bedroom, put an old blanket down on the floor, and lifted the kitten onto it.  I brought the box, with Daisy and the other three kittens still in it, into the bedroom.

Daisy jumped out and inspected the blanket.  Apparently, it was too fluffy.  She took the kitten off the blanket and deposited him back on the hardwood floor, where he immediately began to cry again.  Daisy then retrieved another kitten from the box and left the room with it.  

Now I was confused.  I’ve got a box of two kittens, both crying, a single kitten crying in the cold and another one being carted off to God knows where.  Not knowing what else to do, I scooped kitten number one back into the box with the other two and moved the box back into the living room where it was warm.  Those three kittens stopped crying.  I set off in search of kitten number four, while Daisy calmly helped herself to breakfast.  I found the fourth kitten in Bear’s closet.

Deciding that there wasn’t anything for me to do (after reuniting kitten number four with its sibs), I tried again to go to sleep.

Increasingly vocal cries roused me.  Unbelieving, I looked again in the corner.  There was a kitten there, albeit a different one.  Glancing to the hallway, I saw Daisy with another kitten, headed into the office.

Calling on Bear for backup, we began an early Easter egg hunt, with the eggs being live kittens.

There was one in my bedroom, two in Bear’s closet, and one in the office, behind the printer.  Daisy, meanwhile, was lying in the middle of the hallway, ignoring the cries that were now coming in stereo from three different rooms.

I took the small, unfluffy blanket from the box and put it in the corner of my bedroom.  Collecting the remaining kittens, we put them all on the blanket.

Once we finished, Daisy sauntered over like it was her idea all along, lay down and began feeding and washing the entire bunch.

What a mess.  I don’t know who was more confused – Daisy, the kittens, or me.

03/29/14

When we first brought Daisy home last summer, we noticed a marked increase in the amount of hunting that Jezabelle did.  We were never sure if it was because Jezabelle wanted to secure her position in the household by proving what a valuable team member she was, if she thought somehow, that it was her responsibility to provide for the new family member, or if she was just trying to teach Daisy to be a hunter.

Whatever the reason, Jezabelle would bring home her “kills” (sometimes still alive) and let Daisy have them.

Not so much anymore.

Jezabelle is right ticked off about those kittens.  Whereas before she tolerated Daisy’s presence and even gave up food and treats to her younger sister, now any overtures that Daisy makes are met with a hiss and a swipe.  She has even taken to bringing her “kills” into the house and eating them in front of Daisy.  I wonder if their relationship will mend once the kittens have moved on and Daisy is spayed?

But back to Jezabelle’s hunting skills….  I was looking out the window today, admiring the chickadees when I noticed the tracks in the snow.  They can only be explained in one of two ways.  Either that fox has taken to hunting within ten feet of the house, or Jezabelle has taken to hunting like a fox.

There are tracks across the snow, and then there are plunge holes! 

I’m sure the meadow voles are attracted by all the seed that the birds scatter, but I’m also quite sure that the fox is not hunting in my front yard.  It’s way too close to the house.

I watched a documentary a few weeks ago about foxes and their ability to hunt in the snow.  Strangely, it’s been found that when a fox aligns itself with magnetic north, its success rate is 73%.  If only its tail is aligned to magnetic north, the percentage drops to 60%.  If not lined up, a fox will only be successful one in five attempts.  I wonder if the same is true of cats?

When I left for work this morning the fog was so thick that I couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of me.  Being it’s the middle of the night, I don’t worry about traffic so much, but I do worry about wildlife.  I can’t begin to count the number of close calls I’ve had with wildlife on the road since we moved to the country.  In the fog, there would be no chance to avoid a collision.  We get a lot of fog, here in the coulee.

By the time I got home, the fog was completely gone, and the sky was a sea of stars.  Hoar frost coated every branch and twig, sparkling in the night.  Lovely.

But no CEI today.  Sadness.

03/30/14

The day was chilly – it was -120 C before the wind.  It started with wet snow, blowing snow, drifting snow, and more snow, snow, snow, snow, snow.  Another pleasant day by the fire.

The kitten’s eyes are all open.  They are starting to look like cats.

3/31/14

I awoke this morning, not to the standard picture postcard, but to an Ansel Adams photograph – everything in black and white.  The sky was the color of pewter and snow covered every branch.  I’m used to the spiky little jackets of hoar frost and the snow lining only one side of each branch made for such a striking image that I thought I’d stop, after dropping off the kids, to take a few pictures, even though I only had the smaller camera with me.  (The smaller camera is still a Nikon D60 with a 55 to 200 mm lens.  It is a very nice camera.)

I amused myself on a side road close to home, taking pictures of various trees and shrubs in their winter finery, from different angles and different focal lengths.  I had become quite engrossed in what I was doing and almost didn’t see the mule deer sitting in the trees.  She didn’t seem overly concerned with my presence, so I got in a few shots before moving on.

Once around the corner, I came upon a coyote standing on a hill amidst some tall, snow covered grasses.  He, too, allowed me a few shots before turning and walking away.

I continued home stopping for photos of fence lines, trees, and shrubs.

I haven’t been out with the camera in more than a week and I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised at how good it felt, even on such a small scale.

There is beauty in this extended winter.  Some days, like today, it’s spectacular.