Walking beside the edge of the pond at night the stars are hung like glittering jewels in the sky. The black sky, mountain silhouetted with a sliver of light from a crescent moon, and the universe of stars. Breathing deeply in the cool night air, my eyes and heart are in rapture as I look into the heavens. The stars cast their mystic spell and my mind wanders as I think who else has stood by the edge of the pond on a cool November night to drink deeply of the same tonic. It seems I have never stood anywhere on the earth and seen the stars as I see them here, and it’s probably true, far from light pollution the milky way is clearly visible on most nights and I can find myself easily picking out constellations that I struggle with at our winter home.
Deeper into the night, a few weeks ago, we were mystified and delighted to hear the call of a great gray owl. Feeling it couldn’t be true, I sat outside for over two hours listening to his deep throated call which sprang forth into the frosty night air. Full of questions of why we never had heard him before, I spent the next few nights and days searching for this elusive ghost of the woods, to no avail. He only chose one night to make his fleeting presence known. What prompted him to call? Why now? Will I hear him again? Will I ever hear that call again? Not so far, but I am still yet hopeful, and it will remain a mystery, why did this northern migrant swing so low and deep into our woods, and did he stay out of earshot or did he move again or retreat back to his northern denizens. I will probably never know, but like his calls, these questions will haunt me.
Late fall has brought an amazing abundance of wildlife sightings. It seems not a day passes without a Bull Moose sighting; it is as if they know, and perhaps they do, that they are now free to walk out of the deep woods and into human sight. We have been delighted by the antics of one moose family, a mother and calf that were seen sporadically over the summer are now common place and seem accustomed to us slowing down our pace and taking the time to just watch them. The cow has brought the attention of many a massive bull, and a few have hung close to her. Her calf has brought an equal amount of attention, as guests have seen him hanging alone. For a few days we became concerned, as mama was nowhere, and the fearsome howls of our large north woods coyotes could be heard hunting in their packs in the evening. Finally, she appeared at the top of the driveway, maybe she was always there, but it did seem as though she had taken her leave for a while. Dana gave this young juvenile quite a talking to, and explained that he must hang close to his mother. He eyed Dana, reckless with youthful abandon and full of a hambone’s personality, quite the young adolescent. We hoped he listened and it seemed he must have, because now he is spotted frequently with his mother in tow. Maybe he just is trying to avoid the strange bearded man who makes weird noises at him. We have one bull moose who has lost an antler that we have become particularly fond of as he is cautious with us yet still allows us time to see him and his antics as he tries to woo the mama. He probably has been quite successful, as they are now often seen together. Other bulls have entered the camp yard and the nearby trails. Their coats sleek and shiny and their white inner legs blending well with the gray fall tree trunks as they strike off into the woods. They nibble and gaze back at us, and we are always enthralled and captured by their soft brown eyes and silent peaceful majesty. They truly are the kings of the north woods, and we are pleased and honored that they so well tolerate our presence.
A guest a few weeks ago was able to capture a fisher in pursuit of a snowshoe hare. They had stopped alongside the road and were surprised to find a rabbit bounding in a straight line directly for their truck. They watched and snapped photographs as a fisher remained in hot pursuit, abandoning the chase only 30 feet from them. He was originally oblivious to them, and then veered off in search of his prey deep in the woods. Luckily they were able to capture this moment in a few photographs, although I am sure the memory of what they saw will be in their hearts forever. The rabbits have it rough, danger lurks constantly for them, and they must rely on speed and their senses to elude capture. We were walking down an old road last weekend, when I heard a rustle at Dana’s feet, about an inch behind him was a snowshoe hare, his coat was wet, and his big eyes were full of fear. As I looked down at him and whispered “hi, little fella” he let out a faint cry and scampered directly behind me. Both Dana and I just stared in amazement; he hung beside us for a moment, although it felt like an eternity and then bounded down the road. Having heard the tale from the week before, we turned back and waited, hoping we would see what had lead this little fellow into such reckless abandon that he almost ran over two humans and then took shelter between our legs. We were unsuccessful in finding what had been pursuing him, as the wind was blowing directly into the oncoming predator’s path, I suspect he caught our scent and shied away. This was another moment that neither of us will forget in a season full of memories. We have watched the bunnies scamper around the camp yard, there is one that keeps me entertained each morning hopping along the edge of the water from the camp yard down the trail to the next cabin over. I suspect he dines there in the morning in quiet luxury on his own private lawn, with no one but the siskins and nuthatches for company. Seems like a pretty good place to be to me.
As many know, we let our chickens run wild and free during most days at the camp yard. They have done a magnificent job cleaning up the carpenter ants that were trying to establish residence in many of the cabin walls, and they have kept the lawns tick free. They have suffered few mishaps, but one did occur a week ago. Hearing a racket around mid day I found my beautiful feather footed bantam being attacked by a red tailed hawk. Frozen by the moment and thinking I was probably too late, I watched as he made several attempts to lift her from the ground, but she the smallest of the hens, was too heavy. He was not willing to give up the battle, and begin unmercifully attacking her neck. I was finally able to spring into action and grabbed a very rotten and fragile stick and ran towards her attacker in defense, I was able to give him a soft rap, and he flew off, thinking that this half crazed human was more than he had bargained for. He flew about 20 feet into the woods, and the chicken ran for cover, only she took the open lawn along her route. His eyes pierced through me, full of intensity and he sailed directly towards me immediately, I thought “this is it I am going to get it from a hawk, as he flew a few inches from my head, my fleeting thought was “I wish I had a better stick to defend myself, it’s going to break.” But I was not his quarry, my “lady chicken” as my 4 year old calls her, and my best mother hen, was. He landed on her again, and as I rushed towards him he flew off, this time deep into the woods, abandoning the chase. It was a success, the hawk was free and gone, albeit his pride might have been injured, I still had my head of bushy curls, and my lady chicken shook herself off, and took refuge in the woodshed for the rest of the day. As my Grammie Ashe said many times “All’s well, that ends well.” Many have asked us how we dare to let our chickens run free, with such predators around. We do the same at home, and our neighbors will tell you they miss our friendly little flock, who they often stop and watch. We like many sporting camps etched in history before us, enjoy the taste of free range eggs, raising baby chicks in the wild and enjoy the many benefits the chickens bring, we do not like to see our hens dusty and featherless when cooped up in a small pen. We do not eat our hens, they are our pets, and we like to see them about. At some point, misfortune may befall them, and we do our best to prevent it, but we understand that the quality of a life well lived that is not spent looking out of a somber line of wire is valued above any risks that may befall us. As my sage Gram always said “no one gets out of this earth alive, so you might as well take chances and live.” I too would rather spend my life running free of the wire, than find my avenues and choices blocked by an arbitrary line.
It seemed that as the time goes swiftly by and our departure looms ominously over our heads and in our hearts and minds, Spencer throws us one last surprise. The pond has been silent for weeks, no loons, and then two nights or so ago, a loon pair alighted into the pond, and sang us their sweet melodies for a few days. Our hearts were awakened with their soulful cries, and it was a promise, that spring would soon return and as they said their adieus, we knew that soon we would too.