Midway between equinox and solstice, the dark time of the year begins. And right on cue, the first snowflakes fall from the sky, beautifully drifting down at a meditative pace. The leaves have dropped from most trees, leaving behind decorative bright red berries or helicopter seed pods. In nature lore the sacred Crone mourns the death of her spouse for the next six weeks, until the solar babe is born and the light begins its annual growth. A time of peaceful reflection, rest, and waiting.
This spring the raucous call of a merlin could be heard echoing through my neighbourhood. I’ve seen the small hawk perched in trees and soaring over the block throughout the season.
In the past two weeks a group of three appeared as a prominent presence – perhaps a fledged family – an adult pair with a juvenile, or an adult with two juveniles? They call to each other as they swoop through the neighbourhood.
The activity is centred one block east of mine, so perhaps their nest was in a backyard tree in that block. Apparently they like to move into old magpie and crows’ nests – and certainly there is an abundance in this neighbourhood. We had a crow family raised in a pine at the park a block away, and there were at least three magpie families in the immediate neighbourhood this year, as every year.
A week of spring advent – newly growing buds on tree branches spreading over deep snow banks; magpies carrying nesting material…
Followed by two weeks of melting snow, puddles, ice, and soft, warm air on faces! Hares embarrassed by white coats on brown earth…
Spring equinox is a freshly snow-covered world, beautiful and shining! Hares sigh with relief…
Ambling along the sidewalk by the river valley, hidden from view by the snowbanks lining the walk, my dog and I came upon a short-legged, shaggy animal with a big round body, somewhat larger than a large domestic cat.
It seemed to be a uniform dark colour. Its tail was flat and angled down toward the ground from its body. The tail was about half to two-thirds the length a cat’s would be, relative to the body size.
Although it rolled from side to side in quick, waddling steps, it progressed slowly down the path – clearly not an animal that relies on speed.
Skunk tracks had criss-crossed the neighbourhood last week, so that was my first thought, but its tail and markings were different from a skunk’s. The tail wasn’t fluffy and there were no tell-tale white markings on its back or tail.
I think it was a porcupine, or possibly a woodchuck, newly emerged from hibernation. Maybe a young one, given its size.
I kept our distance, since my dog was along, so we didn’t get close enough to confirm.
Now the ends of the daylight reach to meet the ends of my day – light for the morning dog walk and light over the valley returning home in the evening. Always a milestone in my year. The light highlighting wisps of morning cloud is all the more beautiful after weeks of dark-sky morning walks.
My thoughts are with the local coyotes as they are in the regional news this weekend.
That was when they came on the coyotes, two females hunting in the open. They were a mile or so from the hollow that fed Bitter creek, not a place Deanna would have gone looking for them. It was a clearing where fallen trees had opened the canopy, letting the sun onto a patch of forest floor that now grew thick with a red carpet of new blackberry leaves. At first she thought they were dogs, they were so big: thick-furred behind the ears like huskies, and much stockier than the scrawny specimen she’d seen in the zoo or any western coyote she’d seen in photographs. These two appeared golden in the sunlight, arching their backs and hopping through the foot-deep foliage, one and then the other, like a pair of dolphins alternately rolling above the waves. They were on the trail of something small and quick beneath the leaves and grass. Probably a vole or a mouse. They paid no attention to the pair of humans who stood with their boots frozen in the shadows. Focused entirely on their pursuit, their ears twitched forward like mechanical things, tracking imperceptible sounds. Like two parts of a single animal they moved to surround and corner their prey against a limestone bank, tunnelling after it with their long noses. Deanna watched, spellbound. She could see how efficiently this pair might work a field edge, pursuing the mice and voles they seemed to prefer. No wonder farmers saw them often and feared for their livestock; if only they knew that they had nothing to lose but their mice. It occurred to her as she watched them that this manner of hunting might actually be helpful to ground-nesting birds like the bobwhite, because of the many passages it would open through the tight clumps of fescue.
~Barbara Kingsolver, Prodigal Summer, p 196-7
Alongside the cheery chickadees and nuthatches flitting through the branches, this industrious Downy woodpecker didn’t mind a nearby admirer…
Downy Woodpecker, North Saskatchewan River Valley
Update to Mystery Sighting, Nov 28: Identified!
A friend identified this little guy as a white-breasted nuthatch… here’s a pic of one of his local clan 😉
White-breasted Nuthatch, photo by Janice Hurlburt
Saw the merest wisp of the sickle crone moon low in the sunrise-pink sky around 8 this morning – crescent so delicate it could melt away in a moment; just a glimpse of her back as she slips out the door.
The sun still had a ways to climb before breaking the horizon on this solstice weekend.
Moon and sun meeting at the darkest end of their cycles.
A perfect weekend to enjoy the gifts of the darkness – healing rest, quiet contemplation, stillness – a peacefully introspective time.