Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Activation Energy

"The activation energy, it takes so long
Yet I am heartened by a robin's song
And at kingfisher's call I catch a track upon the trail
I move, I move, I move..."

I realize in looking through my photos that it could appear that I'm outside all the time, and that it's easy for me to joyfully prance through the woods, eshewing the pleasures of woodstoves and chicken soup and netflix in order to be one with the wilderness. Well, yes and no, but mostly no. The truth is that often it's damn hard for me to haul myself outside, especially when it's 5 degrees F out, and often even when it's warm and sunny. I enjoy a cushy couch, a mug of tea and PBS Jane Eyre movie just as much as any Joe Shmoe.

What gets me away from the couch and outside is knowing how I'll feel once I'm out there in the open expanse of woods, sky, and snow. Even once I'm out, it takes awhile for me to sink in, to release some of the busy-ness of thought and judgement, to stop pouting about aching muscles or a rumbly belly. I've never regretted saying yes to that "Call of the Wild," even on those days when I go out and seem to suck at tracking and my brain won't stop chattering. Because beneath the pessimism of those days, I feel and know that my soul is being fed in a deeper way.

The truth is, most of the time any initial resistance or negativity gets swallowed by the alertness and curiosity that comes from being out in the woods alone. What was that noise? How close is this animal whose tracks I'm now seeing? Am I paying enough attention to where I am so that I'll be able to get home? Just how gorgeous is the light right now? So gorgeous.

Here are some highlights from my days off here in Jericho, Vermont, days when my energy did indeed activate enough for me to get out there and explore my amazing backyard.

Here's a closeup of that duck shot. Yes, this is a duck that took off from this little marshy stream, creating a full body print in the snow. Awesome!
Red squirrel tracks led to this little midden of cone shells, half of which were on the snow and the other half were in the hole, which seemed to be dug under an old piece of firewood.

So here are some long-tailed weasel tracks...
Beautiful long tailed weasel tracks...
  ...that bounded through the snow and into this birdhouse! There was comfy snow inside. Yet I didn't see any obvious tracks coming OUT and I definitely looked in to see if the dude(tte) was there. The only thing I can figure is that it hopped out in exactly the same snow holes as it's hops in created...but I didn't see much evidence to support that. Total mystery.

Here's three sets of sign I found on the same hemlock tree. The first is an old woodpecker cavity that was expanded and marked around the edge by a red squirrel, who might be living there right now! (I knocked, but no one answered.) The second has obvious incisor marks as well--a red squirrel gnawing at the nutrient rich mini-burl, and perhaps also feeding on the black fungus. The third is the most recent, simply a woodpecker feeding on insects this winter.

Bear scrape on beech tree.
Finding this bear scrape was a big moment for me. My tendency is to zoom in on a track. I could stay with one track for an hour, sketching, photographing, measuring. My tracking mentor Dave Moskowitz in WA continually encouraged me to freakin get up and walk the trail, for that's when the rich learning comes. Sue Morse has broadened my perspective even more. As a forester, she knows habitats intimately. Now I know where to look for sign...near food sources such as wetlands, at trail intersections, along travel routes like ridges and saddles. I'm learning what species certain animals eat and like to mark on. I now go out looking for track and sign not by randomly wandering the woods, but by going to these areas.

On just such an endeavor, I came across a very steep jumble of rocks which led up to a small forested ridge with a steep creek ravine on the other side. I thought I might find some sign at the top since it was a natural funnel, a travel route that animals would likely take in getting from A to B--not a hugely important part of a species home range, but important nonetheless. After searching the white birches, where bears love to mark, I came across this beech, right in the middle of the trail, with only this one slash mark on it. A bear had come by and said, "I was here," and moved on, not looking back. Finding that sign felt awesome, and the memory of it will serve me the next time my "activation energy" needs a boost.

Sunday, February 1, 2015


This is what I call the perfect classroom!
I had heard that Ithaca was gorges, but little did I know that it would be a feast of gorgeousness for my eyes and soul. We held workshops and evening sessions in which our participants included ornithologists, foresters, university students and professors, a massage therapist, a falconer, nature connection mentors, community college staff, wildlife photographers, a veterinarian, whale experts, you name it! It was so stimulating and inspiring to be around that many folks who could chime in with their own knowledge and experience. It got me thinking more deeply about how I can more fully give my own gifts to the world as well. Here are just a few highlights from the weekend.

See how at the top of this twig there are many narrow grooves, whereas at the bottom edge there are wider ones?

Well, young tracker, that's because rabbits have grooved upper incisors! FREAKY DEAKY, aye?

Know what's even freakier? That they not only have grooved incisors, but they have a double layer. Evolution gone crazy!!

We were unsure whether a bound we found in the snow along the marsh was otter or mink. It took one of the participants crawling under the boardwalk to find these beautiful mink tracks.

In deep snow I find it super hard to tell a deer trail from a coyote or fox trail. One feature to look for is what Sue calls "nail drive"--see the points in the front of the track where the nails have driven in?
These are red squirrel incisor marks from where it peeled the shreddy bark off this honeysuckle for winter bedding.

Perhaps the coolest find of the weekend: see how this trail starts out of nowhere, bounds forward and into the base of that tree? That's a FLYING SQUIRREL trail. Yup, it flew out of nowhere, landed and bounded to the tree. Freakin sweet find.
Closeup of the flying squirrel "sitzmark" where it landed (right) and bounded to the left.

And the falconer happened to have his juvie red tail with him one day. SWEET.

Grateful to be able to look this being in the eye. A powerful experience.