Posted by: Dave Neads | February 16, 2008

January Thaw

We usually get a January thaw.  It warms up to plus three or four, it may not even freeze overnight.  Rain changing to sleet and back to rain, followed by a couple of sunny warm days reminding ARK dwellers that winter is temporary, that spring will indeed come.

This year the January thaw came late, about a month late, and has been heartily welcomed by everybody:  man, woman, dog and critter alike.  While this winter hasn’t been very cold, at the same time the daytime highs have not been in positive territory for months.  Frost has gone deep, the snow has a crisp crust which means the ranchers are feeding more, the horses can’t rustle and the wild creatures are having to work harder to fill their bellies.

On the way to town the other day I saw several sets of Caribou tracks on the logging road.  They are moving down from the windswept slopes of Kappan and Trumpeter mountain, cratering for lichens in the patches of old growth squeezed between the logging slash and the alpine.  In the protected environment of the old growth forest, the snow is not crusted, it is not as deep and the access to food is much easier than on the open slopes above timberline.  Without a high elevation thaw, the wind packs the snow hard enough to walk on, making the Caribou’s foraging energy consuming and tedious, so down into the timber they come.

Late winter thaws sometimes bring surprises as well.  Rosemary had just come out of the shower the other morning and her eye was caught by a movement in the firs along the path that leads to our front door.

We have a bush vehicle parked up there, which got snowed in for the winter, and sitting on the hood was a large hawklike like bird, slowly blinking its big yellow eyes, taking in the scene.  As Rosemary watched, the visitor waddled across the hood and jumped down to the snow covered ground,  looking for all the world like a short legged gnome it carefully picked its way over to the edge of the ridge.

Still wet and clad in only a dressing gown, Rosemary was feeling chilly as she stood by the front door peering out at this unusual happenstance.  She quickly ran upstairs, found her camera and came back down, slipped into her parka and  snow boots then slowly, gingerly, opened the door , creeping onto the porch.

The visitor eyed her without alarm, and then casually flew up to one of the low branches on a young fir, ( I call it my teenager, it is only about 100 or so years old) just looking around, seeing if there was anything edible in the vicinity.  As Rosemary edged closer it first flew up a few branches then as slowly and ponderously as a B52, the interloper from the cliffs and open spaces above glided down and over the ridge, a silent predator looking for breakfast.

Rosemary later determined that her visitor was a Northern Goshawk, a truly magnificent creature, with a two foot wingspan and eagle-like disposition.  Maybe he was here for  the same reason the caribou were in the trees, the snow cover is not as deep and the thick heavy crust does not form under the firs, so the chance of getting a mouse or a vole for the morning meal would be much better than in the open.

Always full of surprises, January thaws are welcome. Perhaps this thaw will last a little longer, be a little warmer than usual, maybe it will make life easier for the wild beings who live in the ARK, maybe, just maybe, a long mild January thaw in February is  what the Doctor ordered.


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