Winter and Creatures
by: Mike Lushington
At times such as these, acts of faith can seem flimsy and farfetched
As I write, we are just beginning to emerge from the fourth spell of
hard cold of the month of January.
In all of my years on the North Shore, I do not remember a stretch of cold
quite to compare with it. I grant that, in part, it has seemed even more
intense than usual because we have so little snow to act as nature's
insulator around foundations and over vulnerable water lines. But I am
certain, too, that this will have to go down as one of the coldest
Januarys on record. It has made the very idea of spring seem remote,
farfetched, even delusional.
And yet, those creatures around us that are more attuned to the cycles
of the seasons do seem always to know things that elude us.
I ventured forth the other day to have a look at the ducks that are
around the Inch Arran in Dalhousie. The goldeneyes and mergansers (two
species of each) are busily surviving the extreme cold. While they are
doing that, they are also very actively engaged in their spring courtship
rituals. The males of all four species are in full breeding plumage and
are beginning to do their best to impress any female that happens to be in
the neighbourhood. By the time the robins return in any number in April,
these birds will have these details all sorted out and will be well on
their way to nesting.
But even the ducks will be behind the ravens and the Great horned owls.
On one of the most bitter afternoons of the past while, I was out in
the hills in back of home. I happened to look up at one point, and spotted
a pair of ravens high overhead. They were flying together, back and forth.
playing in the same winds that were producing ground level wind chills of
around -40. They were courting as well. Ravens mate for life so one has to
wonder sometimes why they engage in this annual renewal of their
relationship, but it must be important if they engage in it under such
adverse conditions. Great horned owls will be nesting and laying eggs
within the next few weeks. Picture the female sitting on her eggs in an
open nest at the top of an old dead tree during a February or March
blizzard and you begin to get a sense of the tenacity of life that so many
of the creatures around us demonstrate.
Soon, too, some of the hardier trees will be beginning to stir. I
looked the other day and could detect no such signs just yet, but one day
very soon, I will notice the first faint blush of colour in the red maples
and the tiniest impression of swelling in the buds of some of the willows
and aspens. The signs are almost invisible, almost beyond hope, but they
are there, and every day now, they will grow and expand just that tiny bit
Rabbits will begin to do their mating runs and dances in the cold hard
moonlight of February and March. One day soon I will notice the pungent,
skunk-like odour of a love-sick male fox. Barred owls will begin to call
and woodpeckers, to hammer out their messages of love and devotion, all
while the weather seems to howl mournfully on forever. And, amid all the
cold and wind, I heard the love song - the first of the year - of the
chickadee the other day. Such a tiny bird, such a sweet little song - hope
animated in such a seemingly delicate little bundle of feathers and heart
and optimism. Perhaps we should take a bit of that hope for ourselves,
even as winter seems to drag on. It won't last - and the creatures around
us know that.