Thursday, January 2, 2014

It's not easy

The webpage indicated that the temperature was minus 32 degrees this morning when I rolled out of bed to greet another dark winter morning. Walking the dogs down the forest trails as an eye opener wasn't even a consideration. "Out you go boys, do your thing, and for the love of Mike don't decide to take a hike!"  They were at the back door looking for their breakfast in about two minutes. Sucking down my morning coffee, I wondered just how in the hell any living thing might make it through this punishing weather that we have been experiencing. It is brutal out there.

A few years back, there was a ruffed grouse that lived within 200 feet of our house for the entire winter. We watched its comings and goings daily.  I decided fairly soon that I did not want to come back as a ruffed grouse, if the opportunity to dance again on this planet ever becomes reality. What a drag.

That particular winter was one of the open variety that we experienced in the early two thousands - dry, relatively warm, only a couple stints of below zero weather and little snow - not enough for a grouse to roost in.  It was also a year when the ornamental crab apple tree outside the office window was loaded to the max with red fruit. That tree was a feast for several critters for most of the winter, including the grouse. So here's what it was like to live that grousely life:

Rise about a half hour after first light and fly 50 feet from mature white spruce roost into apple tree. Consume whole, frozen crab apples (perhaps a dozen) and sit around for about ten minutes while either your guts freeze or the apples thaw. Fly down from apple tree and walk about 50-100 feet in the opposite direction from the roost tree. Take a shit. Fly back to roost tree and the exact branch that you just vacated a few minutes before. Puff out feathers until you resemble a perfect sphere with a beaked knob on top and then zone out into some gallinaceous Om for the remainder of the day. Repeat the process at about a half hour before the daylight fades to black and then again sit as a monk throughout the long, dark winter night.
That was the routine for three and a half months!
Then in mid March, poof it was gone - off to honor its newly raging reproductive hormones.

This afternoon just before sunset the mercury had climbed to minus nine degrees, so off I went with the dogs for the evening walkabout down the packed trails that cover the fourteen inches of snow that lie on the floor of the woods. Only a few minutes into the old familiar trek, the Youngster started to cast about like he was onto a bird, and sure enough, up went a little grouse. It blew out of the snow right in his face, corkscrewing slowly skyward like some confused giant hummingbird, before it getting its bearings and rocketing over my head to zoom away. The two other dogs immediately got into the act and within a few seconds another bird, this one a giant, blew out of its snow roost and zipped off in the opposite direction. After a few good "atta boys", I was again thinking about the existence of a grouse in winter.

Snow roost or tree roost?  Either way it seems pretty harsh.

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