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Fresh off the phone with a friend who’s so busy he probably won’t be able to get any time off to hunt this year, I decided to head into the woods and see what’s going on out there. Talking to people who don’t have a minute to spare makes me feel fortunate that I can walk out the door and spend an hour or too looking at the current changes in the woods and waters around the cabin. I’ve certainly put my time in behind the walls of commerce but it never set well with me and I eventually traded fiscal security for a room with a view. I know what makes me happy and being closeted behind four walls is not it!
I’d been hearing coyotes on the hill every night this week so I decided to head that way and see what they are up to. The neighboring landowner has had a crew of loggers at work, the new, improved variety with feller bunchers and grapple skidders that can – and did – strip 40 acres in about a week; and the refugees from that operation have been streaming into the adjoining properties like lemmings.
Every large tree, every bit of money wood is gone now, and while roaming through the area to marvel at how quickly they can turn a dark and solemn forest into an open park. They even shred the tops and smaller trees so that, at the end of the day, the trees they cut are gone and there’s no evidence that they had ever been there.
The ability of wildlife to adapt to sudden, disastrous changes in their environment never ceases to amaze me, but it’s comforting to know that they won’t disappear along with the trees that once sustained them. For example, while sitting on a stump having my obligatory cup of tea I noticed dozens of mice, voles and shrews skittering through the detritus on the woodland floor. Though exceedingly common, these critters are not often observed because they normally have so much cover in the way of trees, logs, rocks, moss and brush. The newly denuded wood lot forces them to find other avenues of travel, and while I’m sipping my tea I can see that they are not wasting a minute finding new places to live.
Rings the bell in my head: No wonder the coyotes are spending their nights on the hill! Though most folks think coyotes eat only deer, rabbits and newborn babies, the truth is that they fill up on rodents whenever possible. With 40 acres of open woods (and some studies have shown that there can be upwards of 200 rodents per acre), it’s only sensible that the coyotes will move in and take advantage of the opportunity. All the more so is that this year’s coyote pups are six months old now and need to learn how to forage on their own. With hundreds of hapless rodents scurrying around looking for new digs, the training should go very well, indeed!
Off the hill and down to the hurricane-swollen stream that normally is bone dry in September, I find all sorts of animal tracks that make me want to renew my Maine trapping license this year. Mink, muskrats, raccoons and even otters have been traveling the stream bed since the hurricane. I wonder if some of them haven’t been pushed off the recently-logged hilltop. Many a den tree was cut and run through the chipper, and the animals that survived are certainly looking for another place to live.
I was mulling all this over as I made the circle from hilltop to stream bottom to the swamp where, I’m guessing, most of the displaced critters have gone. I’d come through the blackberries and grapes that were planted at the water’s edge and practically ran into a great blue heron that was standing not 20 feet from my front porch! The rains had created a little pond in the yard that was only inches deep and swarming with Common Whitetail dragonflies, their striking spotted wings resembling (to me, anyway) WWI-era biplanes.
It’s a rare thing to see a blue heron on bare ground close to houses and open pastures, but I have seen a few (in fall, come to think of it) that were bold enough to land in back yard goldfish ponds and gobble up every koi they could find!
“My” heron seemed confused and bewildered – he just stood there staring at me and made no effort to escape. Of course, I didn’t want him to escape, either, so I stood still for some time and continued the staring contest till, at last, the big, graceful bird reluctantly walked down the driveway and flew over the road into the swamp.
Glancing around the homestead knowing that, sooner or later I was going to have to get back to work, I noticed clusters of leaves here and there that had a decidedly yellow or red tinge to them. My neighbor likes to call it “stress,” suggesting that the leaves start changing in September not because the days are shorter and fall is upon us but because it was a dry year and the trees are suffering from a unique form of heat exhaustion. I’d believe that theory if I hadn’t spent some time in the deep South where summer temperatures hover in the 90s for weeks and, sad to say, no trees seem to be stressed!
After a hike and a cup of tea I’m glad to see that things are as they should be in the world outside my window. I am happy that I have the time to spend observing the goings-on out there but even humans must do what they can to survive and so it’s back to work for me. There is only a short lull in the outdoor action before Maine’s fall sporting seasons kick in with a vengeance. I’ll be busy getting the details of everyday life ironed out so I can spend more time out there. I hope you all are able to do the same!
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