Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The week in weasels

I'm back down in the valley after my first full 10-day stint in Carter Notch. The stint started two weekends ago with nightly snow showers that piled up for some fine tracking and skiing conditions on the trails around the hut. Monday, in particular, was a dark day in the clouds with frequent snow squalls that put me in a mood to loaf around inside for most of the day. But I did get out for a couple of hours in the afternoon to ski down the first mile or so of the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail, where I found several trackways of red fox and pine marten.

The next morning, I found the marten's tracks all around the hut: going up the bunkhouse steps, around the propane tanks, and along most of the outside walls of the hut's main building. Besides having the typical pattern of a weasel's gait and the general shape of a marten's paw, several of the trackways terminated at the base of spruce trees. Unlike other weasels, martens are excellent tree-climbers, which makes them a more effective predator of birds and red squirrels. They are also on the state's threatened species list: the intense logging and associated forest fires of the early 20th century destroyed the marten's favored spruce-fir forests, and the critters also have a coat that even the most militant vegan would be tempted to wrap around their neck.

Ever since I arrived at Carter, I have hoped to see the marten. Other caretakers before me have felt the same way: one baited it with Chanel No. 5 (one ingredient of which, allegedly the anal juice from civet cats, is like catnip for martens) and took amazing close-up photographs, and another wrote that his December 25th marten sighting was the "best Christmas present ever." The marten is rare, to be sure, but it is also a neighbor, an ally in the caretaker's vendetta against those other critters who sneak into the hut to eat our food and leave their turds, and, above all, it is a beautiful animal.

On the morning of Friday the 13th, I was walking outside to take the morning temperature readings. As I went through the first door into the cold mudroom, I looked out a frosted window and there it was, sauntering down a snowbank right in front of the hut. It went out of sight and when I returned with my glasses and my camera it was long gone, in the trees or among the boulders, hidden from me for the rest of the week at least.

It was the first time I had ever seen a marten, and the happy surprise of it, the feeling of such good luck (note the date), really did most closely compare to the feeling of receiving an excellent and unexpected gift. I hope that this martes americana and I will meet again, and that next time, I will be able to share some photos of this beauty.

Also, while we were dining yesterday morning at Pinkham, Tucks caretaker Seth spotted a short-tailed weasel, or ermine, in the trees behind the trading post. Thus concludes this week in weasels.

This week's reading:
  • More of Alice Munro's Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage
  • Last summer's issue of Appalachia (theme: "The State of Maine"), which I read almost cover-to-cover except for the article about yet another rich guy who's climbed Everest.

  • 1 comment:

    Anonymous said...

    It was Chanel no. 5 mixed with raspberry jam :)