Friday, March 12, 2010

Happy Dreamers

Feb.17, 2010
Betar Trail, SGF

[jumping back in time, to three weeks ago, to catch up
on some things about the Tail End of Winter...]

We love to think in winter, as we walk over the snowy pastures,
of those happy dreamers that lie under the sod,
of dormice and all that race of dormant creatures,
which have such a superfluity of life
enveloped in thick folds of fur, impervious to cold.

HDT, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers

Ah that was a rather young Thoreau who penned those words, waxing poetic about what is actually a pretty extreme way that some animals have evolved to cope with deadly winter conditions.
But these days, my thoughts, too, turn to those creatures who are beginning to stir with gradually warming days. Evidence of their activity is another welcome precursor to Spring.

A month ago, when it was still below freezing and snowy, while walking on a well-travelled village trail, I got on a sidetrack, following after the distant sound of yelling crows (an incurable habit, which almost always leads to something interesting.)
That time, I found a group of crows bathing in the hidden pools along a tiny brook. And surprisingly, they were pretty noisy about it. I couldn’t see any owls or hawks, so I just hung out there for a while and walked around, while the crows preened after their baths and yelled at each other.
There, I found the den of an unknown animal, on a slight rise near the brook. From the den there issued a dirty trail, with rather small-sized tracks (smaller than a cat’s), a faint fingerish outline visible on some of them. The tracks weren't clear, and I started guessing.

I followed the tracks, which led down an embankment to said hidden brook. A-ha! I surmised, a raccoon !

A week later, I re-visited that place, with friend Jackie in tow. We had both attended a tracking workshop and were itching to apply what we had learned.
There were fresh tracks this time, and they were in much better condition after fresh snow:

The den was still there, a dirty hole in the snowy landscape, and the tracks were now a well-used trail.

Jackie, with her customary direct approach to things, got right down on one knee and peered into the hole. I was exploring a few steps away, and caught a faint whiff of SKUNK.


“Uh, Jackie, you might want to get your face away from that den …”

We followed the trail, which led to another, and much larger hole, nearer the brook.

Some of the individual tracks were fairly clear,

and now we realized we stood smack dab in the middle of a skunk neighborhood.

Luckily for us, at this time of day, they should all be snoozing underground.

We found more trails leading across the brook, up the other side ... to a dumpster behind an apartment building. Well there ya go – that would be like a Golden Corral for skunks!

My reading that night said that skunks frequently den together in winter, in groups of up to a dozen individuals. With the first thaws in late winter, the males come out a-wandering, looking for love. (Think Pepe le Pew!)
Another thing I learned was that a cornered skunk, when using his famous weapon, can be fairly accurate up -- to twelve feet away. Boy, did Jackie dodge a bullet that day!

As we left, a Carolina Wren took up his boisterous spring song.
If you ask me, he sounded as if he was laughing.


  1. What a great find! We are skunkless up here. Apparently skunks used to be around, but local hypothesizers suspect the coming of the coyotes did 'em in. Could be...

  2. You would laugh to see how close this particular spot was to houses and a trail well-travelled by people and their dogs !

    By the way Ellen - I simply CANNOT get a comment to post on your wonderful blog - (don't know why, since I can comment on others')- not even as Anonymous...