28 September 2013


It seems my muse for fieldnote writing has departed. I haven't encountered her for a while, and I've no idea whether or not she'll return. For now though, I thought it might be best to take an alternate approach, so that I don't miss out on opportunities to record and share observations in my ongoing phenological studies. So at the full moon of Awakaasiiki'somm, I got started, using a video-recorder to capture my experiences at Sspopiikimi. We'll see how this new approach goes. It might turn out to be better than writing in the long run.

During my first visit, following our first cold storm, which arrived at the full moon, there were still quite a few of the late asters - tufted white prairie aster, hairy golden aster, and showy aster being the most prominent three. The flicker families were still here at that time too...

Given the cold shot we'd had, I noticed the turtles had already gone under at the pond. I knew the rattlesnakes would be going back to their hibernacula as well. One of the developments that occurred in my life this summer was that I inherited the lead position for coordinating and carrying-out rattlesnake conservation and mitigation in the city of Lethbridge. In the course of that work, I'd taken in an injured rattlesnake, named Rupert, who had been hit by a mountain bike, and had required surgery. Though healed from the operation, there was still signs that Rupert was suffering some internal injuries. All the same, I thought it best he go back to his hibernaculum for winter...

Finally, I made another visit to Sspopiikimi after about a week of chill. This time, I found almost all the asters, with exception of a few hairy golden holdouts, gone. The flickers too had departed. But there were still lingering dragonflies, grasshoppers, and drone flies...

26 July 2013

Head Knowledge Is Hollow

Head knowledge really is hollow. When I read works from those reputed to be the best scholars of our day, I can easily discern whether their insights are anchored in their own real-world experiences, or whether they're merely cribbed from the testimonies of others (academic or not), or even just a set of intellectual associations thought-up during those long hours in front of their computer screens. Head knowledge is hollow. I bring my students to harvest the berries heavy on the branches of the brush around the University of Lethbridge, because those inside the buildings believe they get knowledge from reading about our kind of harvests... and head knowledge is hollow. I openly challenge those who protest for change, even though I may support their causes, because I see that any protest staged as an 'awareness campaign' is all head, and already hollow. Real knowledge is not cerebral. It's dispersed throughout the muscles and the sensorium. It's truly embodied. You can only give this to others by directing them into direct experiential encounters where such knowledge is known to derive from. A good teacher understands how to do this, well

19 February 2013

Down The Beaver Hole

IIII ) lll (14Feb13)

1058 Sspopiikimi - We're just a few sleeps into Piitaiki'somm, the Eagle-Moon, and I feel like it's time I get back into my phenology studies. Not that I've been 'out' of them, per say. Hardly a week has passed in several years when I didn't commit myself to some hours of learning in the coulees. But during Misamssootaa, the Long-Rains of last summer, I suddenly stopped writing fieldnotes. Part of the reason for this, I attribute to a sort-of depression. There were very few successful waterfowl nests at Sspopiikimi last season - one goose, two mallards, and zero teals, redheads, or coots. Neither the owls, nor the hawks, raised broods here either. Though there certainly was no shortage of life to engage with at the pond, I felt the absence of these familiars, and it bothered me... so much so that a lot of the joy and spirit of inquiry I'm accustomed to experiencing simply wasn't here. I kept voice-recorded notes of the visits I've made weekly or so since, but hardly have I felt compelled to even begin writing them up

Today, that changes. Enough dragging around feeling sorry for myself and this place, for any events that could have been, but weren't. Maybe last summer was an invitation for me to enhance my familiarity with the lives of some of the other residents, or to discover communities I've here-to-fore overlooked. Who knows what opportunities I've missed by fixating on the missing instead of the present. Or maybe I just needed a break from the routine of fieldnote writing. In which case, I've had my breather. Best to get on

It's warm today, probably ten degrees. We've had an extremely easy winter. The nights are still freezing, of course, and as a result the surface of the pond remains iced-over, though I wouldn't trust it to walk on

I can hear geese out at the river as I begin my walk along the west cutbank. A family of four pass overhead, on their way to join the others. I'm expecting any time now to see the geese returning to the pond, to begin staking their claims to the limited number of islands, prepping for the nests they'll begin sitting almost as soon as the water thaws

Already there are a few open holes along this cutbank, though I don't know whether they result from melt, or the conscious actions of beavers. Certainly the latter have been feeding at these stations, as they always do in late winter. I can see the evidence, even from a distance - many green pieces of lower bulrush stem, each about six inches in length, floating on the water's surface. From above, it's also evident that each of these openings in the ice is also the destination of underwater trenches, built and maintained by the ksisskstaki. I would not be surprised to learn that they somehow produce the conditions that result in the ice thawing at these positions. At the moment, I have no explanation for the phenomenon at all, whether nature-fact or beaver-produced

1116 A raven soars past, giving a single throaty call, as I inspect one of the ksisskstaki feeding stations up close. It's connected by underwater canal to what appears to be another open spot on the edge of the reeds in the wet-meadows. As I climb a little ways back up the cutbank to try to photograph what I'm observing, the ground suddenly collapses beneath me, and I find myself sitting in a large burrow. I am near the end of this tunnel, and by flashlight I can see down to where it terminates at the waterline. Here, there are more of the green pieces of freshly cut bulrush stem, and by the size of this burrow it could only have been dug by the ksisskstakiiksi

This is clearly another piece of the overall feeding-station puzzle. Could the presence of this large burrow in the cutbank explain why the ice thaws against the shoreline here? Which came first, the feeding station or the burrow? Certainly I could understand how handy it would be for the beavers to have such architecture here. This feeding site is a long distance from their lodge. What if they swam all the way out here and found the surface still completely iced-over? Obviously it would be to their benefit to have a spot where they can climb out of the water regardless, and take a breather

1129 A little further along the cutbank, I come across two other ksisskstaki feeding stations. These ones must have been established some years ago, because in each case the earthen ceiling of a corresponding burrow had sunken in. I suspect they had been re-dug, given that the ice is still melting at the shoreline, and that both sites are still in active use as feeding stations (based on bulrush evidence). Now that I see the correlation between these small open pools and the sunken tunnels, I can't believe I never noticed it before. I've wondered at these feeding stations every winter for several years, but I had to actually fall into a burrow in order to take notice of them. And I still don't understand the physics of how they function to assist in melting the ice

Above this cutbank, out on the exposed golf greens, there are perhaps hundreds of geese. They've been taking off in groups toward the river as I inspected the beaver works. Where I am now, directly across the pond from me is the ksisskstakioyis. There are open water pools at its primary entrances as well

1141 Also on the golf greens, in some conifer trees to the south, is a pair of mamia'tsikimiiksi. These same trees house a nest that I know of, and the one bird I can see from my position is perching on a high, exposed branch, flicking his tail straight up in display, and giving a flirtatious call to his mate. I sit down to watch, hoping I'll witness some magpie love. But this couple isn't interested in being subjects of my surveillance. They wing off to land again high up on the coulee rim

Walking back off the greens, I pass under a cottonwood tree where a downy woodpecker is busy tapping for grubs. Out on the wide south pool of the pond, there's a family of four aapsspini. These are the first I've seen in these waters since the ice-over, and their presence here is exactly what I expect to witness during this moon

1158 The currant and bulberry brush above the peninsula are quiet today. None of the tiny passerines who can often be found here are about. But as soon as I drop into the owl wood, life awaits. Given where I'm at, my eyes naturally scan the forest canopy, and in one of the very first trees there is a yearling porcupine. He's extremely cute and gold of hair, quite possibly the progeny of Peekaboo and The Blonde. One tree over from him, a furious chatter erupts, and I look over to see a female downy woodpecker. No doubt she is the one who lives nearby, beside the male owl's usual perch, which is surprisingly empty today. It was like this last year, come nesting time (this moon) - the kakanottsstooki couple just disappeared to wherever their new nest location was. I'm assuming the same departure has occurred, but take a walk along the thick western treeline just in case, and sure enough I find the male there above the old raccoon den. His mate is still absent, as she has been all winter here. In fact, I can't even be sure it is the same male who has lived here so many years. It could just as easily be one of his sons, as yet a bachelor

1246 Satisfied at having confirmed the presence of the male great horn, I move into one of the meadows of the Owl Wood to experiment with movement. It is part of what I've occupied myself with since my slow-down in note-taking began... the next phase in my overall project of learning to engage with my environment more fully as a human being. The way I'm looking at it, my progression began with a few years of gaining familiarity with the other inhabitants here. I then moved on to exploring the primary relationship all beings have with this place year-round, the quest for food. Both of these initial aspects of the project continue today, and I suspect will be lifelong sources of personal development. And now I have added a third element: movement

Is it possible for a modern human being to move strong and gracefully through our natural environments, in a manner becoming of a creature who actually belongs here? And can we do so not as oblivious recreators, but as highly aware beings, surveying and responding to the others we encounter? For several months now, I have been exploring such questions, drawing off traditional martial arts and parkour for inspiration. How do we navigate rocks, logs, hills, trees? Will I ever be able to pass quietly along a forest floor that's scattered with dry leaves?

Today, I've brought along a chokecherry staff almost my height. In the meadow of the Owl Wood I practice spinning it, and using it as a weapon, moving the rod around me, and myself around the rod. It is a basic tool drawn straight from this environment, but one that is awkward in my hands, save for it's crude use as a walking cane. This is how pitiful we've become as a species in the outdoors, that even the able-bodied often seek the assistance of sticks in order to gain balance

I experiment in the meadow for about a half hour, before shouldering my pack again and setting off over the levee, and down to the open spring of south-pond. Out on the river, I can hear geese squabbling by the high-level bridge. Already they're fighting over claim to the island-like pillars

1308 It's warm enough now, there must be quite a bit of insect activity going on in unseen niches, under cover. I decide to move out onto the wet meadows and turn a few rotten planks from the old boardwalk to confirm this suspicion. Indeed, the very first one I turn is home to a plethora of wintering critters. There are at least three kinds of carabid beetle: the sidewalk, badister, and a black species about the same size as the latter. There are also paederus rove beetles, two species of spider, saltmarsh moth larvae, meadow slugs, and an ichneumon wasp. I am surprised that, with how many planks I've turned in this marshy area over the years, I've never once found an live mouse, nor a tiger salamander

That one board had given me enough information about who's stirring at the moment. Continuing on toward the big bulrush patch, I come across a spot where the grasses are all matted down, and there's evidence that a deer was taken. The coyote packs are a force to be reckoned with when hungry enough. All that is left of the deer are a few partial bones, chewed at their ends, and tufts of hair. And speaking of coyotes, just as I begin to move away from the site, I'm treated to a close-contact encounter. I guess I'd been quiet enough, standing still inspecting the deer kill area, that a coyote hunting for voles in the wet meadow grass walked right up to me unaware. Only when I began crunching again with my big, clumbsy feet did she look up, not more than a few meters from me, and then quickly turned to run

1323 I stay where I am, watching as the coyote runs away from me, stopping every so often to look back again. Eventually, she disappears into the treeline of the forest main, and then I move in that direction as well, but a ways south of where she entered, hoping I might encounter her again

When I come into the forest, there is a magpie who gives a double call. This is answered by a companion to the north, and then by another companion to the south, who flies in and lands near the first bird. Then a fourth magpie flies overhead from the north and gives a stuccato series as he passes. The other three take wing and follow him

I suspect that they are moving with the coyote, that she's already passed through this forest and is perhaps somewhere nearer the coulee slope. Even if I'm wrong, the likelihood of seeing her again is faint, because a human presence has suddenly erupted here. First, a jogger passes. And less than a minute later, I come across a retired couple walking along the main trail. They're not familiar with this place, and are wondering whether I've seen any porcupines, an animal they'd come across elsewhere in the coulee before. I share with them the location of the yearling in the owl wood, and they depart excited to see it for themselves

1339 As I reach the far north end of the forest main, a couple clan-sized flocks of aapsspini land in the wet meadows and mid-pond, just as I expected they would be by now. Out at the big river island, there are even more geese, hundreds of them. And the Oldman has considerably more open water than I've ever witnessed so early in this moon before

1351 Rounding north-pond and making my way back to the Jeep, I make one final stop off at a small cluster of cottonwoods, with a log where I know there to be deer mice residents. I retrieve a bag from my pack, and place the contents near the entrance to mice's den, speaking to my wish that what I'm leaving, all the trimmings from the last haircuts Mahoney and I had, will be of use to them. This is a form of aatsimihka'ssin, of balancing things out. We don't own our bodies, we only borrow them. And what we have no further use for may become very beneficial for the lives of others

30 December 2012

Christmas Bird Count In Sikoohkotoki

IIII ) llllllllllll Christmas Bird Count In Sikoohkotoki (26Dec12)

1011 Sspopiikimi - Today is the annual Christmas Bird Count for Sikoohkotoki. Mahoney and I have volunteered to cover the western riverbottom, from the pond all the way to Whoop Up Bridge. The temperature's about twenty below and, starting off, everything seems pretty quiet, but we'll see

1018 Hiking in, there are plenty of signs of life... aapi'si tracks galore, and therefore presumably a good number of subnivian rodents, though the snow pack is really shallow, and we haven't spotted any little critter trails yet

Our first live encounters occur before even reaching the ksisskstakioyis at mid-pond. First we hear, and then spot, three niipomakiiksi scouring the deep bark fissures of the mature a'siitsiksiistsi on the golf course. Then a single mamia'tsikimi wings toward the north wood. And just when we think that's it for the moment, a female omahkiitokii is flushed from the cutbank, gliding off toward the dense chokecherries below the coyote playground

1024 As we approach south-pond, a second mamia'tsikimi flies high overhead, this one heading toward the neighborhoods above the coulee rim. At our feet, there have been more tracks. Some of them belong to deer, probably the awatoyiiksi ('wag-tails' or white-tails) who reside down here in the wet meadows and forest main. The others belong, I'm fairly certain, to the western jumping mouse, and comprise a series of hops, with feet parallel, and tail dragging all the way, leading between favored seed plants like gumweed and wild licorice

1046 Reaching the wide south pool, we're surprised to find absolutely no birds in the currant and bulberry patch above the peninsula, nor in the brush leading up the coulee draw there. It's unusual that these areas, which usually offer some of the best birding for small passerines, should be absent of such life. The only ones here at the moment are sikaaatsisttaiksi, and we stop briefly to greet one of them

Then we move to the owl wood, spotting our third mamia'tsikimi flying high (again) just before we drop into the trees. Like last winter, the owl wood is the most quiet of places. No longer are the kakanottsstooki wintering here, nor the raccoons hibernating. The only tracks we find were left by a single aapi'si. There is no hint even of paahpakssksisiiki or simitsiiksi

1102 Passing under the high level bridge, I'm aware there are kakkoyiiksi up on the highest beams, but I can't hear them and will never see them either, unless a raven or eagle passes to scare them up

So much of the river is open that I'm concerned we might not find any waterfowl at all; they're usually easy to pin down at the small, flowing crags of your average winter. But a little ways down the trail, we see that a little ways ahead, at the bend before Whoop Uo, the opposite shoreline is thick with aapsspinii, and that there are quite a few kihtsipimiisa'aiksi diving in the river itself. Counting through the thick steam coming off the water, I confirm at least a hundred and eighty-four geese, while Mahoney gets a minimum of twenty-five goldeneyes

1130 A little further up the trail, along the steep coulee slopes, we become surrounded by a small foraging flock of common redpolls. I figure at least seventeen of them, but they are so small and swift it's difficult to know. They're stopping off at several seed plants, including prairie sunflower and wavy-leaved thistle. Most of the efforts, however, are focused on Canada goldenrod. Their bills are caked with the fluff from goldenrod seeds

From our position on the coulee slope, we can see even more aapsspini upriver. I count another eighty-four. Mahoney and are are splitting up at this point. She's going to head back to Sspopiikimi and the forest main, to ensure her legs don't give out while she's too distant from our vehicle. I'm continuing upstream

1159 I hike all the way to Whoop Up, crossing paths with three more mamia'tsikimiiksi and lots of omahkiitokii trails, but that's it. I'm going to explore the flats here a bit, to see if I can flush anyone up

Meanwhile, Mahoney's messaging me that she made it back to the river bench by the old garter snake hibernaculum. Sitting down to rest there, a mamia'tsikimi approached for a conversation. And in the distance, she's heard our first omahkai'sto of the day

1215 Hidden in the dense chokecherry shrubbery of this flat I'm surveying is a very small and secluded oxbow wetland, complete with cattails and bulrush hummocks. I walk across the ice, looking for mi'sohpsski push-ups, hoping to find evidence that a few of them are still getting around on the surface in this season. No luck. But I do find another, rather distinct and fresh trail. It leads me to a hollow under a shoreline pile of logs, a den no doubt originally carved out by a ksisskstaki, but presently inhabited by the terrestrial equivalent, kai'skaahp. Laying down on the snow to peer into the den, sure enough a thickly-haired, sloth-like face looks back out at me. We inspect one another quietly for a few moments, then the porcupine turns and moves deeper into the logs, beyond my vision

Mahoney is messaging me that, while hiking down to the duck blind beside the wide south pool, back at Sspopiikimi, she's come across two more mamia'tsikimi. And just as I'm responding to her text, the clucking sound of an approaching pheasant can be heard. It's a male, and he'd intended to land in the clearing formed by this small wetland where I stand. But seeing me, he turns abrupt, and glides to a landing closer to the Whoop Up Bridge

1238 Eventually, I make my way to the Oldman River and begin slowly walking the ice downstream, back toward the pond. Along the way, I attempt to photograph the kihtsipimiisa'aiksi. They're behaving surprisingly calm today, perhaps owing to either their numbers, the presence of so many geese, or the amount of open water. In any case, I'll allowed to approach as close as feels safe on the ice. The goldeneyes are using some of the same fishing strategies employed by the pelicans in summer. A few of them will fly a short distance upstream, then allow the currant to drift them over what I assume are the best fishing holes, where they dive vigorously in pursuit of their prey. When they reach a certain point, they repeat the process. Though they aren't working as closely together as the pelicans do, it seems at least that same-gendered birds are somewhat cooperative. At one point, I witness a female come too close to a male, which prompts a violent chasing. When the female ultimately escapes, the male cranes his head back onto his wings in display

Meanwhile, Mahoney is having all kinds of encounters at the duck blind by south-pond, and texting me with updates every few minutes. Apparently, a third magpie joined the other two in keeping an eye on her. And this trio may have brought Mahoney to the attention of others, because soon a female paahpakssksisi makes a close pass by her. Mahoney decides to play the downy woodpecker's calls with her iPhone, and this prompts an immediate return of the little bird, followed shortly by her mate. The two of them inspect Mahoney carefully, the female from plain sight, the male peeking frequently from behind one of the beams of the duck blind. Eventually, they fly away again, but are then immediately replaced by a curious mi'kaniki'soyi. And while Mahoney turns her attention to this flicker, a second raven can be heard calling overhead

I can't hear the raven from my position on the river, and I receive the play-by-play texts. I do, however, hear another mamia'tsikimi calling regularly from a nearby cottonwood

1300 As I put my camera away and start seriously hiking back, a cluster of aapsspini breaks off from one of the upstream groups and drifts along beside me, eventually joining the northernmost flock. Along with them come several goldeneyes, who obviously want to keep near the geese. I figure the latter offer safety in several respects. First of all, the geese are more conspicuous, and it's likely their main predators at the moment - eagles and coyotes - would focus on the larger, more obvious birds. Secondly though, so long as the aapsspini are near, the goldeneyes have many sentries to look-out for predators while they themselves are busy diving underwater

I ponder these relationships as I continue moving, soon passing back under the high-level bridge. Another magpie passes by. And somewhere ahead, in the forest main, Mahoney has come across the kai'skaahp we call Peekaboo

1335 Mahoney's sighting of our old porcupine friend is the last I hear from her. Even though warmed in my pocket, my phone has finally succumbed to the freeze and died

With communications cut-off, I hustle back toward our jeep. Soon, I too pass Peekaboo. He's asleep in the canopy of one of the large poplars of the forest main. As I came to the clearing at the north end of the forest, where the cutbank overlooks the big island on the Oldman, another male pheasant is flushed from the grass. I stop briefly at the cutbank to count goldeneyes on this downstream section of the river. There are nine who I can see, and no geese to accompany or protect them

From there, I round north-pond and quickly arrive at the parking lot, where I find Mahoney observing a group of ten niipomakiiksi, who are scouring the bark of a small cottonwood. These chickadees are the last we add to our contribution toward today's bird count. In total, our numbers are as follows:

Niipomakii (Black-Capped Chickadee) 13

Mamia'tsikimi (Black-Billed Magpie) 12
Omahkiitokii (Ring-Necked Pheasant) 3
Aapsspini (Canada Goose) 268
Kihtsipimiisa'ai (Common Goldeneye) 34
? (Common Redpoll) 17
Omahkai'sto (Common Raven) 2
Paahpakssksisi (Downy Woodpecker) 2
Mi'kaniki'soyi (Northern Flicker) 1

Aapi'si (Coyote) T

Awatoyi (Whitetail Deer) T
? (Western Jumping Mouse) T
Sikaaatsisttaa (Mountain Cottontail) 1
Kai'skaahp (Porcupine) 2

11 July 2012

Misamssootaa... The Long Rains

Preface Note: Tawny is a magpie who we became very close with last summer, when her parents began bringing her and her siblings to our house for babysitting, while they went flying throughout the neighborhood to catch enough food. Her parents trusted us, because they had come to know us through observing our associations with Derrick, our pet magpie. Tawny, however, being just new out of the nest and deposited with us throughout the day, became somewhat imprinted. She would sit on us, and felt comfortable coming and going from inside of the house as well. We half-thought she would end up mated to Derrick. But while she made some efforts at gaining his friendship, he always denied her coming too close. Eventually, she found a different mate, and began bringing him over to the house, so that he could get to know us too. This summer, the couple chose their first nest site less than a block away, beside a small pond at our neighborhood park. Up until this moon, Mahoney and I had been going to the park every morning to meet with them, and bring them some beetle grubs. We were very much looking forward to learning what would happen in terms of our relationship with Tawnys children

II Near-Fledgling (18Jun12)

0749 Was a little concerned this morning when Tawny and her husband were more interested in kibble than grubs, and caching everything instead of bringing it over to the nest. So on my way out of the park, I crawled into the brush to find out what was going on. I suspect it might be a little bit of tough love. From what I could see, which wasn't a lot because the nest is so incredibly protected, there's at least one very large baby, mature enough to stand and look out over the rim of the bowl at me. This one should probably be starting to explore at least on the branches around outside of the nest, and maybe that's his parents are trying to prompt him toward. Kind of like what we've been doing with our big kid

IIII ) llll Death Of Tawnys Babies (23Jun12)

0810 Terrible discovery this morning. I've been expecting to meet Tawny's babies. When she stopped bringing food to the nest a few days ago, I even crawled into the brush and looked up at it from below to see one alert face peering down at me. But when this little one failed to appear outside the nest with Tawny and her husband the last couple mornings, I started to suspect something bad had happened. This morning the pair were acting aloof, sticking to a small tree on the opposite side of the park from their nest, not coming to get grubs from me until I had been there with the gulls for about an hour, and then only taking a few before returning to the tree. So I decided it was time to break protocol, climb the bulberry bush housing their nest, and really investigate what was going on. It was a very sad sight, four baby magpies dead, damp from the recent rains, and flecked with dirt. One of them, no doubt the one I'd seen a few days ago, passed while sitting upright at the edge of the nest bowl. Were they victims of eating food that was recently sprayed with Round-Up? (I noticed the city workers spraying weeds the last few days) Did the weekend fishing folk crowd the nest too much, so that Tawny and her husband were afraid to bring food? Or was it just the hardship of our recent storms, bringing them hypothermia? No way to know. But this is the conclusion of one chapter in Tawny's story, the unfortunate end of her first nesting attempt in the second summer of her life

IIII ) lllll Continued Absence Of Waterfowl (24Jun12)

1248 Sspopiikimi - It's a nice overcast day in the first quarter of Misamssootaa, the long rains, and indeed we have been receiving a lot of moisture, the most recent downpour having occurred last night

Mahoney and I have just arrived, and are feeling very out of touch. It's been at least a couple weeks since our last visit, far too long to have much context (other than prior years' experience) to understanding what's going on

The first thing I note, on our walk from the parking area to north-pond, is the absence of flowers on the brome and crested wheat grass. I am used to seeing their yellows and purples, respectively, during this moon. It doesn't seem we're too late for this bloom either, otherwise we would see at least the remains of their tiny flowers dangling here and there. But at present, nothing

North-pond itself is very quiet, the waters anyway. Not a duck, or coot, or goose in sight. There's the odd redwing blackbird across the way, on the reeds of the wet meadows. Their wives are no doubt incubating eggs right now. We can also hear magpies, flickers, robins, and chickadees in the forest somewhere

The yellow salsify are in flower, as they were beginning to do during my last walk here. Perhaps because I was already aware of this event being underway, I don't direct much of my attention to these flowers. Mahoney, on the other hand, does and is rewarded for it. There are mid-sized (by local standards) black and white striped ants herding and harvesting from aphids at the base of at least one leaf per salsify plant. The only plants excluded from aphid pasturing are those with curious little white egg sacks on the leaves. I suspect these eggs belong to spiders. They are wrapped in silk, flat and disc-like, similar to those of several wolf spiders, but much, much smaller

1230 Speaking of spiders, it seems we've entirely missed the brief event when the 'absinthe spiders' (my name for them) set up cottony-looking webs at the tips of all the previous year's dry absinthe seed-heads. They do this in conjunction with the cottonwood seeding, which is just about over now, and in this manner trick lots of little insects into their fluffy white webwork. I can see the remains of this year's webs on all the old absinthe, as well as on a few other plants, including the big asparagus of north-pond

The asparagus, for its part, is maturing, though a bit more slowly than I'd anticipated. The north-pond plant is still in flower, where normally it would have green berries by now. Conversely, the okonoki (saskatoon) is maturing at an accelerated rate, probably owing to this year's early bloom. Their berries are red already, and I imagine it won't be too long now until they're tolerably ripened to harvest

In terms of animal life at this extreme end of north-pond, we've been seeing a few birds... a flicker, a handful of cedar waxwings, a juvenile robin attempting to bathe in an all-too-shallow puddle. There are also turtles out on the drift logs

1242 At the end of north-pond, we climb the levee and move to the river bench for a break. Along the way, I notice that the clematis are starting to vine-out fairly well, and the sunflowers are reaching now about a foot in height. There is peppergrass and hounds tongue in seed, flixweed and prickly rose in flower

Above the bench, in the cottonwoods overlooking the rain-swollen river, we can hear yellow warblers and house wrens. Mahoney manages to prompt a catbird to us from a ways further upstream by using its 'ow-wee' call. The bird flies over, perches in some brush below, gives a few agitated 'waah' calls, then returns to where it came from

1258 From the river bench, we cut southwest, down to the duck blind. We were expecting to find all the resident waterfowl here at the wide south pool. But very surprisingly, all we see is a single redhead female. No geese, no mallards, no coots, no teals. Very odd, this almost total absence

Of course, it could very well be that we're just overlooking them. After about three weeks of on-and-off rains, everything is extremely lush here. There's a lot of places to hide. It's humid too. We hadn't noticed so much on our arrival, but now after walking we are definitely feeling a bit uncomfortable. As Mahoney put it, "I feel like a limp piece of sweaty toast... you know, like toast that was put in a bag while it was still hot." I do know. I feel the same way. Curiously, given these conditions, there are very few mosquitoes to be reckoned with. I would have thought we'd be completely swarmed by now. I hope the city hasn't, in all their ecological wisdom, undertaken to spray insecticides here at the pond

If so, it doesn't seem the honeybees have been much affected. They are all abuzz around the leafy spurge plants at the moment. But in the hour or so we've been here, Mahoney and I have seen only one damselfly, no dragonflies, very few airborne insects at all, to be honest. Perhaps it's the moisture. All the plants are still beaded with last night's rain. Let's hope

1316 Next we hike back north through the middle corridor of the forest main. Our walk could hardly be less eventful, given the season. I mean... yes, we are able to stop and watch a pair of tree swallows and a pair of house wrens feed their hatchlings at the one snag they share for nesting year-after-year. But otherwise, we merely hear, but do not see, the birds of the forest. There are eastern and western kingbirds, robins, house wrens, chickadees, flickers, least flycatchers, cedar waxwings, downy woodpeckers, grey catbirds, tree swallows, yellow and yellow-rumped warblers, and probably northern orioles here. Many of them alert us of their presence, vocally. But beyond that, they are keeping incredibly hidden. It is, after all, nesting season for these small passerines. I've no doubt that were we to poke around seriously, we'd find them and their nests. But the humidity is now really getting to us, and all we want to do is climb back up on the levee into a bit more open air

1348 We hike south again, now up near the level of the forest canopy, and stop to rest for a few minutes at the river bench by the owl wood and old garter snake hibernaculum. Here, we are visited by yellow warblers, catbirds, and cedar waxwings, all apparently curious what we were about. I busy myself collecting large mullien leaves which, though it seems counter-intuitive, are reportedly very useful, when smoked, for clearing phlegm from the pipes and lungs. I'm personally on my way to rescinding my participation in the commercial tobacco trade... cutting way down on the frequency of my smoking, and growing my own nicotine plants from ancient Blackfoot seeds. Before the summer's end, if not much sooner, I'm aiming to have my smoking completely under control, rather than having it remain the daily, nay hourly, habit that I had built of it. Real tobacco, that which I grow, never has the brown, chemically-drenched appearance or taste of the commercial varieties, even those that advertise as 'all natural'. I figure, mullien will make a good addition to the small stash of pipe-smoking mixture which I intend to keep, both for ceremonial and secular purposes

1432 From the bench, we travel around the perimeter of the wide south pool, again spotting no waterfowl, to walk the shale trail of the west length back to our vehicle

When we get to the brush above the peninsula, we check on the state of the currants, which we fully intend to harvest when ripe. There are berries here, but very young and green still. It would not be surprise me if, this year, the saskatoons came ready a hair ahead of the currants

We have also encountered, here above the peninsula, two brilliant butterflies. The one is a viceroy, looking every bit the part of a monarch, and like the birds we too are fooled at first (the showy milkweed are in bloom). The other is a brilliant little pearl crescent, landing amidst the early-blooming alfalfa, who poses calmly for my camera

Up ahead, we can hear the unmistakable cries of hungry fledgling magpies. Believe it or not, this is an event we really want to witness. Magpies, for Mahoney and I, are extremely precious allies. At the little conifer of the golf greens closest to the shale trail, we get our wish. There are two fledglings perched and begging in a cottonwood above, and two more quiet and humble near the nest. Like our own Derrick magpie in his infancy, these birds are working on stretching and strengthening, standing tall every few minutes and reaching as high as they can with their wings. It won't be long until they can join their siblings in the cottonwood. Derrick was born not a hundred meters from this site, and is very likely their consanguineal kin

1440 Having made our initial greetings to these new magpies, Mahoney and I are satisfied with today's round. We hike the remainder of the west length to our car without further event to note. All we are concerned with now are the absences. Where, for instance, are the young mallard families? Or the now two-month old aapsspini goslings? We have never had a summer where these fowl abandoned the relatively safety and rich resources of this pond for other places. If they have done so this year, it can only be for very good reason, and that being a threat I would imagine to be chemical, rather than blatantly predatorial. Our next visit may better inform us

IIII ) lllllllllllllllllllll Fitness And Displacement (10Jul12)

1356 Sspopiikimi Its a relatively hot day, and Ive come to scout out whats new here, in preparation for guiding a cohort of M.Ed. students from the University of Lethbridge tomorrow, introducing them to my form of what their instructors are billing as alternative literacies. Its been a couple weeks since my last visit, and at that time I noted that neither the brome nor crested wheatgrass had flowered. Now, walking in, I can see that in just the short period since my last visit, Ive missed these events entirely. The blooms on these grasses are already shriveled and falling. Thats the pace, when it comes to phenology. Nature is in constant flux and, especially in the summer season, significant changes can unfold daily

1401 I begin my survey by hiking the west length. Right away, at north and mid-pond, I note that the water milfoil is high. Many plants along the shoreline along this stretch are in bloom, including alfalfa, prairie coneflower, field bindweed, yellow and white sweetclover, and showy milkweed. Canada thistle is getting ready to bloom. There seem to be lots of bluet damselfies around. There are also pink-edged sulfurs and viceroy butterflies, as well as a few mallard drakes in the reeds by the wet-meadows

1406 Reaching the ksisskstakioyis, theres a few more blooming plants to mention. Ive seen some scarlet globemallow, western clematis, yarrow, and yellow evening primrose, as well as lots of flowers on the dogbane and buckbrush. Hairy golden asters are just starting to blossom. There are a few robins on the golf greens, and the ever-present red-winged and yellow-headed blackbirds in the reeds. Ive been listening for the magpies. During my last visit, the new arrivals were just fledging, and Id like to follow some of these young families, but I havent heard any of their calls as yet

1414 Further along, toward the wide south pool, I begin encountering lots of viceroy butterflies, far more than Ive ever seen in any previous year. I dont know if it is the milkweed or hoary cress thats attracting them at this area, but one thing I do wonder is whether their abundance could be another signal of climate change. This is pretty much the northernmost range for both the viceroys and the similar-looking monarchs, so I always spot a few during the summer season. But what Im seeing today is unusual, a breeding population

On the water of the south pool, theres a mallard couple. The golden currants along the cutbank here are absolutely drooping over with berries. This is good news. Last year we didnt get many berries. I stop to pick some right away, and find they are actually just coming into their full ripeness, that there will be several weeks more to take advantage of them. All the same, the experience gives me an idea for one lesson I can share with the M.Ed. cohort tomorrow that in my alternate literacy of reading this place, we have to be willing to respond as human beings. When there are berries in season, we pick them, we eat them. Thats part of our relational role here, our fit into the local ecology and phonological cycles

1426 As I continue to pick currants, the cedar waxwings come to investigate, probably wondering how much of their claim Im going to make off with. I can hear one of the magpie families high up on the coulee slope, out of the way of my intended round today. I have to focus on the areas where I might take the students. The brush around me is thick, lush, difficult to penetrate with the eyes. This calls to mind another lesson I might share, regarding some of the potential dangers that a person should be aware of. A lot of times, thick brush like this can conceal large hornet nests, so you should always have your ears alert. This helps also for the odd rattlesnake who might be encountered here. But none of your senses will help you avoid the wood ticks who proliferate in this same brush during certain periods of the year. Luckily, now is not one of those times

Down below my picking spot, I can see apaksskioomi (wide-face), the northern pike, lingering just off-shore of the peninsula. Though I observe them in this behavior every year about this part of the season, I have yet to figure out what meal theyre waiting for. Usually, Im too busy snatching them up myself. They dont seem at all interested in the mating swarms of water beetles nearby. Nor are any of the mating damselflies pitching down onto the ponds surface

1452 Moving on, I round the wide south pool and drop into the forest main, where there are today lots of sisttsiiksi, or small passerines, including among them the northern orioles, iinohpinsoyii. They are leading their new fledgling around, keeping a safe distance from me. I also see yellow warblers, what looks like orange-crowned warblers, catbirds, tree swallows, least flycatchers, and downy woodpeckers. All the usual summer breeding crew are here. From a bit of silverberry, beside the trail, shoots a cedar waxwing who let me come too close. Inspecting this bush I find, as expected, her little nest, a cup of grass beautifully decorated with cotton from the trees. It contains four grey-blue, black-speckled eggs

1512 A conspicuous absence here this year, in addition to most of our waterfowl, are the swainson hawks. They have nested in the same tree for as long as Mahoney and I have been visiting the pond, and I saw them bringing in sticks earlier in the season to make repairs, but in the end they decided to go elsewhere. Im not sure why this is. The cause is probably related to what has kept the waterfowl away. My suspicion, at this point, is that it has something to do with the construction that went on in the absinthe field near north-pond over the winter. There was a lot of waste-water from pipe-drilling spilling into the pond, and I dont know whether this may have been contaminated. Equally likely, just the barren field alone could have been enough to scare them off. Certainly there are less rodents to hunt as prey now, though this wouldnt have affected the ducks. I think it may just be plain old disturbance of an environment that had come to know very intimately. Somethings different now, somethings wrong cant trust that things will be stable here all season while were nesting best to relocate

1524 At the north end of the forest, just before I climb the levee back out, the tall goldenrod are getting ready to bloom, and a pair of house wrens scolds me bitterly. I think they must be feeding a hatchling in some hidden cavity nest nearby

Up on the levee itself, the first rhombic-leaved sunflowers are opening. The rivers still pretty high, from the combination of late snowmelt and a few weeks good dousing. But this is the first time in three years it hasnt risen so high as to drown-out the bank swallow nests. Which is good, they need a break

1532 Just a couple of endnotes, as I head back to my car. There are bull thistle blooming at north-pond. Very few turtles out, though it is really too hot to expect to find them basking. Whats strange though is the lack of mosquitoes. I got a few bites, moving through the forest today, but nothing like during previous summers. We just have not had many mosquitoes at all yet this summer. This too causes me to wonder, what kind of toxins might have spilled into the pond during all the winter construction

1635 Tomorrow I'm teaching a cohort of M.Ed. students, most of whom work in literacy with non-English-speaking students, about what is being framed as alternate forms of literacy and text... namely, in my case, learning from a place and its inhabitants, becoming fluent in their languages, social relations, phenological cycles, etc. I don't know how much I agree with casting anything like this as literacy. To me, literacy is here to parasitically replace these natural awarenesses and relations. And I will surely share that opinion, because there are some rectangles where we are going, Sspopiikimi

Today, I took a walk around, just to kind of prep for this session. Something that was on my mind, part of a discussion my friend Darin and I were having the other day, was the notion that ensuring the persistence of a species is not enough, that the living are more than this, that they embody webs of relations. Looking around today, I'm not so sure I agree that preserving a species is not enough, at least if that species is allowed to live out amongst the rest of reality, rather than in one of the dead places we construct. At Sspopiikimi, I see starlings, house finches, alfalfa, absinthe, asparagus, honey bees, the list can go on fairly extensively. All of them are recent arrivals here in kitawahsinnoon, yet they are extremely integrated into complex relational webs with the others who have been here far longer. This occurs simply as a result of them being themselves in the context of the broader eco-social matrix. And in this respect, they are greater than we who have fairly forgotten ourselves, strongly resisting just being alive here. Even the leafy spurge have us beat in this respect

As for our present condition, it is not as though we are disconnected from the web. The magpies remember who we are, and continue to stay wholeheartedly allied, even though many of us, in our confusion, now hate them, our best friends. The mosquitoes, the ticks, the rock doves, jewel spiders, hobo spiders, and a whole host of plants all believe in and engage us regularly, and we pretty much express hatred toward them for it. The point is, there are many close relations who have kept with us, or adopted us, despite our insanity. And I suspect that if we want to enhance these relationships, develop many others, and become a better fit, we have only to behave more like human beings. It's really that simple. To the degree that we refuse to do so, we will continue to feel like there is something wrong with us, we will feel ecologically unhealthy and in danger. And we will be correct in that diagnosis