Welcome back to Magnetic North, to spring rain, spring sunshine, spring breezes and spring cleanup.
At the farm, with three geese, a dozen or so chickens and ducks, five goats and two very large dogs, all of whom decorated the perimeter of my house with poop since November, my first words upon viewing the big meltdown this week were straight out of Apocalypse Now...The horror....the horror.”
And so, I scoop, trying hard to NOT be in the moment. I focus instead on my seedlings, basking under grow lights. Lights not unlike the full spectrum shop lights I dutifully turned on and stared at, but eyed daily this winter. Twenty minutes a day. Every day. And yes, they did seem to keep me from falling into clinical despair, but happy? The label didn’t mention happy. But hey, for the relentlessness of this particular winter, being “not unhappy” is quite an endorsement for the treatment, I’d say.
But back to the scooping detail. Looking around and over the quickly melting drifts, I found that the absence of snow gave me just as much reason for complaint, as did its omnipresence.
For one thing, all the animal tracks have vanished. A bonus of every snowfall was the fresh blank canvas behind. Awaiting the signatures of tiny voles and field mice, snowshoe hares, red squirrels, fox, pine marten and, of course, deer.
Over the years, I’ve become pretty good at identifying the critters who come to call when I am not looking. But this year there was one set of tracks regularly leading from the south driveway snow bank and disappearing under my front deck that had me completely stumped.
The footprints were round, regularly spaced and with just the hint of toenails. Such an arrangement just did not match any of the prints from the usual suspects’ either in my memory bank, nor my online searches.
The fact that it had gone under my deck, three times over the long winter, made me suspect a feral cat, but now I’ll never know.
And that is perversely satisfying. Such a winter should end with a bit of mystery, like a truly good book or movie. Lingering questions tickle at the edges of our mind in a way that solid facts simply cannot.
The winter of 13-14 is, I have found, one that we seem to be at something of a loss to describe. I am calling it “relentless,” but others have equally memorable adjectives. Most can’t be uttered on air, but one stands out - “malevolent.” This from a young man working behind the counter at the Grand Marais Holiday store. “Malevolent,” he repeated, looking out over his cash register into the blue spring sky. But the sun and fluffy white clouds were lost on him. Snow was in the offing. He would not be fooled.
His words and affect reminded me of the old Anishanaubae legend of Weendigos, the cannibal spirits. These spirits, or Manitous, known to the Ojibway of our land, are brilliantly described by Basil Johnston in his book, "The Manitous: the Spiritual World of the Ojibway.” He paints the portrait of the hideous being this way:
“These manitous came into being in winter and stalked villagers and beset wanderers. Ever hungry, they craved human flesh, which is the only substance that could sustain them. The irony is, that having eaten human flesh, the Weendigos grew in size, so their hunger and craving grew in proportion...; thus they were eternally starving.”
Sounds a bit like those of us who crave carbs and more carbs as soon as the temperature plunges.
But I especially love Johnston’s final line on the Weendigo: “They could kill only the foolish and the improvident.”
So! that rules out those of us who spend quality time under human grow lights, remember to stock up on sand and salt and/or wander about with backpacks stuffed with emergency supplies like space blankets, flares, chocolate, candles, and so forth.
But reading this, having done all of the above,I feel, neither wise nor provident for surviving the winter of 13-14. Just darned lucky. So far, at least. With nearly eight inches of new snow on the ground this morning, I can’t really claim victory yet.
My critters are also in good shape. The goats are about to get a haircut, their cashmere loosening to the plucking point. I find it on tree trunks where they’ve scratched places their horns can’t reach. I like to imagine such tufts lining bird nests. Welcoming the newly hatched creatures in luxury.
The chickens and ducks can finally go out through the little hatch leading from their coop to their big enclosed run. The ducks beat down the deep snow more and more each day, providing a solid surface for the finicky chickens who would otherwise wait inside until all was mud to venture forth. And having all that snow to eat, the birds don’t need my twice daily water bucket brigade. For that, I am way grateful.
The garage is a different matter. Thanks to sighting several foxes this week, I’ve yet to release the three African geese, four bantam roosters and three retired laying hens from their winter quarters in what has become a hay storage area. And it is, after nearly seven months of confinement, one hot mess in there.
Back in the bunny room, however, though cobwebby and dusty, the scene is much tidier. My four angora rabbits, Auntie, Violet, Fiorella and ZuZu no longer huddle together in the thick straw on the floor like one enormous hairball. And the three black and white bantam chicks hatched last month don’t need mama chicken constantly now that its above freezing most days, so they race about the little shed room as if they had mini-rockets tied to their tail feathers.
I spend as much as an hour a day just sitting in various locations watching the antics of these critters, sometimes scooping up a protesting hen or bunny to check out a perceived limp or just to snuggle. Better this than lying prone on my back under lights. And, to my mind, much better food for the soul.
Given the animals I have, these end of winter months are harvest time. The cold caused my goats and rabbits to grow their luxurious cashmere and angora. And warming triggers its release. The geese have begun laying too and I’ve blown and colored dozens of their enormous eggs for Easter.
Thinking of the bounty of the winter - be it relentless and even malevolent - and the use I’ll make of the wondrous fibers, the amazed expressions when a child gets a giant colored egg to keep for their very own, makes the cleanup chores so much more bearable. And, then there is that new cover of snow. Presto, out of sight, out of mind, out of scooping. Is that a great deal or what?