Warning: Contains graphic images. Do not view while eating, or if you are soft!
Last week I was missing the body. This week I found it…
It all started with an abnormal feeling to my day off. Usually I wake up with great excitement and enthusiasm. I normally roll out of bed with a charge, an urge to explore and to find adventure. This day I was lethargic, and lazy. All I wanted to do was to lie down. Could I waste my one and only day off of the week doing nothing? I had been working really hard as of late. Maybe I owe it to myself to have a down day, layin’ about, watchin’ the boob tube. The utter thought made me more depressed. I needed to get outside and recharge my batteries, touch the earth, and feel the rapture of life. You trippers know what it’s all about. You wear yourself down physically but you build up stronger, emotionally and mentally.
With Miko at my side, off I went. Dragged my feet for the first few steps but then it all came back to me and I was once again in my zone. To balance the way I was feeling I decided not to wander far. We headed out into the back 40. I can truthfully use this term as we have 40 acres of crown land sitting behind the Wolf Den.
Past the scout camp and around by the river we went. As part of my wanders I always try and light a fire. My brain randomly selects a time and place then it will tell me to get to it. At first it was ‘do it as quickly as possible’ now I try and use different materials and different techniques. Partly it’s for survival skills, partly for connecting with the earth, and partly it’s just for fun. There is a little pyro in all of us! I don’t make a ragging fire, just enough to get it initiated and to know that I could easily keep it going. Then I put it out in the snow. It is a teaching in what burns, what doesn’t and how certain conditions effect the whole process. This time I tried lighting it with a twig bundle. I made a bundle of dead, dry spruce branches about a foot long by 3 inches wide. Holding the bundle in my hands, I lit the small twigs at one end, then manoeuvred the bundle to ignite more and larger twigs with the growing flame. It worked really well. Top drawer, as the English would say. In fact it worked so well that I almost burnt myself. I’d imagine that it may not work so well in moist conditions but you could probably stuff some dry tinder in it to help it out.
My fire lasted approximately 5 minutes, and then I put it out. Throughout the whole process I was noticing a lot of raven commotion. We have lots of ravens around but they are generally fairly quiet and only 1-3 are usually about at any given time. This time was different. There were lots of them and they were loud and excited. Something was up! Ravens often fly about looking for wolf kills to scavenge. Maybe they found one! As I approached, a snowplow went by and 3 ravens went airborne. I then noticed 1 big raven in a tree keeping watch. They’ll do this when they are feeding. One will keep watch while the others feed, then they’ll switch up. When I got a little closer a call came from the watchtower and they all flew away, flying over me for a look, and giving out a verification call. We got a little closer and then saw it. There on the ice was the body. It was a small deer.
There were literally hundreds of tracks around the deer, fox, mink, and raven. No sign of wolf though. The wind was very strong causing drifting around the site. I didn’t see the deer tracks either. Maybe Mother Nature had covered up the last events leading up to this deer’s demise and its killer’s marks. There was however extensive feeding on the rear of the animal, typical of wolves. What wasn’t typical of wolves is that the rest of the animal hadn’t been completely consumed after the rear end.
Many people, visiting Algonquin, have asked me, “Where is a good place to see animals?” Well my friends, this was the place to look for. The best way is to find an area where there is lots of sign, of frequent and recent activity then sit there. Become part of the landscape, a rock a stump, then patiently wait until visitors arrive. With all the activity that had already been at this kill site, and the high amount of remaining food on the deer, there were sure to be scavengers returning.
Miko has a rather annoying habit of chasing anything that moves and an equally disgusting habit of rolling on dead things. For these reasons I brought her back to the Wolf Den. Also needed to grab my camera and some warmer gear for the long sit. On my return visit I approached from the road, and secured the vantagepoint of the bridge. Within minutes, I had a new best friend.
It was a Mink (Mustela vison). This sleek little bugger, who is as at home in the water (diving as deep as 6m) as on land, is a fierce predator. They have been known to attack animals much larger than themselves and usually prey on rabbits, mice, fish, frogs, muskrat, and crayfish. The word mink comes from a Swedish word, menk, meaning stinky animal. Like all members of the weasel family, they have anal scent glands, which produce a skunk-like odour. Although they cannot aim, they can spray this odour when threatened. It is not as strong the odour of a skunk, but is pungent than most other weasels. They normally hunt at night, so seeing it in the middle of the day was a real treat.
The top of the bridge had its advantages, but I was exposed to the bitter cold wind and I didn’t like standing so close to the odd passing car on an icy bridge. Noting some wolf tracks in the deeper snow on the farside of the bridge, I moved down and into some tall grasses for cover. My disturbance was too much for the mink and he was gone before I got into position. The raven guard also spotted me and they periodically flew over and announced my presence to all, raven kin or not. After about an hour I was still being introduced and the cold wind was getting to me so I headed home with intentions of returning a bit before dusk.
Striking out again just past 4pm, I kept my raven friends in mind and headed around through the thick canopy cover of a spruce pocket, off to one side of the bridge. From there I slipped undetected under the bridge and set myself up against the gabion baskets, that were attempting to hold back the inevitable force erosion under the bridge.
As many of you know, a majority of animals are nocturnal, coming out at dusk to feed. There is a fox that crosses the Wolf Den every night. I have seen its tracks as many mornings as I have looked, but am yet to see him. I was hoping that this would be my chance. I have also seen lots of wolf sign in the area. There is a resident pack around, and I saw one of them right by this bridge just 1 month ago. Dreaming of a magical encounter I hunkered down and tried to fight the cold. For an hour and a half I sat there trying to not let discomfort get to me. Tried meditating, wiggling fingers and toes, and recalling memories of times spent in tropical environments. At least there were no bugs! Close to frostbite and not far away from hypothermia I had to finally pull the pin and head home. Just as I was about to move, my mink friend returned for a last visit.
Two days later I went by the deer again. There was nothing left but lots of tracks, wolf scat, deer hair, and frozen red snow. The ravens were gone and my mink friend was nowhere to be seen. I am unsure whether this was a wolf kill or not. It could have died of exposure and then been fed on by the members of its community. However with the way it was first fed on, the local presence of a pack, wolf tracks in the deeper snow, and the wolf sign 2 days later, I believe it may have been a wolf kill! Being so close to the road, the wolves may have been frightened off by the passing of a car or the thundering of a snowplow. Either way, the wolves were there and I missed them. Maybe I’ll catch them another day, on another Wilderness Wander.