Saturday, February 28, 2009

Snowy birds

Snow has been falling steadily for about sixteen hours. Whirls of fat flakes, then scatters of tiny ones. We have about twelve inches of new snow. The birds have crowded around the feeder since dawn. There are more than two dozen birds around the feeder at any given moment. Red Polls, Black Capped Chickadees, Boreal Chickadees, Gray Jays, a male Hairy Woodpecker and female Downy Woodpecker are today's visitors. The woods around the cabin are alive with tweets and trills and shadowy flits. On Monday I put a new suet cake out, and by this morning, it was all gone. The suet is the woodpeckers' favorite, although the other birds snack on it also.

Last night the Great Horned Owl graced our woods with hoots. Not as close to the house as the night it continually spooked Borealys, but still close enough to appreciate the neck-hair raising effects of the sounds bouncing off the trees. This one was the one with the sonorous voice.

This afternoon I got the bright idea of playing in the snow with the dogs. They thought it was great fun, and so did I. Until, that is, I stepped off the path. The snow comes up to my butt, and I promptly lost my boot in the snow. I came limping back to the house with only one boot, wounded pride, and a very cold and snowy bottom half. At one point, Ursa plunged off the path and was completely covered with snow. Our next trip out into the yard will be on snowshoes.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Borealys the Spooky

A dark night, just a few hours past the new moon, and a Great Horned Owl is hooting up a storm. I think it is perched on a snag just east of our cabin. The hooting makes Borealys nervous. She can't potty. She squats to pee, and then the owl hoots. She stands up, her ears on full alert. I assure her that all is fine, just an owl sweetheart, just an owl. She relaxes, squats again, and the owl hoots. Up goes her butt, her ears, and her ridge fur. She is truly spooked.

I wonder if she remembers the days when she was a new puppy, a tiny thing, hardly larger than a teacup. I like to claim that Kayt held her first, fell in love with her first. But that's not really true. Kayt and I had gone to the transfer station to dump a load of trash. There was a woman there, a young mother with a toddler fidgeting in the car, a basket of brown and black wiggles setting on the hood of the car. I wandered over as Kayt unloaded the trash from our truck. Whatcha got there, I asked. Puppies, she said. So cute, I said. I picked up the first one I saw, a brown slip of a thing. A tiny girl, four weeks old, who yawned puppy breath. Who among us isn't a fool for puppy breath? A curious combination of urine, milk, and some kind of strange chemical that draws us to cuddle, to fawn, to stroke, to say to a woman with a toddler and a basket of puppies, this one has a home.

I handed the tiny brown furball to Kayt, and any chance that this puppy would not come home with us melted away.

When she was a tiny puppy, we worried that Borealys would be snatched by an owl, a hawk, eagle. She was so small, so vulnerable. As we walked, we scoured the skies and the woods for danger. We saw lynx scat at Owl Cabin, and Tim saw the lynx one night when he let his dog out. We increased our vigilance. The puppy, everything revolved around the puppy.

Now, suddenly, she is two years old and big and strong. Yet spooked by owl hoots. She's always been a spooky puppy, intense, anxious about odd things. The leash. The car. The bed. The stairs. Floors without rugs. The dark. We have worked past most of her fears, but the owl hoots in the dark, this is something we are just now facing. This strange new danger. Has she internalized our old fears about owls snatching her up? Can she feel my own anxiety after losing a cat to a Great Horned Owl nearly three decades ago? Does she recall her puppy past, when she would have been a mere snack for an owl? Is the Owl Spirit stalking her?

I feel sympathy for Borealys' worries and fears. I, myself, struggle with my fear of the dark--an inconvenient fear here in the Northland, when our entire world is plunged into darkness for nearly half a year. Borealys and I are back inside now, after several anxious, potty-less visits outside. She hovers beneath my legs, her eyes black and staring out the window, her ears perched nearly on top of her head. She nudges my elbow urgently, whining. Clearly, she needs to potty. In a minute or two we will go outside and try again. Together, this beloved brown puppydog and I will face our fears of the dark, of the Owl, together.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Bull Duo

Sometimes Kayt and I get moose vibes. Last night, Kayt took the dogs out for their night-night potty, and I heard/felt a noise just next to the window where I was working. I looked out, saw nothing, but felt enough moose vibe to get Kayt and the dogs to come back in asap. We looked out the back, and there were fresh tracks, but no moose to be seen. And certainly there was no moose next to the window where I was working.

Kayt woke up this morning, yawning and stretching and saying she was dreaming that there was a moose in the yard. She looked out the kitchen window and saw two gorgeous bulls browsing in the garden. Both were missing their antlers (which they typically shed this time of year), but their heads were so massive that they were unmistakenly males. By the time MamaKayt got Borys on her leash, the moose had vanished. Melted back into the woods. We have noticed that the bulls are much more skittish than the cows. Now, if the visitors had been a cow with her calf, they probably would have stuck around, with the cow occassionally glaring Kayt's direction. But the bulls simply vanished. We call such vanishing acts levitation.

What a treat to see such beautiful bulls, on this beautiful sunshiny day.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Happy hoots

We're feeling a bit euphoric here Beyond Ester. Last night about ten o'clock, we heard a pair of Great Horned Owls! We are so happy to hear them! The young dog, Borealys, did not know what to make of the hoots that seemed to emanate just from the edge of the yard. Ursa, our elder dog, seemed to know that we were hearing echoes among the trees and the hills, and that's why owls seemed to be everywhere. The pair was down in the valley, to the southwest of our cabin, where the land flattens out to tundra and stubby, sporadic black spruce. They overtalked each other--a much higher and sloppier hoot overlaying a lower, carefully orchestrated one. A younger owl, perhaps, just learning its language? An eager mate, urging let's get it on? Did the thrill of above-zero weather and the inevitable approach of spring shape their hoots? Or the excitement of the hunt, perhaps. There's a vole! And another one! Forget the voles! Look, there's an Arctic Hare! Who hoo HOO hoo hoo! Who hoo hoo hoo hoo! Welcome back, owls!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


The Great Horned Owls are missing this year. Every year here at Beyond Ester we hear a pair calling to each other. The hoots start up in January, and are a constant presence in the evenings. During the last couple of years, one hooted from a snag to the north of our cabin, and its mate echoed back from somewhere south of our cabin, down towards the valley.

The Boreal Owls are also missing. Their mournful descending calls have always trembled through our woods and across our valley.

This year, only silence. Monday's full moon was a lonely and quiet night without owls to hoot and to call.