Friday, December 15, 2017

Moose and ice

The milky left eye of the bull calf tells the kind of tale we’re privy to: tiny excerpts of drama that played out elsewhere. Last time I saw this moose his eyes looked normal. What happened to the left one in those three weeks? He twitches back when small poplar branches scrape against that area of his head.

I feel immediately sorry, worried, concerned. How will he be able to deal with wolf packs or grizzly bears? Does it hurt? But then I notice how sturdy-looking he is and remind myself of the injured animals I met during my time at Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter, their incredible resilience and ability to heal or just get by in spite of handicaps. 

And the little bull still has the protection of his mother for another five months. She’s pruning poplar twigs, pulling a mouthful of old fireweed leaves out of the snow for variety. The snow is a sunken, miserable shadow of its former fluffy self: Over a week of above-freezing weather including rain has reduced it to something like Crème brûlée. The crust is hard enough to step on for the fraction of a second, then breaks with a crunch as the foot sags into the snow underneath. It must be tough for heavy animals like moose, caribou and wolves, because every step creates sharp-edged craters. 

Indeed, the moose prefer to walk on my slick glacier-like trails, a spider web of ice that I can only negotiate with ice grips under my boots. Alone in the bush for another two months, I cannot afford to sprain a limb and creep around as cautiously as a ninety-year old. The greatest difficulty is getting water. The open lake keeps chewing away at the north and south edges of my seven square kilometer ice floe and has managed to push against it so much, I now have a knee-high wall of ice along shore. This slopes down to the ice floe proper where my water hole is located at a very steep angle and is as slippery as a skating rink. It’s a pain to negotiate, even with the ice grips under my soles, and pulling the full water canisters back up over it and up the glacier path to the cabin feels more like ice climbing than walking. If this is the way of the future, I have to say I don’t like it one little bit.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Friday, December 1, 2017


Just how it is possible to sense freeze-up has occurred from inside the house, in the black morning darkness while still lying in bed, I do not know. Maybe it's a different quiet than usual, the quiet of something large utterly halted and stilled.
When it's grey enough to see I go outside: ice. Before, the lake had an aquatic kind of upward mobility - leaping waves, spray droplets, steaming fog, the sound waves of water waves slapping and lapping -, merging with space. Now the emptiness of sky presses down on it with all its silence, down on the flat scab of ice.
It's merely an ice floe, though, stretching as far as I can see from here. But in the distance grey ice fog persists over still open water. While everything outside feels grave and epic (freeze-up always is), I continue my murderous spree among the blossoming shrew population in the cabin. I had a similar invasion a few years ago, and now they are back. My somewhat reluctant tally stands at eight velvety corpses to date. They are fascinating little critters with their echolocation and toxic saliva, but not the kind of roommates I enjoy. Hopefully I'll stem their flow into the cabin even before winter closes up the rest of the lake.

Friday, November 24, 2017


These days I exist in a world of dramatic light strained through versions of water. Snow clouds scrape across the mountains even lower than the sun hangs in the sky. When the clouds empty, streaks of miniscule icy pellets crosshatch the land; other days it’s dreamy fat flakes, a toss of snow stars, or just your general steady falling of snow.

The lake melts into the sky, throws up armies of fog ghosts who twirl and contort themselves across the wind-whipped surface, reaching for those water molecules who have already condensed into a solid blanket of grey fog overhead.

The top layer of water is trying to hang on to the lake now, pupating into delicate see-through ice feathers that sprout ever more tendrils, forming islands. Getting thicker, coagulating, yearning to stop the constant movement the wind is forcing on them.

But the wind knows no mercy. The snow clouds get ripped apart, the ice fog torn open, sunlight pushed through the ice crystals suspended in the air until it becomes so rich a yellow I want to stick my hand into it. The wind slaps the lake around, undeterred by the screeching and crunching of ice that hasn’t had a chance yet to grow from shore to shore, to become solid enough to withstand it. Ice feathers, ice islands, ice pans get slammed against shore, ground up and folded back under water.

On clear nights, there is light of a different kind while the lake still laps at the rocks, unsettled.