Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Monday, December 15, 2014

Beavers, Skating, and Snowshoe Hares

 I am very excited to say that after almost a year of looking around to find a beaver to observe, I have discovered a beaver living a 5 minute walk from my house! I first noticed some trees that had fallen over on my regular walking rote and upon closer inspection, it looked to me as though a beaver had chewed them. The next day I did some more exploring and found a whole lot of evidence of beaver activity.
Here are drag marks made by the beaver as he dragged trees that he cut down.
 And here are some stumps left by the beaver.
 Here are the beaver's footprints in the snow.
 They are surprisingly big!
 This looks like a text book example of a beaver-felled tree.

 It looks as though the beaver is working at cutting this thick log into sections.
 I haven't discovered a lodge yet. It is somewhat unusual to see such a burst in activity this late into winter. I've been talking with a man who studies beavers in New York state and we agree that it is possible that this is a young beaver who has been searching for a new territory to make a home in. It is likely that he has just recently come to the area and has no larder of branches in the water under the ice for his winter food and therefore has to come out to cut down trees for food. He may also be living in a hole in the creek bank, instead of a lodge. The man I have been talking with says that usually beavers will build a lodge after they find a mate, and a big lodge when kits are on the way. Most of the behaviours that we associate with beavers happen when the beavers have kits- bachelor beavers may behave in ways that we don't typically think of when we think of beavers. I look forward to observing this beaver's activity and hopefully I'll spot the beaver himself one of these days!

 The weather has been strange this winter. We have had some very cold snaps, and some very warm spells with very little snow. Currently there is hardly any snow left on the ground. Not enough for skiing or snowshoeing, but the lake is just right for skating. There is no snow over the frozen expanse of the lake, making a perfect 66km ice rink.  We went out yesterday and Kesten tried skating for the first time on real skates. He loves it! He keeps begging us to go back. It looks like we'll have at least another week of snow-free weather to enjoy the lake for skating. After that we'll move to the outdoor oval that they make at the high school.

Yesterday I also went for my weekly ramble in the woods. As I was heading up the trail, I caught sight of a snowshoe hare bounding ahead of me. I walked a little further and then plopped down into the snow to sit quietly and watch. At first the forest is silent as it cautiously observes me but after a few minutes of stillness on my part, the forest accepts my presence. The quiet gives way to the noise of the chickadees chirping and the squirrels scolding. Twigs snap in the forest, as unseen animals move about. I sat still and quiet for about twenty minutes. Finally, growing tired of being still and frozen in the butt, I turned my head to look behind me. There on the edge of the trail I saw a snowshoe hare, quietly watching me. He froze when I moved, hoping that his camouflage would keep him safe and I snapped a quick picture (too bad it didn't focus on him!).
As I shifted my body around to get into a better position, he took one hop, back into the cover of the bushes, but keeping one eye on me. I took another picture and then he disappeared from sight. 
I went for a little walk down the trail and returned to my spot. I stood quietly and again the snowshoe hare emerged from the forest and dashed across the trail to a spot below. I later realized that I was standing between the snowshoe hare and a delicious smorgasbord. Someone had previously felled some trees for firewood and the branches on the ground made for an irresistible snack. As I was leaving the forest I walked past this site and again observed the snowshoe hare bounding away from me. The temptation for that tasty bark must have been competing against his fear of me. It was a treat to see this wonderful wild creature.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Christmas Season

The Christmas season is in full swing! Fun events and busy weeks are the norm these days. Last week we headed out to our friends' farm for some visiting and a tour of the animals. Kesten and Cedar rode around in style!
 And the annual Heritage Christmas event and the National Historic Site was a blast on Sunday. Check out this gingerbread house someone made for the competition:
 We went for a hay ride pulled by a tractor. Kesten was a little apprehensive at first but claimed it was fun by the end.

 There was fresh churned ice cream (in -10c!).
 And the highlight for Kesten was the trains. We had a hard time prying him away at the end of the day.

 And I always love to see the old buildings all done up in festive decorations.

 One last Christmas craft! I made Kesten's moose doll a bed with a quilt and pillow.
 I glued the twigs together and used twine to secure them.

 Now Moose can be cozy for Christmas!
Currently it feels more like March than December. The snow is almost all melted and it is raining and +7c! I hope it cools down and snows some more. What strange weather this year!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Christmas Lights

What fosters a sense of wonder in children better than magical, twinkling Christmas Lights?
Cedar has been enjoying time under the tree, on her back looking up, and on her tummy trying to inch forward towards those sparkly lights.
 Today we bought some mini lights to decorate Kesten's moose's house. He has a Christmas tree too.
 What toddler doesn't love switching lights on and off? Kesten spent the afternoon doing just that and informing the moose that it was "Christmas Day!" whenever the lights were all on.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Minus Twenty-Four Is Too Cold!

We went on our annual Christmas Tree hunt this morning. It was -24c. We were bundled up so warm that only our eyeballs and some cheek were exposed. But that was still too cold for the kids. After five minutes we took them back to the car and I was left to find a tree by myself. I ended up cutting down the first Douglas fir I could find and lugged it back to the car. The thing was very heavy and my arm is still sore from dragging it. And man, is it an ugly tree! But in those kinds of temperatures, you can't be too choosy. The tree has no branches at all in the back and the star on top sits lower down than the top branches. Of course we could trim those a bit, but I like the eccentric look of our tree. I think this one may even be uglier than the crooked S-shaped tree we got our first Christmas here.
 At least this year we could drive all the way to the trail. Last year we had to hike in because the roads were too bad.
 Here it is! *ahem*
 And here are our wood-burned decorations- one for each year we have been married. This will be our fifth Christmas in the Fort now!
 Here it is, all decorated. You can hardly see the star because it is hidden by the branches.
But despite the tree's awkward proportions and the cold we endured getting it, we had fun decorating it. Christmas carols played, hot chocolate was drunk, and wonder filled the eyes of my babies. Merry Christmas!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Late Winter

Winter has finally set in. After weeks and weeks of waiting-waking each morning to look out in the hopes of seeing a transformed, white world and finding only dirt and frost- winter is here. November 24th is too late for our first real snow, the animals of the forest have suffered for it. The snowshoe hare, betrayed by its already white fur, stood out against the brown earth. The camouflage so cleverly meant to protect it in winter is now the cause of its death. The grouse found no comfort in deep insulating snow tunnels when the temperatures plummeted at the beginning of the month. And the voles, who would normally feast in shrouded safety under a blanket of snow have been left exposed to the predators of the woods.
But all that is forgotten now. We finally did wake up to find a world transformed. It snowed and snowed and snowed. And then it froze. Hard. And a storm blew in. The howling and whistling wind sent snow in a flurry around our house. The windows are covered in ice and the chickens are half-buried in a snow drift. The whirly-birds in our attic are screeching an un-earthly tune. Day and night, they scream out some sort of exotic music which clashes with the low and warm melody of our happy house. The sound of wind howling down our chimney makes me feel cold and sets my nerves on edge. The wood floors of our living room are icy and a draft blows in around the door. We tack blankets around the cracks in an effort to keep out the cold.
The wind has stopped now, but the temperature is still around -20c. I went out to the woods today, to feel alive. Bundled in layers, I didn't feel cold at all, except for a nip on my cheeks. The woods are silent, but the signs of activity and life are left stamped on the ground. The snowshoe hares have rebounded from their unfortunate winter start. Their tracks are abundant, creating highways through the dense brush. No sign of moose yet, but a few deer have passed through the trails. I see no animals on my walk, but I am sure they see me. I get the impression that the animals are watching me, inches from the trail, waiting to burst out the moment I am out of sight. The odd times that I have caught an animal off-guard are so thrilling- those times are one of the reasons that I keep going back to the woods.
When I reluctantly leave after a couple of hours in the forest, I step back into my warm house, cheeks glowing, hair wet from melting frost, and an incurable smile. I love winter.

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