Tuesday, February 24, 2009
The Hunger Moon is waning.
As part of our gift-with-purchase of New Improved Warmer Planet, we've been enjoying the first real winter in over a decade here, and she's a doozy. Persistent snow cover instead of our usual "look pretty and white for a day and then melt into muck. Epic northwest winds; I now own two new lawnchair cushions, some fiberglass roofing, and a mysterious linoleum kinda thing, while my Republican neighbors a half kilometer to the east are no doubt rejoicing in their acquisition of several thousand asphalt shingles and an Obama yard sign. Deep cold.
My main occupation these days consists of
Warm up the tractor
Fire up the tractor
Plow the driveway
Plow the driveway some more
Hand-shovel the especially tricky bit just below the curve
Admire my capable plowmanship
Watch the wind fill in the especially tricky bit just below the curve
Call Ken to tell him to park up top if he wants to leave in the morning
We were lucky to get a few days of ice-free driveway during which our oil vendor could get a truck down the drive; Ike knocked down plenty of firewood, and we've been cutting and splitting, but it won't be seasoned until next year. It could have been a tad nippy.
But this whinging about the cold from someone who has a pantry and fiberglass insulation does not impress the other residents here. There is not an animal alive in our woods who has lived through such a winter. Probably their grandparents never experienced a winter like this one. The only memory of snowdrifts and crust, no way to get to food, is written in their genes.
The voles and field mice have it pretty good when there's a crust. Most of their predators can't get through. Not counting these guys.
They are well-insulated under there, and can get to food caches. A shallow snow-tunnel is also nicely-lit; it must be a bright and pleasant time for the little mammals. The snow-fossil runs revealed during the oil-delivery thaw remind me of the Uncle Milton's Ant Farm I had as a kid.
The rabbits are living pretty close to the bone. A crust is a good running surface for them, but it locks up the better part of the food supply. The trees and shrubbery are paying for it.
And the high-fiber diet is evident in the dry, woody pellets at their scrapes.
The slash piles from where we've cut firewood out of the Ike blowdown are a favorite food source for the rabbits, and for the deer who yard up in the white pines on our north property line. There's a well-trodden detour from their perennial Bambi highway to this pile in the south pasture; most of the twig tips are roughly clipped off now. In future years I'll remember not to chip or burn this stuff up until spring.
Songbirds, too, are in shock. It's been eight or ten songbird generations since we've had deep winter here. Why are the berries and grub trees covered in ice? I made suet blocks with safflower in them.
I do not know what the turkeys are eating, or how they get it.
The few remaining groundhogs are holed up, heedless of Phil.
Our predator population is significant, but not varied. Fox tracks -- straight, purposeful, single-tracked and direct-registered -- are thick in the woods and fields -- except near the house and barn.
I have to credit Moe and his homies for their diligent patrols; the brushy buttcrack below the barn is bunny central, providing the cottontails with cover, food, and a built-in goon squad to keep Reynard at bay. We've yet to lose a chicken to a predator. (Sound of knocking on bentwood arm of the Poang.) On snow-free days, Ken puts the dogs out to conduct their Secret Service sweeps for a while in the morning, then opens the pop-door for the chooks.
Despite their sincere efforts, the dogs pose little direct threat to the rabbits, who can skim along atop the crust while the relatively lumbering canis lupus familiaris crack through. Except for Rosie, who does a pretty fair Legolas impression on the crustiest days.
The byword for the next six weeks is conserve.