An Hour of Quiet Observation


quiet-hourAfter a two-mile hike on snowshoes, I finally reached my campsite behind Chatham Lake. I hadn’t been to this site since two winters ago.

The temperature was 15°Below on the Fahrenheit scale and a north-west wind was blowing all morning, making it important to try and stay out of the wind.

I took my folding stool out of my pack and pushed the three metal legs into the crusty snow. I then made myself comfortable with my back to the wind.

Hot drink in hand, I sat there and enjoyed my space for the next hour or so. Even though I was at least a mile away from the highway to the north-west, the prevailing wind carried its motor noises to me.

A raven flew overhead and cried its distinctive greeting of “caw-caw-caw” as it fought its way across the windy sky.

The whistling wind drowned out any songbirds that may have been in my little area. I often hear chickadees, cardinals and jays, but not today. It was too windy for them to be away from their roosts.

Instead, I heard the creaks and pops as the birch and poplar saplings swayed in the wind, their branches rubbing and tapping against one another.

Every now and then I would see clumps of fresh snow falling from the conifers, being blown by the wind. As they fell the windy gusts would blow the clump apart into a cascade of a million snowflakes.

I didn’t see or hear any animals while I sat there, only that one raven struggling against the cold wind.

Earlier, on my way to the campsite, I saw lots of animal sign. Fox, rabbit and martin tracks crossed my path. I noticed a large pile of snow-covered debris on the south edge of the lake and a patch of what looked like open water. As I got nearer to investigate, I disturbed a beaver and he unexpectedly slapped his wide flat tail on the water to sound a warning that I was too close to their lodge.

I also saw some American Larches (a.k.a. Tamarack) stripped of their bark… porcupine sign. After closer examination I saw their paths in the soft snow. Following these for a few moments quickly let me to their den.

As I was leaving my campsite, I noticed a young maple with vertical scratch marks in its smooth bark, about five to six feet off the ground. Some lose ribbons of bark were moving in the wind. This movement is what attracted my attention to it in the first place. I had noticed these before on other winter hikes. These sharp scratches were made by a black bear, so I quickly scoured the snow near the base of the tree for footprints. I was relieved to find none. That bear is most likely in hibernation, probably in the shelter of the nearby old growth forest and won’t be active again until the spring.

Finally, as I was leaving the lake area, I noticed martin footprints on top of my earlier snowshoe tracks.

Although cold and windy, it was a good day.