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