29 March 2010

Aapsspini Owai

IIII ) lllllllllll Aapsspini Owai (28Mar10)

0911 up, uP... waiting for my coffee to kick in. The geese and mallards have been mating, today we need to check for eggs

1016 Sspopiikimi - we've brought our pipe this morning, prepared to offer a smoke to the soyiitapiiksi, and to learn whether any of the aapsspini or mi'ksikatsi have eggs yet

1022 Walking in, there was a fleet of wood ants crossing our trail and moving down the cutbank. Their hive was off in the field on the opposite side. They must have been going to collect something, but we didn't stop to investigate, wanting first to take care of what we came here for. If they are still at it during our return, we will try to learn what they're up to

1043 The midpond and lodge aapsspini couples are here, probably others as well that we can't see yet from our position. There are also two mallard pairs near the cattail canal at midpond

1045 We offer nawaahko'tsis to the soyiitapi from our favorite seat in front of the ksisskstakioyis. There are house finches singing from the poplar canopy behind us. While nitawaatsimoyihkaa, the midpond gander flies past and comes to land on the lodge goose who is prone on the water. She dives to escape, while her gander flies down from the cutbank to chase away the intruder. Clearly, the mating is still underway

1058 When we finish what we'd come to do, Mahoney tells me she needs to go home. She can only do brief visits in her state. So we pack up and walk back to the truck. All along the route, flickers seem to follow us. There were now only a few ants on the trail as we passed near their hive. Whatever they'd gone after must have been secured

1129 At home, I change into my waders. It's time to visit Aapsspini Mini, a small island in an isolated oxbow of the Oldman River where many geese return to nest each year

1201 In order to get to the oxbow and island, I have to cross a large corn field in the floodplain. I can hear, but haven't seen, the killdeer around me. This is "private land" and I don't know the farmer who owns it. If it was on the reserve side of the river, some measures could be taken to protect the nesting grounds from development. It could be GPSed and registered with the Lands Department as an area of traditional use. But really, even then, I don't know that I agree with the approach. It assumes that plants, animals, rivers and the like do not move, that what we see now can be preserved in its present location, static. If we really want to ensure our traditional relationship to the waterfowl long-term, mapping areas in need of protection becomes very simple - all waters and their surrounding lands for perhaps a kilometer or more should be off-limits to agricultural and hydraulic development

1226 When I reach the little bit of old grassland adjacent to the water of the oxbow, I spot a black caterpillar on a bit of dry cow dung. I stop to get out my macro lens for a photo, and that's when I hear something completely unexpected. High up above, there's sprague's pipit, hovering and singing. Not only is this the first pipit I've seen this season, but it's in a very unlikely location, just a narrow stretch of native grass, perhaps a hundred meters wide, sandwiched between the oxbow and a corn field and, on the other side of the water, a massive area being mined for gravel

1241 My next stop is at a bulberry bush where I've just seen and heard my first meadowlark of the season. This bird wings away as soon as I approach, but there's also a large magpie nest in the bush worth checking on. The last time I stopped at this bush, during last year's egg gathering, it had just gone to flower and the first honeybees were swarming it. Today its flower-buds are still closed, and the magpie nest is empty

1256 I now follow along the water's edge, passing by other patches of bulberry brush bearing more empty magpie nests. My presence scares-off more than a dozen goldeneyes, mostly male, and three whitetail deer. Very soon I will reach the island

1305 I stop off at a little cattail marsh to gather the fluff of their downy seeds, packing this into the bottom of my bag to use as a cushion for any eggs I happen to gather. And as I round the next turn, the island comes into view, and I can already see the geese bedding down on it

1327 As I enter the water to wade out onto the island, the geese begin to cry and soon fly out to the deeper waters. I don't count them, but I would say there were a dozen pairs. From a safe distance they watch me as I climb out of the water and into their nesting grounds. Walking around, I can see there are several nests being roughed-out. One of them is set within an old wood ant hive. I'm early. By next week there will no doubt be several nests with eggs. Just when I've almost scanned the entire island, I come across the first nest with eggs. There are four, cold but not too cold to the touch. I'm betting their incubation hasn't begun, or if it has that its only been a day or so. I take two of the four and leave an offering and explaining why I've done this. Hopefully, when I return again (as I must), I'll find that the mother goose has produced more to compensate. I will collect no further from this nest, and be more sparing with the others. Only now can I fully appreciate the impact of their loss and identify closely with the purpose of their sacrifice

1414 My hike back to the truck is quiet, uneventful. Maybe I've shut my senses down. I'm concerned only with leaving before some farmer or land-owner detects my presence. This fear is always present when I visit this place, which is why I try to come here only once a year. But this season, I will have to make a second visit

1434 Why is Thunder Chief's always out of cigarettes now?

1755 Sheen has kidnapped herself. I just negotiated a ransom by offering to treat her and Des to a dinner of nasty Lethridge cooking. There are about three good restaurants here in town, judging on a scale of how violently they affect the bowels. We're not going to any of them

2125 Grossly full of over-priced pizza and spaghetti

2312 Killdeer galore. One just flew noisily over my house, here a half hour till midnight. I have to retract the early pipit announcement, the zoom photo clearly shows a horned lark who just happened to be acting pipit-ish (must be a mating thing). Now I really just want to get my soak over with so I can lay down with my lady

0023 Whispers again... another wave of sadness, different but the same. It's hard to accept that things couldn't have been otherwise

28 March 2010

Vicious Traditions

IIII ) llllllll Ectopic Pregnancy (25Mar10)

0539 Emergency Room

0731 Mahoney is trying to set a new record for the number of needles and hospital bracelets one person can get in a 24hr period. I'm working her corner, holding the spit bucket

0835 Starting into hour four in the ER and still have no idea when we'll be moving along or what's wrong

0934 Hour five and I'm alone in the room, staring at the biohazard symbol, waiting for the lady to return from the latest test

1005 Geez... my poor Sweetie. We're having a very unexpected day

1042 Sixth hour, unexpected diagnosis, needle number eight

1139 Seventh hour, Mahoney's falling asleep, I'm eavesdropping on the doc-talk going on outside our door, and might as well stop counting, we're not likely to go home any time soon

1232 Wicked mind-twist as we enter hour eight of day one. What we didn't think was possible turned out to actually be possible, and yet still impossible at the same time. Cruel in a way, but Mahoney's going to be okay. Just going to have to do a night here. I don't know why all the medical stuff has to hit her, my poor Sweetie

1435 Off she goes into the operating room... I'm gonna go outside and cry now

1742 Everything with the operation went fine. Mahoney's in her room now and way more with-it than I'd suspect her to be, considering she was just under and there's a nurse shooting morphine in her "cheek" right now

1909 Good to catch a couple winks in my chair beside Mahoney. What a crazy day

2057 I'm going to try to spend the night in this chair, see if the nurses attempt to boot me out

2145 Hahaa... the nurses are stunned. We didn't have to pay their fee to watch t.v. on the tiny little box they provide. I brought Mahoney's wide-screen MacBook from home, she tethered to her phone, and now we're watching this week's Survivor in nice resolution for free

2157 They gave her a choice for the next dose of pain meds - morphine injection for option A, rectal suppository of something we've never heard of for option B. Which do you think she chose?

IIII ) lllllllll Vicious Traditions (26Mar10)

0747 Wow, extremely peaceful sleep in my little pull-out chair bed beside the hospital room window. Maybe they'll keep us another night?

0825 Took Mahoney on a little walk, and now I'm heading home to shower and change clothes. Dr. Hardin stopped in to visit, and she had the quote of the morning, "Well, you've been bitching for years about how you can't get pregnant, so..."

0957 Came home, changed our bedding, threw some clothes in the wash, had a shower, smudged ksisskstaki amopistaan, speaking to Mahoney's swift recovery and our gratitude for all the good wishes and visits our friends shared yesterday. Now I'm headed out to stop briefly at Sspopiikimi, leaving berry soup as an offering in the water before returning to the hospital

1358 I'm sorry, little spirit, that we don't get to meet, that we didn't know you were with us. I hope you enjoyed your travels, further than most who've walked

1637 Mahoney's fallen asleep, it will be another night in the hospital for us. I'm on my way to reflect for a bit at the best pool I know, Sspopiikimi

1706 Four sleeps we've been absent from the pond. Three by way of a busy work schedule, one by an unexpected intervention of both life and death. And what I find again here by the water is the same message it's impressed us with year after year. Things are always changing, while they're also still the same

1715 The midpond mallard couple are still around, and I suspect the aapsspini are off feeding, because that's what the lodge and south-pond pairs are doing. The goldeneye couple has come whistle-winging overhead, first in one direction, then the other. There are a couple magpies foraging in the wet meadow, and a robin picking from the mud on the beaver lodge. But I hear new voices too, some familiar, like the ring-billed gull, others I don't know. I'm not about to go chasing to find out who the new-comers are. Not tonight. I'm just going to sit here across from the ksisskstakioyis and see what unfolds

1727 The first big event that plays out in my presence this evening is a major brawl involving both the south-pond and lodge geese, as well as one member of the midpond couple. It's difficult to say what happened, the fight started on the golf course and came splashing down in front of me. One of the ganders was absolutely brutal, pinning his opponent underwater and biting his head any time it surfaced. I don't know if the lodge goose's husband was the thrasher or the thrashed, in this case, but he was one of them. And while the fight was on, the lodge goose went right to the edge of their territorial shore and positioned herself absolutely prone on top of the water. Somehow the gander or goose beneath broke free and scampered up the cutbank, pursued by the other gander, and meeting another two angry geese when he got up to the top. By this time it was out of my sight, I could only hear the chase. Eventually, however, the lodge gander came stalking back down the slope with his neck lowered, entered the water, took a drink and swam back to his goose. It's difficult to say whether this was a fight, or the rape of another gander's wife

1802 A little muskrat has just come out of the ksisskstakioyis, and I suspect the beaver family won't be far behind. For a while after the goose event, the lodge and south-pond couples stayed near shore in their respective territories - the former beside the ksisskstakioyis, the latter at the entrance of the subpond canal. They preened and drank. Then the lodge couple began paddling south, giving double grunts. This sound was returned by grunts from the south-pond couple. When the lodge pair got too near, the others began honking and swam further south, into the wide pool at the extreme end of the pond. The lodge couple, for their part, continued until they reached the canal, then swam across the pond to the cutbank, where they climbed up to eat

1823 All is quiet as the shadow of dusk draws across the pond. The magpies definitely have something going on in the big bulberry brush of the wet meadow. There's a plant, uprooted, drifting just out of reach in front of me. It looks like either nebraska sedge or bur-reed. Likely it's beaver food, but I'm curious to see if one of them will come collect it

1846 The lodge couple has returned, preening on their shoreline. There's no wind tonight, so the water is perfectly calm, the only movement the small ripples produced by diving beetles in their rise and fall

1911 The first ksisskstaki emerged without notice, swimming straight across the pond underwater, then north quite a ways before climbing part-way up the cutbank. From this distance, I can only assume it's feeding on the only fresh greens in that area, the absinthe

1922 Two more beavers follow the first, one after the other. The first moves across the pond to the south of me, slaps his tail twice and then swims away along the bank. The second paddles calmly out toward the entrance to the subpond canal, disappearing into a bulrush thickets where I can now hear the familiar crunch of a root dinner

1926 Now a fourth beaver has moved out of the lodge. This one comes straight to me, until within about three meters, then turns and moves toward the crunching sound of its family member feasting in the bulrush

1938 I feel like I've done what I came out to do - turn my thoughts toward something positive, check in with the geese, and greet the beavers at the start of their night round. It's time for me to return to Mahoney

2159 Back in the hospital for the night with Mahoney. About to settle down, plug in a movie and eat my lunchable dinner

0046 Had our quota of sadness for the day, settling down for some Zzzzs in my chair-bed beside the window. Last sleep in the maternity ward, tomorrow we should go home

IIII ) llllllllll Clarity (27Mar10)

0629 Oww... that chair just made me stiff and sore this time around, and early morning commotion in the neighbor's bed woke me right up. Guess I'm making a Starbuck's run

0652 After seeing how these smart medical doctors run their operation, I'm thinking pajamas might not be a bad uniform for the Kainai Studies office. Maybe even take it up a notch and go for house coats

0844 Caught another quick wink before Dr Cowboy came in to announce that it's get the hell out of hospital day. I was dreaming that we packed our pipe to give a smoke to a man who was very surprised that we had naawahko'tsis. So we'll take care of that when we get home. But anyway, the lady has asked for no visitors today, so don't even try it. Give her a day or two to revitalize first

1224 It's so good to be home and finished with the hospitalization aspect of this ordeal. Still a lot of healing to do, physical or otherwise. Aunty Gumby is officially off limits to ewoks and munchkins for the next couple weeks, and I get to be chef (which means I better get down to the Asian Market to pick up my principal ingredient). They said it'll be six weeks before she can wrestle again, so I better keep her happy until then

1738 Just bought a week's worth of groceries for the price of one Parisian meal. Going to cook my Mahoney a steak dinner

2142 Tried to take a night walk at the pond, brought our pipe along in response to this morning's dream, but got blocked by the city's curfew on park access. We'll have to try again in the morning. Sucks... drunks can stay out at the bars until the wee hours, but people who just want to go down to make an offering at the water aren't allowed, and it's obviously to block late-night abuses by the drunks. Underlying value: drinking is to be condoned at all possible expense

2334 As we approach the fourth day, not coincidentally the day before our anniversary, whispers from the little spirit bring massive clarity. Thirteen years of experience - dreams, hardships, stories, travels, and transfers - are all being woven together to form a single, meaningful gestalt, offering purpose to replace the sadness

22 March 2010

Wigeons, Worms, And Physa Snails

IIII ) ll Wigeons Return (19Mar10)

0855 Many goldeneyes at the wetlands by Bingo Bridge, large flocks of mallard and pintails at Innokimi, I love the migration season

1723 Sspopiikimi - walking in, we're greeted by the staccato calls of mi'kaniki'soyii, and arrive on the north end to see the whole of the pond is still ice-free despite a sharp drop in temperature since yesterday

1726 At first appearance, all the aapsspini couples are here - midpond, beaver lodge, subpond, and south pond pairs. Those at midpond have been joined by three mi'ksikatsi, two males and one female. Mahoney and I are walking the length of the cutbank to see who we might be missing in the far south

1739 When we near the peninsula, we hear a sound we've been waiting for, the three-toned call of the wigeons, finally returned to Sspopiikimi. There are fourteen of them, including the single eurasian pair we see each year

1800 As we round the levee-walk toward the river, we hear an unsuspected sound, soft hoots of a kakanottsstookii. The couple who we'd hope would nest here again departed, no doubt to a new nest site nearby, about a month ago. So who was this? Mahoney and I stalked into the upstream forest to find out. When we did eventually search the bird out, it was alone, and our immediate suspicion was that this is the yearling who grew up here last summer. But just to be sure, we checked throughout the forest for a new nest or another bird. Neither appeared

1826 Back at the river, there's all kinds of goose and duck activity. Most of it centers on the concrete anchors of the high-level bridge, but there are also geese on the big island downriver. We find the goldeneye pair diving here as well, but they soon whistle-wing their way back to the pond, shy birds that they are

1835 Following the levee downstream, looking out across the main forest, we listen to a flicker calling. Then one of the robins chimes in, also giving a staccato call. It almost seems to be mimicking the flicker

1857 The rest of our walk along the river and down past the north pond, through the absinthe field, was quiet, uneventful. Mahoney's leg is sore, and with some busy days ahead in the next week, we don't want to push it. Instead, I've decided that if I wake up early enough, I'll come in the morning for another visit

IIII ) lll Worms (20Mar10)

0845 Well, not exactly the crack of dawn, but I am awake and headed to the pond. Hopefully get in at least a short visit before the business of this ceremony-filled weekend begins

0905 Sspopiikimi - the cold temperatures overnight have left a very thin film of ice over most of the pond, save for the area around the ksisskstakioyis and a few other small patches. I arrive to find either the lodge or midpond aapsspini couple feeding on the cutbank, with no others immediately in sight

0912 My main interest this morning is in searching for signs of new goose nests on the wet meadows, and to that effect I set out sunwise around the north end of the pond. On the way, I stop at an older asparagus plant to see whether any new shoots are breaking ground. They're not. It's still too cold

0943 Out on the wet meadows, I walk toward the ksisskstakioyis, following the perimeter of the water, and lifting any logs I could find along the way in search of insects, though coming up always empty. As I near the area I'd seen the lodge couple defending the other day, I encounter a pair of mallards. They're concealing themselves between the drifted bulrush flotilla and the shoreline. Soon they depart, and so do the goldeneye pair who I hadn't noticed on the other side of the ksisskstakioyis

0948 The aapsspini reaction to my presence here was entirely different than that of the ducks. Rather than flee, the lodge couple appeared at the edge of the cutbank on the opposite shore and the goose entered the water and approached me. As she did, the midpond couple who'd been watching me the whole while became agitated. Their gander flew down to attack the lodge goose. Her husband, in turn, flew down to trounce the midpond gander. And all the excitement even got the subpond couple going, so that before long their gander flew over and joined the fray. The flare-up was short lived, mostly just chasing back and forth, and ended with the lodge couple taking their place atop the ksisskstakioyis while the others went their own ways to give them distance... a distance that, at least with the midpond gander, was then repeatedly tested by paddling first far, then near again, and so forth. When he'd get too close, the lodge couple would gripe, and he would soon turn away again

0958 The territorial boundary that sets apart the midpond from the lodge couple seems, at least for the moment, to be the position of the bulrush flotilla. Though both couples are interested in me and established enough not to fly away, neither is exhibiting the protective behavior that would indicate they'd started caching their eggs nearby

1012 Similarly, when I approached the subpond, the couple residing there made a lot of noise and were not anywhere near ready to fly off, yet they were willing to give way when I came too close, suggesting they've not begun to hide their eggs either

1026 My next stop is in the big bulberry thicket in the wet meadows. I'm curious as to whether any magpies are nesting here. There are two old nests, complete with hood, and a third that just has the lower platform and mud bowl. But winding my way through this thorny labyrinth, I'm once again disappointed. The magpies are not using these nests, nor building new ones in this thicket. Their activities are being carried out elsewhere

1030 While braving the bulberry, which notably has yet to flower, I can hear house finches singing from the canopy of the main forest, and flicker chants as well. Perhaps they're calling me to the trees

1038 As I walk up toward the forest, the finches and flickers go quiet and I begin to hear magpie chatter. It leads me to a single bird who, when watched, flies a ways along the tree-line at the edge of the wet meadows, then cuts back to the bulrush from which I've just come. Now I have to go back. One of the hooded nests was too difficult to peek inside, and could very easily have hidden a mate

1101 Walking back again to the bulrush, I can see that the magpie is hopping around in branches beside one of the complete nests. When I'm too near though, it flies away, and though I wait quietly it does not return. Stretching on my tip-toes and reaching through the briars with a small Elph camera, I'm able to confirm that the nest is empty of all but the leaves of last fall

1104 Moving on, I then travel along the edge of the wet meadows toward south pond. I stop at an old wooden beam immediately behind the subpond, one that I check periodically. As always, there are meadow slugs beneath it, our region's only indigenous slug. There's also the familiar stone centipedes and mouse skull. But there is something new today as well. Worms. The first I've seen this season. Not night-crawlers, but one of their smaller cousins. There's also some pink, pimple-looking egg sacks on the wood. These are not new, they've been here all winter. But today I'm curious to learn who they belong to, so I'm taking one home in a film canister to see what will later emerge

1134 After turning several other old beams in the wet meadows, finding other unidentified insect eggs and a small metallic-green ground beetle, I reach the south pond and its wide, island-studded shallows. Here I'm surprised to learn that all the wigeons from yesterday evening are gone. In their place are seventeen fairly-skittish mi'ksikatsi

1208 By the time I make my way around the south bend of the pond, to the peninsula and its bulberry and currant thickets, I've seen many more worms, slugs, and now spiders, the latter seeming to have just emerged at a certain heat cue in every imaginable micro-environment. I'm curious as to why I find never find wintering chorus frogs. This end of the pond will be alive with their mating songs fairly soon. If they did not winter under logs and forest debris, they must be completely dug-in

1221 Looking closely at the emerging mullein rosettes near the peninsula, I can see that something (I suspect deer or rabbit) has been feeding on the outer leaves

1234 On the peninsula itself there is not too much news. A very small and deceased northern pike floats silver beside the shore. The water itself has warmed and opened since this morning, so that now the only remaining ice appears to be that which borders this little intrusion of land. There are old magpie nests in the bulberry thickets above, as well as in the chokecherries that grow in the crevasses of the coulee slope beyond that. I would like to climb around and see if any are being revamped, but my energy level is starting to wane. I need sustenance and, because I will have to stay up all night in a kano'tsisis ceremony, I need rest this afternoon as well. For these reasons, I begin my trek back toward the truck

1252 The trail takes me along the cutbank that lines the west side of the pond. All but the subpond couple are found plucking new grass shoots from the neighboring golf course, which is surprisingly empty of drunk people chasing little white balls with clubs. Hopefully I'll have enough energy tomorrow evening to return again

IIII ) llll Physa Snails (21Mar10)

1419 Sspopiikimi - despite high winds and lack of sleep, I feel completely energized and decide it's time to finally check the brush of the coulee slopes above the pond for the active magpie nests I know to be here somewhere

1423 Walking in, I note the presence of five aapsspini couples. The midpond, beaver lodge, and south pond pairs are on the water, in their respective territories, while the subpond couple and one other graze the empty neighboring golf course

1426 Passing opposite the entrance to the subpond canal, I catch a glimpse of mi'sohpsski moving through the reeds. Suspecting that it is a resident of the large burrow I know to be at the base of the cutbank I'm standing on, I go to sit by the water's edge. I don't have to wait long at all when the muskrat comes motoring straight across the pond, its mouth full of aquatic plants, including scouring rush. It swims to within a meter of my seat and dives with its wad of plant stems into the lodge

1435 Meanwhile, the aapsspini couples that were on the golf course return to the pond, splashing down one after the other near the canal. This raises some fuss with the lodge couple who are here by the canal as well, but everything is resolved quickly, the pairs each distancing themselves from one another before any physical fights break out

1450 I wait about twenty minutes or so to see if the muskrat will re-emerge, and when it doesn't I pick up and move to the south pond. Here there are far fewer sa'aiksi than there were the last couple days. From my count, just five mi'ksikatsi and the goldeneye couple. There's also a house finch singing its familiar song from somewhere in the bulberry and currant thickets above the peninsula, and very little ice remaining on the water below

1508 Walking the cutbank above the bulberry and currant brush, several house finches scatter, as well as another small bird that moves silently in and out of my frame of sight so fast that I can't identify it. Just one nervous male house finch remains, and after a few minutes he departs as well. I was not able to discern what their interest was here. As I continue along, looking down into the brush for magpie activity, I see there is one particularly nice nest. Due to the quality of its thick hood, I can't tell if there are any birds inside. I'll need to go through the briars to find out

1528 In order to access the magpie nest, I first have to scurry on hands and knees along the trails sikaaattsistaa has woven beneath the bulberries. Then, because the magpies tend to situate their domes just out of reach of humans and coyotes, I had to climb the spindly and thorny tree that held it. This ordeal was not without reward. What I found was a very well-constructed sphere of sticks that was lacking only its earthen bowl. If the nest had been used before, no doubt the bowl would be there. I can only guess that this abode is still under construction by residents who plan to utilize it this year

1554 Taking a break from the magpie search, I pass the next half hour out on the peninsula, poking around in the shallows off-shore, amidst the new green shoots of nebraska sedge. There I find the predictable six-spotted fishing spider, as well as some small diving beetles and snails with ovate, cone-shaped shells. I pick up one of these physa snails and sit it in my palm, waiting for it to fully extend for a photograph. This requires significant patience, and in the end the snail is only half cooperative

1619 From the peninsula, I decided it was time to head uphill, following a chokecherry stand up a draw of the coulee. To my surprise, it was a complete dead-end, no magpie nests at all. I did, however, flush a couple grey partridge, the seemingly eternal residents of this particular slope

1429 Making my way back down, I got a text from Mahoney, wanting me to come home. So with the wind at my back I ambled off toward the truck, looking forward to another visit tomorrow