13 March 2010

Swans And Nesting Owls

IIII ) lllllllllllllllllllll First Swans (8Mar10)

0821 TransAlta kicked it into gear, putting up a whole line of towers across the Blood Reserve in the last few days. It will be something to walk the line after they flip the switch, gathering up bird carcasses. Judging by the pace, they must be waiting for the migration to bring all the seasonal birds home, so they can fry as many as possible

0957 Ksikkomahkaayiiksi (swans) at Innokimi. The waterfowl migration is underway. That means we have just one moon cycle until niipoyi, the leafing-out, or summer. The frog's hopping to the other side this year

IIII ) llllllllllllllllllllll Swan Necklace (9Mar10)

2236 I saw a swan today who wore a big blue choker. Two initial thoughts on the matter. First, even strapped and surveilled with this gizmo, the swan was still a swan, which seems important and ironic. Because, secondly, the people who marked it in this fashion seem, in a sense, to be using this bird and its necklace as an excuse not to be human, removing themselves from the potential of truly becoming familiar

IIII ) llllllllllllllllllllllllll ( Owl Nest (13Mar10)

0932 Nitohkattsisamayaaksipookaki... felt pretty cold and windy when I went out on the porch, but the Heavy Head weather station is reading a temperature of 3 C and rising, with wind topping at 12 kph

1352 Omahksistsiiksiinaikaawahko - Despite cold wind, I decide to hike down into the coulee in search of owl nests, insects, and the flowering kippiaapi

1411 We are at the brink of the shift between seasons. There's a glow on our horizon, but the Sun has yet to rise in its annual cycle. All but the heaviest snow drifts have melted, leaving behind swaths of greyish-yellow, flattened grass

1417 It's too early yet for the tiny white blooms of moss flox, and I suspect the same then for kippiaapi. Far too early as well for the emergence of my slithering friends from the shelter of their hibernaculum, though I stop to check their doorways on my way down the slope anyhow. It it not too early, however, for the grigs and wolf spiders who live above and around the rattlesnakes. Their eggs have hatched, and the young can be glimpsed hopping and scurrying amongst the blades of fallen grass

1448 Following the trail of omahkaaatsisttaa along one of the ridges leading down to the floodplain, I turn over rocks to find active colonies of tiny black ants hauling nearly microscopic pink and white particles into the entrances to their hives. Under other rocks, there are seven-spot ladybugs, still frozen and awaiting their thaw

1501 At the bottom of the ridge, I find the cast-off, scaley skin of one of my friends, all but returned to the earth. This is my prototype for understanding ikkitstakssin, the practice of making offerings, returning that which we will no longer use. Beside the skin, growing on a rosy-hued boulder sparkling with quartz, is a brilliant lime-green lichen, erupting with flesh-colored cushions. And beside this, an active colony of wood-ants, their nest mound set concealed in some skunkbrush scrub

1513 Now I have reached the sagebrush flats, the highest echelon of the floodplain. From here I can walk along the cutbank and tree-line that defines the next level, and begin my search for owl nests. I know there were at least two kakanottsstookii couples courting in these woods through the longest nights of winter. I'm juts hoping that one of these pairs will have decided to raise their brood here

1517 I don't have to go far along the cutbank before I come across kai'skaahp, sitting quietly on her haunches in the fork of a western cottonwood tree. She's sleeping, but semi-conscious, glancing down at me briefly before shutting her eyes again

1533 Fifty meters further along the cutbank, I walk among some of the oldest trees in this coulee. One of them, a balsam poplar, I know as Grampa. His limbs are easily as large as half the other trees in the forest, branches so heavy that their ends have come to touch the ground. Grampa's girth is such that it would take four men my size to link hands around him. I lift one of the massive slivers of a fallen branch to reveal six hibernating caterpillars, the same black fuzzy critters with faint yellow lateral stripes that I'd seen crossing my path so often at the close of summer

1547 Beneath Grampa, at the base of the cutbank, The Twins - two young narrow-leaf cottonwoods that may very well share one root - look like mere sprouts. I can't wait to see them leaf-out in the coming season

1559 Just as at Sspopiikimi, the starlings have returned to this coulee. Walking along the tree-line, they greet me with their robotic-sounding whirls and tweets from perches high in the no longer so skeletal canopy. Despite the leaflessness of these trees, their buds and growing limbs seem to vibrate. They pulse and wriggle with rising sap, it is not just the wind. And their color, though almost imperceptibly, has changed. These trees are, to me, as full of life as the small family of awatoyi who just awoke and leapt, tails wagging, from the chokecherry brush on the slope of the cutbank below me, or the kai'skaahp, a second one, who I see lounging in a cottonwood across the way

1625 At the end of the tree-line, I find two flickers and a downy woodpecker, all searching the bark of a single cottonwood. The flickers take wing at my approach, but the downy male continues his hunt, confident that I'm no threat. I can hear geese down on the river, and as I look in their direction, I catch a glimpse of coyote, bolting between the willow thickets and a draw up the coulee slope

1633 Now I cut down into the woods, onto the middle echelon of the floodplain, to begin my return journey. Still no sign of owl nests, but I am enjoying this walk immensely. Something in the forest today reminds me that despite my relative awkwardness, I am not apart from this place. I belong here. And my studies of the seasonal activities of the plants, and birds, and mammals, and insects, and even my slithering friends, has just as much to do with learning about myself and the nature of life in general as it does to learning about them

1700 I walk halfway back through the forest, finding along the way one of the arrows I'd lost beneath heavy snow-cover in the dead of winter, and encountering a third kai'skaahp. Like the others, it was sleeping in the fork of a tree

1702 Then I entered a wide, mid-forest meadow. This is where I keep a lean-to-style survival shelter, or at least that part of it which I've built to date. Throughout most of the winter moons, the mule deer inhabit this meadow in large numbers. And in one of the taller trees that borders its perimeter, there has for several years been a large nest. Mid-summer, it's often used by hawks. But at present, this is where I find my owl. Grinning, I had suspected this is would be their nesting site all along. What better place to raise a couple wide-eyed fluff-balls than in this isolated look-out, where they could have their pick of the deer mice and voles? The kakanottsstookii mother sits quiet and patient on her nest this evening, no chicks yet that I can see. The starlings mime the songs of redtail hawks, wigeons, and killdeer from the trees around her