It’s officially spring. New beginnings. The animals are starting to prepare for the birth of their young and there are visions of gardening dancing in my head. All of this is still weeks away of course, because we had a LOT of snow this winter and it’s waist deep if you have the unfortunate experience of stepping off the packed trails. In fact, 81 inches of snow has fallen this winter – that’s 6 feet and 9 inches. Normal snowfall for our area is 65 inches. This winter has been an over achiever.
We don’t get the wet, heavy, snowflakes that most folks think of. Our snow leans toward light and fluffy because of our dry climate. To put it in perspective, six feet of snow would melt to 5 inches of water. That is a good thing, because much of the land here in the Interior is permafrost – ground that is frozen year round under the covering layer of soil, grasses and moss. There is only so much water that upper layer of soil can absorb and even a few inches of snow melt turns everything into a muddy mess, until the warm and constant sun dries everything out.
This dry snow tends to squeak underfoot until just about this time of the year. The intensity of the sun begins the melt, even when the thermometer stays stuck in the 20s. I noticed the other day the sound of the snow is more like a scoop moving through a carton of ice scream. A nice, soft swish.
It seems I begin to sense sounds and smells more acutely at this time of the year. I love the scent of spring and of fall. This is also the time of the year that our intact female sled dogs will cycle into heat. Thank goodness we have only two girls now who fit into the category – much easier to manage love in the air, with just two.
Bella the Labra-dork is also enamored with all the different scents of the season. As I watch her with her nose either too the ground, buried in a snow bank, or held high in the air, I wonder what all those sensitive nerve endings are transmitting to that brain of hers.
She has been my companion on the snare line this winter and has conquered her fear of snowshoe hares – well dead ones. She is terrified of live bunnies – maybe it’s a deep ancestral sort of thing, or maybe my dog is just weird. Bella will flush out grouse or ptarmigan and won’t even startle when birds will suddenly rush into the air from some long grass we might be walking by. But, have a hare hop into view and she is cowering behind me.
The hares were numerous this winter – their populations are cyclical – and we enjoyed several bowls of snowshoe hare stew. At the beginning of the season, I felt very much like Elmer Fudd……”be vewy, vewy qwiet, I’m hunting wabbits.” There were tracks everywhere and runs all through the woods. I’d set snares on the hare highways and not get a single catch, but a random set in an open area would be successful. On one run the hares would hop up to the snare, poop, and then hop away. The gauntlet was thrown down.
One afternoon, a set yielded a large, fat hare. Bella poked it several times with her nose and was quickly satisfied it wouldn’t devour her. This particular hare had a large reserve of fat between its shoulders – a relatively mild winter was good to him. As always, I thanked him for the gift of giving himself and he made a very good and healthy stew. I will begin to tan the pelts from this winter in the coming week. What we didn’t eat or use (guts, head, feet) went back out to the woods and fed other creatures.
The connection to the entire cycle is one that is important to me. Being involved in the death carries with it a responsibility. The Earth expects me to be respectful and thankful and to ensure that nothing is wasted. It is a responsibility I take seriously.
“There are only two things you have to remember about being an Indian. One is that everything is alive, and the second is that we are all related” Dr. Joseph Couture, Cree elder