07 February 2011

Did You Know Some Mosquitoes Hibernate?

IIII Granulated Carabids And Hibernating Mosquitoes (5Feb11)

1304 Sspopiikimi - we were going to try and walk the big coulee at the confluence today, check on the owls and find out if they're nested yet, but the access road was closed, and no way I'm making Mahoney hike the muddy slope. Another thaw after another flash freeze, and we're back for a spin at the pond

1316 We stroll around the end of north pond first, climb the levee and head over to the cutbank looking out on the river. No goose family today on the big island, haven't seen them there since our visit two weeks ago. We hear niipomakiiksi in the north wood though, and Mahoney wants to scout around in there a bit before we move on

1341 We don't spend too long in the north wood. It's open and quiet, and we're distracted in philosophical conversation, which we carry with us back to the levee walk and toward south pond. When we near the trail that goes down to the blind, we find a beaver-chewed cottonwood stick. Nothing recent, just exposed by the thaw. All the same, we take it as a sign that it may be time to collect our seven sticks for the end of winter ceremony. So we are ambling off toward the ksisskstakioyis

1402 Out on the wet meadows, I begin turning logs... at least those that will roll. It's a bit colder than during my last visit, most wood is cemented to the earth with ice. One log I try to turn breaks easily in half. Inside, we find a few spiders and hibernating granulated carabid beetles. When we get to the ksisskstakioyis, it's apparent they still haven't broken through. We'll just have to keep an eye on things in the weeks to come

1426 Our next destination is the big clump of bulberry brush at the end of the wet meadows, close to the tree-line of the forest main. Again, on the way, I turn wood. Under one log, I find meadow slugs, wolf spiders, and a single, small unidentified ground beetle. Under another, I find the skull of a small pike, either brought by a rodent or a victim of last year's floods. When we get to the bulberries, I crawl through the tunnel between them to check out the magpie nests. There are two here - one that would require a lot of fixing, but another in really good shape. Perhaps this year they'll use it

1505 We sit down to eat the sandwiches we've brought at the edge of the forest main, and when we're done we begin turning logs on our way through the trees. It's strange that we never seem to find inhabited vole or mouse nests. Most of the logs we look at are rotten, all kinds of molds and funguses, or turned to sawdust inside by ants. I'm surprised at one of these crumbly logs to find two mosquitoes scurrying for cover. We can hear a raven calling by the river, and our kingfisher by the spring

1539 We come out of the forest, climb the levee, and head toward the spring. When we come into view of it, we can see why te kingfisher's trilling. There's a mallard drake occupying her little bit of open water. Rather than disturb them, we drop down into the owl wood to check on the raccoons. They are not in their house today, which isn't surprising, given the relative warmth. But where they might be is a mystery. This time of year, all we can imagine them living off would be insects in rotting logs, or perhaps the dead pike at the spring (which we'll have to get a close look at). As we walk along, we talk about how strange it is that we don't know any Blackfoot stories that feature raccoons. We've never seen any in the bundles. We don't even have a name for them. Were there no raccoons in Blackfoot territory until recently? And if so, what brought them here?

1610 The raccoons have almost definitely located the stinky dead pike. Our last stop before returning to north-pond and our vehicle was at the spring. In addition to the remains of the one large pike I hoisted from the water a few weeks ago, there were four other fish eaten. Three of them, including one extremely large one, had only the eyeless heads remaining. The other had been skinned, in a sense, and all the choice meat and guts removed. This is the one that suggested raccoon behavior especially... I can't see the coyotes either fishing them from the water, or skinning them so carefully in this manner. Perhaps the work of magpies, but again how would they get a ten pound fish out of the water? It has to be the raccoons. With the snow gone, there were no tracks to confirm

IIII ) l Pursuing Sikaaatsisttaa (6Feb11)

1320 Pitsiiksiinaikawaahko - feeling a bit dark and depressed today, a sense of failure to move significantly forward in our proposed project of dietary transformation, food-sovereignty, and increased engagement with and dependence upon the plants and animals we have become so familiar with and owe such change to. Hoping a walk in the big coulee at the confluence will brighten my disposition, while also offering something real to grow with

1353 Perhaps the thoughts that are troubling me today are here as reminders, in itch of sorts. It's very difficult to take the kind if project we're proposing very far when beginning in the winter, although we surely could have taken it further than we have. At present, however, we are at the cusp of the explosion of another season of reproduction, when all of the foods will be presented one by one. In this lunar cycle, Piitaiki'somm, the owls and eagles will start incubating the first eggs, while the geese claim their nests for the moon to come, Insects will awaken and hatch, and new plant shoots will grow unseen beneath the earth and snow. Maybe my feelings are a call to ready myself to fully engage in this life, in order to bring the project into active practice. These are the thoughts (excuses? motivations?) coming to me as I walk down the coulee slope, moving toward the downriver end of the floodplain. On the slope, I pass by patches of prairie and rhombic-leaved sunflowers, dry and open. The birds have picked off them all winter, and still each head holds a few remaining seeds

1437 I continue down the slope until reaching the bottom, passing along the way an area where a porcupine has been stripping the bark off skunkbrush sumac. Once on the floodplain I head immediately to the forest, and just as I enter come across a hollow log that's being used as shelter for a mountain cottontail. The log has just a single opening on one end, making for a snare site that would almost certainly be successful, a place to commit to memory, since I have no snare-setting materials with me, and would not be able to even check it frequently in the next few days. I use my flashlight to peek inside, to see if sikaaatsisttaa is home. If he is, I can't tell, but I can only see partway down. He'll be close though, in any case, probably watching me right now from some hidden location in the chokecherry brush, maybe where the magpie is calling from down the way

1537 Turns out this thicket of chokecherry and aged cottonwood growing along the cutbank drop to the second echelon of the floodplain is thick with homely rabbit hollows and of course the animals themselves. It is not long at all before I spot one, and I feel compelled by it's presence to at least try to follow through on the opportunity. We have benefitted amazingly, in terms of thought, from the long-term phenology study we undertook when we began to collect eggs for our ceremonies. What more could we be brought into by expanding the traditional hunting and gathering? This has been a constant consideration for at least a couple years. Today, I've come down here after dwelling darkly on our reluctance to follow through and, in a frozen season without plants to harvest, almost immediately encounter a black rabbit. How would one hunt such an animal without snares, which I don't have on hand? Blunt force trauma is the method that comes to mind. I start scanning the chokecherries and within minutes find one that's straight and tall. I cut it down, keeping most of it as potential spear-making material to work with later. But the heavy base I cut off separately, a piece about sixteen inches, a good piece to throw, and I set off to relocate the rabbit. It's still pretty much where I saw it the first time. Now, however, it can see that I'm after it. The rabbit wastes no energy. It sits still in a tight thicket until I am distracted moving around a log obstacle, then it darts away to another thicket and stops again. I continue the pursuit, and this time when I get close it waits to dart until I take my eyes off it. I follow again. Now I wait by where it is hiding, I wait for the rabbit itself to come out, to expose itself in the open. And when it eventually does, I take aim, trow, and miss. The rabbit scrambles, running to a fallen tree not too far away, but further than it's run previously

1622 The rabbit, having considerably more experience at evading predators than I have at being one, disappeared. I sit within view of the fallen tree to let it calm down, and my own relaxation allows the animal just the opportunity it needs to silently and invisibly slink away. When I proceed, it is gone, and so I pick up my gear and start slowly walking through the brush. I don't have to go too far when I catch glimpse of another rabbit ahead. This one disappears even before I reach it. The whole area is a maze if rabbit runs between fallen trees, hollow logs, and thick brush

1732 Eventually I spot a third rabbit attempting to conceal itself in the middle of a tight triangulation of large trees. I drop my gear and get my throwing stick ready. When I approach, the animal makes a fast dash out of the trees, over one log, and into the hollow end of another. I've got it. I quickly pick some old poplar bark off the ground and stuff it in the end of the hollow, then check the rest of the log and find another exit point, which I likewise close with bark. Between the two holes is about three meters of hollow tree trunk. The rabbit could stay in there for a while, but I've got a plan. Using the only string I have available, I quickly rig up a snare at one end with my boot-lace. I remove the bark as I do so, leaving that escape open again. Then I cut a long, flexible switch, a chokecherry sapling, and poke this into the other end. The rabbit flushes as planned, but somehow manages to push the snare loop aside, and dash off into the forest. It was so close, and clearly the fault is mine. There's no reason I should have missed, it was a sure thing. No doubt I should have spent more time positioning and securing the snare just so. But it's a good lesson all the same, because now I'm quite sure if I committed a full day at this place, I'd come home with meat. In a way, I'm satisfied for at least having made the attempt. As I leave the forest to head back up the slope to my vehicle, I see not one but two fat porcupines high in the forest canopy