30 December 2010

Curl The Coon

IIII ) lllllllllllllllllll Christmas Bird Count (26Dec10)

0834 Sspopiikimi - I promised myself (and others) dawn at the pond, to conduct the annual bird count for this small nook of Sikoohkotoki, that Mahoney and I would be contributors of data that will tell us minimally what we already know - that there are fewer and fewer birds each year; that of those who remain, more are being drawn toward the centers of human habitation, for access to food and protection from predators; and that the Earth is getting warmer, enabling birds like kingfishers, who absolutely would not have attempted to winter this far north in the past, to do so

0849 The most pressing objective, upon arrival, is to count the geese who are lined up along the open water crag on the river before they depart for their daily feeding. So we immediately begin to make our way around north-pond, greeted by a magpie as we went. Then up the levee and around the north wood to a cutbank overlooking the big river island. There's a bad smell on the north end today, like sewage. From the cutbank, we can see geese stretching all the way to the high level bridge, separated into three groups. The nearest flock has thirty-nine members. And the larger body, a little further upriver, has one-hundred and twenty nine. We can't really count the third flock from where we're at, so we're moving in that direction now

0918 We use the levee to move quickly, before the morning departure. We know that all the other birds will stick around, and that we can relax a bit after noting the number of geese. As we pass by the canopy of the forest main, two small birds arrive to inspect one of the cavities where the flickers have nested during the past couple summers. It is a starling couple. One of them stays up in the high branches while the other pops into the old nest, then the two fly off together in a westerly direction. Soon we are in a better position to count the upriver flock. They total one-hundred and seventy five, and there are two common goldeneyes diving among them

0946 With the goose count complete for the most part (save for flocks that will no doubt pass overhead later in the morning), we cut back to explore the forest main. I'm not expecting to see anyone here. If we're lucky, we may encounter flickers or chickadees, perhaps a downy woodpecker or owl. In fact, walking this forest all the way back to the north end, we find nobody. Only when we come to the last of the trees do we meet up with two more magpies, calling back and forth to one another before gliding away

1002 While we walk the forest, many of the geese on the river take their leave. We can hear them honking the whole while, and several families pass overhead as we move. Back up on the levee and again heading toward south-pond, we find that at least half have departed, and the others - prompted by our appearance - are on their way. Our celebrity bird of the winter, Mrs. Kingfisher, makes her first appearance in about the same area as the starlings earlier, flying across our path and heading to the spring. As she passes, a family of twelve geese arrive from elsewhere, dropping down to land at the end of the crag almost directly below the high-level bridge

1018 We make our way around to sit above the spring and watch the kingfisher spectacle. She must be living in her old cutbank cavity along the river, because that's the direction she came from this morning. She's taking a huge risk wintering here. Aside from the open water of this spring, which is maybe eighteen or twenty meters squared, there's little chance she'd find enough food to survive. This bit of water is always open all season, but it's a good thing for her there's enough of a pike population to support her appetite. As we sit and wait for her to make her first catch of the day, a northern flicker comes diving into the forest main from somewhere in the owl wood. Another good bird to add to this morning's list of cold-weather residents

1103 It's almost an hour wait for Mrs Kingfisher to patiently resist coming to feed. Eventually though, she flies past us into the owl wood, to inspect us from behind, then glides to her usual perch where she can look down into the spring. Minutes later, she takes her first meal. All the while, as we waited, I hoped that perhaps an eagle would pass. We know they survey the river throughout the day, but none have come by yet

1159 Strategizing to maximize our count, Mahoney remains down by the pond while I climb the coulee slope in search of pheasants and partridge. I pass through the owl wood first, then ascend following the brush beneath the high-level bridge. About half way up, I come across three niipomakii (black-capped chickadees). They are flittering from branch to branch in some saskatoons. As I watch them, another magpie comes swooping up past me. I walk a little further, then peek over a short ridge. There are three mule deer on the other side, two bucks and a doe. I want to get a picture of them and see what they're eating, but my phone buzzes in my pocket. It is Mahoney. Down below, she has found a raccoon eating bulberries in the owl wood. Although we've seen a lot of raccoon sign over the years here, this is the first live animal we've come across. When I eventually break from the phone and peek over the ridge again, the bucks spot me. They move straight away down the slope to the owl wood. I give Mahoney a head's up, and when they get down there she backs away so as not to make them feel trapped. I climb further still, toward the voice of the magpie who passed. She's sitting in some brush, almost at the coulee rim, cycling through a repertoir of calls. When I come close, six pheasants erupt from near her. First three males, then three females. When they leave, the magpie begins mimicking their calls as well. I think she was trying to lead me to them, probably in hopes of a meal. I sit down to write these notes, with the magpie still close, and I can hear a raven below. Mahoney texts to say the raven just passed her

1237 I rendezvous with Mahoney at the bench above the peninsula. Descending the coulee slope was much faster than going up. Though I took a different draw, there were no other birds I came across. Meanwhile, Mahoney observed two more raven following the river, and surprisingly enough two mayflies. It's pretty warm for mid-winter

1303 After a breather on the bench, Mahoney and I head back toward the owl wood to see if the raccoon is still there. A man with some dogs passed by not too long ago, so our expectations are low. Indeed, the raccoon isn't in the berry bush any longer. But with a quick scan of the area we spot him hugging a branch and trying to conceal himself in a nearby poplar tree. He's a young animal, judging from his size, but extremely handsome, with clever eyes. He moves ever so slowly to hang off the opposite side of the branch, so that all but his face and one dangling hindleg are invisible to us. While we watch him, Mahoney runs a confirmation by sound on eight small birds that passed over her earlier - bohemian waxwings

1313 It's been a real pleasure being out here this morning to do our part for the count. Missed the eagles, owls, mallards and partridge who we also expected to see. But overall a pretty decent inventory of residents, and the raccoon - who Mahoney is naming Curl - made our day

1330 Pulling away from the pond, driving up the coulee slope, we catch sight of a large raptor surveying the grassy rim. It's a juvenile bald eagle. It makes a lot of sense. With the warmer days we've been having, a lot of the snow on the south-facing slopes has melted away. No doubt the white-tailed jackrabbits have been thrown unto stark relief, with their winter fur. Easy pickings for these large birds

IIII ) llllllllllllllllllll Dual Coons (27Dec10)

0843 Sspopiikimi - another dawn at the pond. We arrived about a half hour ago, and have walked around to the southeast end in hopes of observing Mrs Aapohkinniyi taking her breakfast again. Today we've brought along a video camera and set it up at the water's edge, with a good view of that part of the spring where we've seen her catching all her fish. In doing so, we disturbed three mi'ksikatsi who spent the night here. The aapsspiniiksi are just starting to depart from the river, and with all their excited honks we're sure the kingfisher will be waking up soon. There are at least three goldeneyes on the Oldman with the geese this morning, and we heard the cricket-like calls of waxwings as we took our seats up here on the levee above the spring. No magpies yet this morning, but that could have something to do with the heavy chinook winds we're getting this morning. It'll be interesting to see how the kingfisher responds to these blustery conditions

0925 While Mahoney stays at the levee to watch out for the appearance of Mrs Aapohkinniyi, I take a hike on the ice along the river cutbank in search of her home. There are dozens of cavities here, most of them carved by bank swallows. I try to peek in the larger tunnels, the ones that might be created by kingfishers, but they're far too deep, and most take an upward bend... classic aapohkinniyi construction. I also look for droppings that might be evidence of occupation, but the only white-splash I find are around rooty perches. One thing I didn't expect to find but did were areas where the ksisskstaki had scraped into the bank to chew at roots. The appearance of these scrapings reminded me very much of petroglyphs we've seen on various rocks and sandstone cliffs. I walk the whole length of the steep cutbank, then return to Mahoney. The kingfisher still hasn't arrived, but then she hadn't woken up by this hour yesterday either

1004 With the video camera running, we decide to take a walk through the nearby owl wood to look for Curl the raccoon. Now that we've actually seen him, we're determined to see more of him, maybe even sleuth out where he sleeps. We're sure it must be somewhere nearby, so that he maintains access to drinking water at the spring. As we walk along, we find some of his tracks near a pile of deadwood, but no obvious entrance to wiggle in below. Just beyond this wood pile, there is a bulberry bush that still has some berries, and dining there are five simitsiim and an ever-curious niipomakii

1034 Walking away from the waxwings, our presence disturbs a great horned owl couple, those after whom we named this part of the forest. They glide silently across the wood to land in a more distant tree, and right away the magpies are swarming around them in alarm. With the owls thus occupied, suddenly the forest around us fills with activity. There are at least a dozen waxwings, several chickadees and a downy woodpecker, all keeping close to us and feeding as quick as they can in this brief window of safety. For our part, we move toward the owls. And as we approach their tree, Mahoney spots not one, but two raccoons feasting in a bulberry bush. I have moved now wide around to the raccoons' opposite flank so we can watch them from both angles to see where they go if they depart

1101 These raccoons have an excellent dead-man's pose they take up when they suspect they're in danger of being seen. In my movement, both of the animals spot me and hang kind of limp-like over the bulberry branches. I squat down and sit still myself and eventually they come out of the pose again. The one who is higher in the brush leisurely climbs down to the ground and walks toward the cutbank and out of my line of sight. The other one eats a few more berries, then becomes preoccupied looking in the other direction, which I assume is toward Mahoney. Not wanting to disturb them further, I stand up again and retrace my wide arch around their bush to meet back up with my lady. She tells me that the one who came down walked to an old, plywood bicycle ramp concealed as trash in the undergrowth below the owl tree. Apparently the animal climbed underneath it, either because it's a great hiding spot or because it's where they're living. While it did so, one of the owls watched it and seemed fairly distressed. Probably frustrated to see such a fat meal escape, and with us there the owls couldn't do much about it. Or perhaps the raccoons know their way around owls, why else would they feed so openly with the huge birds around?

1119 Hungry ourselves now, we've retrieved the video camera and are making our way back toward north-pond and the vehicle. No telling whether the camera caught the kingfisher at breakfast. I hope so. But if not, we can always repeat the exercise

IIII ) lllllllllllllllllllll The Raccoon Abode (28Dec10)

0914 Sspopiikimi - set up again to try and get the kingfisher shot. Yesterday, she dove for her meal just outside of the film frame. She should be here within the next hour... Mrs Aapohkiniiyi is not an early bird

0918 A little more of the spring is iced over this morning, just a thin sheet, but it effectively blocks off at least half of the kingfisher's substantially limited feeding opportunities. The aapsspiniiksi are lingering a bit longer at the river this morning, they're actually pretty quiet. But others are starting to move about. The starling couple have returned to inspect (early claim) their nest cavity again. The magpies are on the go. And when we first arrives at the spring there was a groggy flicker perched in the canopy above, and a downy woodpecker flitting around a neighboring tree. We can hear the waxwings awakening in the owl wood behind us

0949 We leave the camera running beside the spring and walk to make our survey of the owl wood. We start by walking a cutbank above the trees on the west edge. One tree is hosting a couple dozen waxwings, and may have been their roost for the night. There's also a downy woodpecker among them. We check the old, discarded bike ramp to see if there are any raccoons in it's hollow, but it doesn't appear so. As we near the river at the high-level bridge, a female pheasant flushes from some brush. The river too has a bit more ice this morning

1011 Having circled around behind the owl wood, we then cut in and start making our way to the bulberry bush where we saw the two raccoons yesterday. Still determined to find their house, we follow their trails from the bush, winding around the forest, and ultimately leading back to the bike ramp. This time I poke my head in and have a good look. Sure enough, the two are sleeping in there, deep in the shadows, and they have a pretty decent bulberry cache there as well

1058 With the humans starting to come out, we head back over to the spring and our camera. Aapohkinniyi is not here, and when she still doesn't show in a half hour's wait, we figure she's already taken her breakfast and gone. As we're sitting, Teresa and Doug Dolman stop by. Following from our reports, they too want to catch a peek at the anomalous bird. Doug tells me there have been the odd wintering kingfishers before, in previous years, in a stretch of the river downstream where some sewage empties, keeping the waters warm and open. When the Dolmans move on, we wait another ten minutes or so, then pack up to make our own leave. Really looking forward to receiving some fresh snow in the coming week. Having successfully tracked the raccoon to it's home, I'm looking forward to taking another shot at the coyote den

IIII ) llllllllllllllllllllll Feeding Magpies (29Dec10)

1324 Sspopiikimi - wrestling with another virus, my sleep was thrown off last night, and I had no energy to get out here at dawn again. But the snow has been falling since last night as well, and I can't resist the urge to make use of at least some of the daylight

1340 Of course I want to go to the spring again, to check in on Mrs. Aapohkiniiyi, but today I take a roundabout route. When I crest the levee at north-pond, I drop down the other side into the forest, winding through the trees toward the river, then making my way south. I have a big beef liver in my pack to leave for Derrick's relatives, but the only birds in the north wood right now are chickadees. When I get into the forest main, there I finally encounter a magpie. I announce myself with a quick wok-wok, then we exchange calls back and forth, me mimicking as best I can the intonations of the bird. While calling, I set the beef liver out in display on a log. Then I walk away. Now they know who has brought then food in this snow

1410 I'm surprised to find no animal tracks at all in the forest main, not even anything from the mice and voles until I'm almost to the spring. My timing to arrive at the open water couldn't be better. The mi'ksikatsi drake is here, but vacates at my approach. I set up the video camera for aapohkiniiyi, and just after I tap "record" she begins trilling from her perch in the nearby poplar. She's poised to dive, and may have been waiting for the mallard to clear out so that the pike minnows would return

1450 The kingfisher waits patiently, perched in her tree, watching into the water. I wait to her left flank, perched on the levee, watching her. A magpie arrives and it waits on her right flank, perched in a neighboring tree, watching the both of us. All three - kingfisher, magpie, and myself, form a raised line in the forest east of this small pool. Eventually, the kingfisher spots her prey. She dives headfirst, but comes out empty. She hovers breifly above the spring, the returns to her perch. It is freezing, and we wait still

1514 After an hour of sitting still, the magpie is the first to give up the scene. I follow her lead. I'm freezing, and need to move. I leave the video camera running at the spring and drop down into the owl wood for a warm-up walk. Barely into the treeline, a whitetail buck stands up. It's so camouflaged, I might not have seen it if it hadn't moved. It stares at me for a few minutes, then runs with impossible silence through the snow, dead goldenrod stalks, and fallen leaves

1533 If the owls are here today, I can't find them. The only bird I encounter in the owl wood is a downy woodpecker. I can't help but stop by the raccoon residence on my way through, now that we know where they stay. Neither of the animals have been out since the snow began, judging by the lack of tracks. When I peek in through their door, they're both curled up tightly together in the shadows, looking fearlessly out at me

1547 I thought I heard the kingfisher trill while I was off in the woods. And she must have caught her fish, because when I return to the scene, she's no longer here. Packing up my gear, I too am heading off, back through the forest main

1558 Daylight is waning fast, and already the aapsspiniiksi are returning to their communal night roost along the open river crag. I've found the male great horned owl here in the forest main, set perfectly still and fairly low against the trunk of a tree. No sign of the large female yet though

1621 When I pass again by the log at the north end of the forest main, I see the magpies have made short work of the beef liver. One of the birds lingers still in a nearby cottonwood, and we call back and forth to one another. Perhaps this is the same magpie I met on my way in, and no doubt one of Derrick's blood relatives. Instead of climbing out of the forest, I short cut across the wet-meadows and out over the ice of north-pond. It's a very strange feeling to walk on these waters I know so well from the residents who live in it

1705 A winter meal with the kingfisher is far more worthy of my attention than any medium of entertainment, and almost all tools of education. This bird chose to stay here and brave the winter, rather than traveling south to warmer climes like all her relatives. Why? Was her decision motivated by the trauma the kingfishers and bank swallows experienced last summer, when the Oldman swelled and flooded their nests out? Is she in mourning, risking her life because she doesn't care anymore? I doubt it. My suspicion is that she feels so attached to this place, our pond, that she won't evacuate for anything. I think she was born here, and I'd bet hundreds of generations of her family have lived nested and raised their fledglings here. She loves this place, so much so that she would deny both her genetics and her training to stay. But will she survive the challenge of winter at the pond? I sit with her for an hour in -10 degree weather, and I start to freeze. None of the other birds have her patience. In order to survive this season, the kingfisher has to perch for as long as it takes for a fish to pass through a shallow pocket of open springwater no wider than my living room, fish that have a kilometer-long, ice-shielded pond to utilize. What are the chances they'll explore this small, shallow window in a season with no flying insects to draw them there? No matter the temperature, even if it gets forty below, the kingfisher has to catch at least a couple fish each day or she will starve, and won't have the energy she needs to stay warm. When a pike minnow does eventually expose itself, after having sat still in the freezing wind for an hour or more, the kingfisher must dive headfirst into the waters of the spring, catch the fish in her beak, fly out of the pond with the fish wiggling, make it back to her perch high in the forest canopy, and swallow it whole. If she drops it, and there's a magpie waiting, her meal is gone... and the kingfisher will have to go back to waiting for another fish, now sitting in the cold wind with wet feathers. She's a single woman at the pond until summer, no others of her kind to socialize with. She sleeps alone in an earthen tunnel she's dug into the river cutbank. This bird understands hardship unlike anything I or anyone I know has ever experienced. And yet, she couldn't be more content. She trills when she catches a fish, she trills when she misses one

24 December 2010

Solstice Eclipse And Aapohkiniiyi

IIII ) llllllllllllll Solstice Eclipse (21Dec10)

0726 Awake... just can't sleep with this feeling of change in the air after last-night's eclipse. To me, to a lot of people, this was a very significant event. Yesterday afternoon, I started phoning around to elders and friends, to discuss what it might mean for the Moon to hide during the winter solstice, all the different connections to stories like Ihkitsikammiksi, Miohpokoiksi, and Pawaksski, and to the count we keep as Iiaohkiimiiksi. Part of what comes out of all this is the sense of omen. Eclipses, solar and lunar, are often associated with disaster and the death of important people. The last lunar eclipse to appear represented in a traditional winter count was with Stamiksiisaapo'p (Bull Plume) in 1884, which was also the year of the last bison hunt in Blackfoot territory, and of starvation winter, when hundreds perished as a result of what had befallen the staff of life. The Moon herself is associated with the night, cold, water, winter, and hardship. But these characteristics of the old woman can be welcome in certain circumstances. When the Sun brought extended drought during the time of Miohpokoiksi, the Lost Children, it was the Moon who the dogs called upon, to plead that she take pity on the animals who hadn't done anything wrong, and in response she brought the rains that ended it. Similarly, it was the Moon who shielded Pawaksski from the overwhelming intensity of the Sun, so that he wouldn't be burned alive in their lodge, the same earthly lodge we're all visiting in this life. The differing characteristics of Sun and Moon are not about good and evil, plentitude and hardship. It's about balance and context. The same characteristics that might save our hides in one circumstance may endanger us in another. When you look at a painted tipi, the older pattern for representing Ihkitsikammiksi (the Seven Brothers or Big Dipper) is as a seven star crescent Moon on the north ear. The north being cold, seven being the number of winter moon cycles each year. In the pre-human story of Ihkitsikammiksi, the Moon chases the brothers, her own children, trying to kill them. But the brothers were given gifts from the Sun to protect themselves, items to throw back behind them, creating a landscape of features that control the homeostasis of this planet - precipitation, mountains, forests, river canyons, winds, electrical storms, and ultimately mo'toyaohkii, the atmosphere. Each time they're able to stall the Moon in her pursuit, they shoot arrows at her, and kill her, and yet she comes back to life. So too at the lunar eclipses and new moons of recent past, people would go outside and shoot at her, and make wishes and vows. As much as events like last night's eclipse are omens, they're also opportunities to at least temporarily hinder the progression of those forces that are threatening to harm us, that are putting our lives in danger. It's a chance to balance everything out again. I look at what's happening these days, and especially over this last year - the devastating earthquakes in Haiti and New Zealand, the volcano of oil we triggered in the Gulf of Mexico, the massive disrespect we're showing to the water and animals in all kinds of ways, with our incessant pursuit of petro-chemicals, the tar sands and this sudden burst of deep horizontal drilling and hydro-fracturing, damning all the consequences. You know, I take this eclipse as a sign, a message, "O'kyain, enough now." Metaphorically, we are deeply into the winter of our carelessness. with this solstice eclipse, both the Sun and Moon have briefly died and resurected. It's the beginning of a cycle that neither we, nor our parents, grandparents, or even great grandparents have experienced. In this single, brief event, the Sun confirmed that he stands behind us, backing us up, casting a shadow of life that will dim even the greatest threat. And the old lady, with all eyes upon her in her movement through the skies, reminded us again how small, and fortunate, and precious we are to be living here today. Let's accept their gifts, and this call for renewal, and move forward with more respect for life

1351 Sspopiikimi - out for a walk, Mahoney and I, with no particular focus at all, and not really expecting to see a whole lot. We've been going sunrise around the frozen pond and come to sit above the little open pool at the southeast spring. Taken completely by surprised, here we are greeted by the presence of a kingfisher, extraordinarily unexpected on the solstice

1421 We sit and watch the kingfisher. He's obviously stalking the spring. But we've never seen a kingfisher here in winter, so we want to find out for sure what he's living off. After about twenty minutes, the kingfisher dives and comes up with a pike minnow. Just then though, a small flock of geese is passing low and noisily overhead. And either because of the geese, or our presence, or maybe it's just his strategy, the bird drops the minnow in the snow and wings off into the forest. The pike flops a bit, then lays still. We wait. About five minutes pass and the kingfisher returns. It stops briefly on a high perch to assess the situation, then dives down and retrieves it's prey from the snow. By now the pike is likely dead, or very close to it, and the kingfisher can swallow it without struggle

IIII ) llllllllllllllll Aapohkiniiyi (23Dec10)

1407 Sspopiikimi - presently sitting near the southeast spring, waiting to see aapohkiniiyi again. Naato'si is low on the horizon, and his glare was burning my already injured corneas the entire walk in from north-pond. Head down and squinting, I hiked almost straight over, stopping just once at the subpond to pull a few i'naksa'pis stems that I can twine while I wait for the bird, keeping my hands moving and warm

1421 Figuring I might be waiting a while, I've pulled a small log over to sit on. It'll keep me insulated from the cold ground. Already I'm starting to feel the effects of sitting in the shadow of the levee walk, and even after a just fifteen minutes or so I was wondering whether the bird would show. I know that it's wintering here, and that this spring really provides the best fishing opportunity, since there are few perches over the crags of open river water, and the water here is much more shallow. But I haven't had to wait long. I can see the kingfisher now, watching me for a tree at a little distance. It seems it's going to be a waiting game of who will be less patient

1444 I pull my log back from the spring another three meters or so, hoping that the bird has a threshold distance for comfort, and that I am now beyond it. As a further sign that I intend no harm, I've started working on stripping the bark off the dogbane. Finishing one stem, I look up and the kingfisher has vanished. As I'm scanning the forest canopy for his silhouette, out of nowhere a pair of mi'ksikatsi drop down in front of me. The drake lands in the water, while the female - noticing me at the last minute - goes onto the ice instead. The drake then sees me, opens his mouth to give two quacks, then takes flight again. His wife follows

1535 I found the kingfisher's comfort threshold. He returned a few minutes after the ducks departed, still perching at a distance. But then I pulled my log back another three or four meters, sat back down, waited... eventually the kingfisher glided over to a tree above the spring, watched the water briefly, then dove. He came out with another good-sized pike minnow and flew away with it to the forest

1550 Just checking iBird while I wait to see if the kingfisher will return again before dark. Turns out this "he" is a "she" as indicated by her chestnut belly stripe. I had the distinction backward

1642 As the shadow reached the rim of the east coulee, my fingers and toes were cold enough to compel me to give up on a second sighting for today, and hustle back to the car

20 December 2010

Aapi'si And The Mule Mine

IIII ) llll Aapi'si Family (11Dec10)

0833 Pitsiiksiinaikawaahko - it's been a while since I visited the confluence. A couple of my slithering friends were here last time I came through. This morning though, I'm coming here with new eyes, attention focused on the challenge I've set myself

0851 Although I worked the last few days weaving a willow basket to use as a first container, it's not finished yet, and I've arrived empty-handed. I even forgot the stone blades I'd been so excited to acquire. I may have to search for new ones along the way. At the moment though, my attention is elsewhere. As I start moving down the slope, three whitetail does stand up on a ridge below me. With wagging tails, they move down below the ridge and out of sight. Just then, I hear a coyote begin to howl. I crouch down and start searching for the source. The coyote is a ways out from me, on a grassy slope. He calls until several others return his howls from somewhere above, then he trots up the slope. He's met part-way by three others, one of them a puppy. I wish I could get closer to them without frightening them away. One continues to howl as I squat watching

0916 When it appears as though all the coyotes have gone out of view, I stand and continue walking, hoping to close the distance between us. I'd like to find their den. I haven't gone far when I catch movement in my peripheral vision. A fifth coyote is up on a slope closer to me. It's seen me and is running for cover behind a small hill. Again I squat down and wait. The coyote soon emerges and returns back up the way it had come. We keep an eye on each other until it is out of sight. The others continue to howl and occasionally come unto view on a ridge. Perhaps they are calling for this one who's closer to me

0940 When it seems all the coyotes are out of view again, I begin climbing up a steep slope that will keep a ridge between me and the family, shielding me at least from their view. I'm sure though that they're well aware of my presence at this point. If their stray family member hasn't told them by now, the sound of my boots kicking footholds into the snow drifts on my ascent has. Up toward the top of this slope, there's what looks like a small avalanche pathway. Buy when I get up there, I'm all smiles to see that it's actually a little slide being used over and over by the coyotes, apparently just for fun. It's short, about a six-foot drop, and it looks like they slide down and then climb right back up and do it again

0955 At the very top of the ridge, I can see perhaps better why the coyotes have moved from view. On another ridge a little ways over someone is herding cattle with their truck. These folks have some noisy oil wells on their land... sell-outs. There's also a junkyard of ancient vehicles here that I'd love to explore when and if the truck goes away. I'd like to see if there are any animals living in the ruins

1014 I wait and watch. The cows match past the truck and over the ridge in front of it. When five minutes more pass with mo movement from the truck, I figure maybe they're on foot, hunting on the opposite side or something. I've approached from behind them, chances are they haven't seen me even if they're in there. So... curious, I hop their barbed-wire and move to scout out the junkyard. It's thick with signs of coyote and jackrabbit dramas. Tracks wind in and out of all the wreckage. Some of them probably live here, the rabbits anyway. I'm paranoid to stay too long though, so pretty quick I hop back over the fence again and go on my way. No southern justice today

1040 "Yes officer, I did notice the fence and suspected it meant I was crossing onto 'private property,' but you know what John Lennon said, 'possession is nine-tenths of the problem.' Yes, I am the same guy you gave a warning to, that time I followed a hurt bird into my neighbor's back yard in the middle if night. But you see, this time there's this coyote puppy..." When I got to where the coyote family had converged earlier, of course their tracks led back across the fence-line, and (following them) deep into potentially hostile territory. I followed them quite a ways, until I felt that I was all too close to the cowboy truck. Better, I suppose, to try and find their den another day, when the men who wear high-heels aren't around. I cut back down a drainage area and am soon approaching the river

1109 Back to work. I wrest my thoughts away from coyotes and the "Mine! Mine!" chants of property owners, and come back to the task at hand. Near the river, in some brush, there's a porcupine eating hawthorn bark. It is low enough in the wood that I could easily get to it and use blunt-force trauma to quickly and cleanly dispatch it's life. There is also a small family of geese sitting on the river ice, near an open crag, and I can hear a pheasant chucking. The porcupine would be easiest to access. A sure thing. And I could make a quick knife with stones at the river. I'm tempted. But there is also the matter of fire to consider. It's cold enough, I could do porcupine sushi. On the other hand though, probably too much of it would go to waste. Undecided, I move on. From the looks of the hawthorn brush, it seems this porcupine has been feeding here a while anyway, and I should be able to easily relocate it when I'm ready

1201 For the next hour, I walk the riverbank, testing various rocks for their qualities to fragment the way I'd like them to. I even find a large legbone, probably that of a cow or bison. It is old and breaks apart too easily, except for one decent sliver that has petrified, and I take this along to work with later. Once the geese see what I'm up to, and that my interest is not (at present) being directed toward them, they sit calmly and observe. A pair of goldeneyes, much more skittish, are having none of it. They whistle-wing away immediately. Eventually, I come to the beginning if the massive rabbit-willow thickets, and I'm presently stopped here to get some more basket material. Then I'll turn back and make my climb back up to leave. I'm hungry

1244 It doesn't take too long to get another good handful of rabbit willows to bring home. Before I know it, I'm walking back upstream, now following the path of least resistance, the river ice. I'm also able to get a nice piece of willow-root driftwood that's in strong shape. Eventually, this will serve well as the base for a first fire-by-friction set. Eventually, I aim to build up, in increments, toward having very nice kits for fire-starting, hunting, trapping, fishing, berry gathering, etc. All indigenous technologies from the materials right here at hand

1315 Back up to the top again, completely drained of energy, despite snacking on lots of black medick seeds along the way. Just as I'm nearing my vehicle, hundreds of geese take to the air from a nearby stubble-field. No doubt they were being pursued, probably by the coyotes. Perhaps tomorrow I will learn more

IIII ) lllllllll Bulrush (16Dec10)

0914 Sspopiikimi - under grey skies, lightly snowing, and the aapsspini families just lifting off the river, moving up to the stubble-fields to feed

0922 As the geese leave the river, I press toward it, walking along the edge of the cutbank of north-pond, small patches of hardened, crunchy snow being chewed beneath my feet, looking at the patterns on the pond surface, the radiant circles of ice thawed and refrozen, the long cracks between this shore and the wet meadows

0936 The snow on the heavily trod paths melts last, white serpents briefly visible amidst the yellow and grey of the dead and dormant, until snowed-over once more. I follow these slithering corridors up the levee and out to the Oldman, where a handful of geese remain on the ice edge of the open water crag, perhaps enjoying the residual heat of their hundreds of relatives who slept here the night. All the trees of the nearest shore are absent this morning of eagles, but a magpie awaits someone to kill her a meal

1004 Dropping down in the forest main, where the snow, shielded by the trees, is deeper, my clumsy footsteps eruptions of sound in the silence that surrounds me

1030 On the ground beneath the buckbrush, the coyote's trail, leading me past the subnivian exposures left by voles, out through the wet meadows along a canal, to the ksisskstakioyis, solid as stone. I skate the ice around it, one direction then the other, up another canal to the subpond, where the arched remains of bulrush pull me back to the fundamentals, the lure, the vital need, for pockets, containment, something to put other things in. I carefully select and tug out stems

1127 Return to skate across the pond, toting my bundle of reeds tied tight with rabbit willow, until the middle of the wide south pool, where the ice turns from white to black, and I hear gurgles and deep sounds threatening to plunge me in. Back to the wet meadow shoreline I skate, past the mi'sohpsskioyis formed of reeds, and moss, and mud, around the perimeter to the southeast spring, where six mi'ksikatsi take wing

1153 The oriole nest I so want to inspect hangs by a thread yet in the canopy of an owl wood tree. Three kihtsipiimisa'aiksi diving nearby in the Oldman, and no sign of Goldie Boo the porcupine, her bulberries above the peninsula stripped of fruit

IIII ) lllllllllll Mule Mine (18Dec10)

1216 Sspopiikimi - another beautiful snowy day, and while I arrive uncertain of where to direct my efforts this afternoon, the coyote tracks I meet as I start down the trail suggest opportunity. Even after my years of frequent visiting here, I've yet to locate the coyote family's den. Perhaps today that will change

1247 I realize it does me little good to follow the tracks that I have been, along the west length of the pond. This is part of their hunting territory, not their living quarters. To find the den, I need to start my way up the coulee slope, perhaps toward the flat midway up that I call the Coyote Playground, locate some tracks there and proceed. The route I choose is the most direct, but also the most arduous. It takes me up a steep draw through dense chokecherries, where in order to keep from becoming a human avalanche I'm forced to distribute my weight by climbing on hands and knees

1312 As expected, the Playground is full of tracks, not only coyote, but also deer, porcupine, and pheasant. None are particularly recent, they may have been from last night or early this morning, but with the snow constant and heavy they've been mostly obliterated. Again I decide that rather than selecting a trail to follow, I should climb yet further, up another arduously steep slope, to see what the signs are like in the ridge and coulee rim above

1338 Up on the ridge, I find more recent tracks. Still, with the powdery consistency of the snow, it's difficult for me to ascertain who made them. By the stride, I know it has to be coyotes or deer. But my tracking skills are not refined enough to distinguish them, and it doesn't help that there is a whole avenue of tracks rather than the markings of a single animal. So I follow, hoping that there's nobody up at the old coal mine nearby today who would hold it against me for trespassing on the outskirts of their property. Soon though, passing over a massive hill of coal tailings that is well on it's way to being reclaimed by the coulee, I find the animals I've been following... seven mule deer, among them two large bucks. They are halfway down the coulee slope, in a fairly hidden pocket

1406 The deer bunch up and stare when I first appear on the scene, but I sit down on a ridge to watch them and soon they spread out. Two of the does lay down to rest, the other five graze on the yellowed remains of wheat grass and sweetclover

1447 Leaving the deer behind, I begin making my way up and down the ridgetops near the coulee rim, following a small flock of grey partridge, heading toward the high-level bridge. At this point, I suspect that the location of the coyote den will remain a mystery. But I do know where there is a good nettle patch up here, and I want to pick some before I head home

1529 My nettle patch is enormous (as far as nettle patches go), and it takes me no time at all to gather as much as I can really carry the rest of the way back down the slippery slope and along the west length of the pond to my vehicle. There are four pheasants in some buckbrush up by the nettles, and of course they burst out and glide down the coulee as I pass. For part of the way, I'm able to slide in my seat, quickening the descent. And soon enough I'm back at the parking area by north-pond and warming up the car to head home

IIII ) llllllllllll Geese In Water (19Dec10)

0750 Naapisisahtaa Kaawahko - dawn patrol in search of magpie communal roosts and coyote dens

0825 Naato'si is just about to breach the horizon, one tremendous luminous spike shooting straight up in the icy sky. I sit on a ridge lookout over the river, where the thousands of geese who spend the night at our considerable open crag are honking from a tight group in the water. I've never seen them all adrift like this, in this season. Usually they line the ice perimeter of the crag, and only a few at a time will enter the river to bathe. There are magpies giving their thriple wok-wok-wok morning call from somewhere in the brush below. And a coyote, extremely near, heard but not seen, cries a single yawn

0941 Returned to the house, we have a birthday breakfast to attend. Before leaving the ridge, I watched a coyote stroll out onto the river ice and jog toward the geese. Then a domestic dog walking with it's human a ways in the distance barked, and this was enough to put the coyote in alert and send it into the forest on the opposite shore. Heading back toward home, I found a draw where a lot of coyote tracks seem to converge, this will be the next area I survey for dens. Never did come across the large magpie roost, but when I got back to the house I saw that our crew had already stopped by. Perhaps they slept up in the neighborhood last night. Also noticed that, entering the suburbs again, I was picking up the distinct but faint odor of sewage. How much more the animals must smell this, the reek of too many humans living too close together