Sunday, February 26, 2006

A beaver gets busy

After so many hikes, in and out, the beaver pond is the reason I still enjoy the Zealand Trail. I love the way the trail changes--winding around the ponds, through birches and over bridges. I think it best in new snow just as the sun peeks over the ridge and this week, in the early morning snow, I met a new obstacle, a delightful surprise.

December 27, on my very first hike into Zealand as caretaker, I was new and nervous, filling my head with expectations for the new position, bold projects I would, in three months time, accomplish. Rounding the curve after Z-bridge, I met the signs of a beaver, and was reminded that I was no longer in Houston. He had gnawed a 12 -inch patch into a tree of even greater diameter. Did he really think he would fell it, and if so, how would he put it to use?

Hiking out, a week later, I noticed more signs, as he'd begun a number of new projects (and I had yet to begin any of mine). He'd scoped out a few trees more proportional to the one felled by the beaver in Lady and the Tramp, and I marveled at how he'd move the trees without the Tramp's converted muzzle. They were on the uphill side of the trail, a good ways from the water.

Fellow hikers have helped charting his progress, and I've thought of taking bets on which tree he'll fell first. One group of visitors in January spotted him swimming lazy circles in an ice hole in the middle of the pond. Another lucky pair must have startled him at work. No sooner had they noticed his ambitious projects, than they saw the go-getter crouching below near the water. I've not been so lucky, but the stories have made me take time to look up from my commute in the hopes of seeing my erstwhile companion.

This week, coming upon what I now think of as his section of trail, I eagerly looked up and about. It was a good thing, too, because even though I didn't see beaver, I was just in time to stop before an enormous birch, thigh height, blocking my path. He fell first a birch, more than a foot in diameter, uphill from the trail. He's well on his way in Phase I of construction, and how far have I come in my novice ambitions?

This week in books:

The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth
Persepolis: The story of a childhood, by Marjane Satrapi
The Sot Weed Factor, by John Barth
Prodigal Summer, by Barabara Kingsolver
The New Transit Town; Best Practices in Transit-Oriented Development, edited by Hank Dittmar and Gloria Ohland

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

You can dance if you want to

"Project CLIMB," an outing club from Kearsarge Regional High School, stayed at Carter Notch this past weekend with about 35 students and 5 teachers/chaperones. Since they've been making trips to the huts in the winter for several years now, there was little need for me to supervise them as a caretaker: I was most helpful when I just stayed out of their way. The kitchen and dining room were considerably messier than usual this past weekend, to be sure, but when they left on Sunday morning, the place was spotless.

Besides being an easy group to host, they were also a lot of fun. One of the women had brought a fiddle, and on Saturday night, the students organized a contradance inside the hut. This past week was the coldest so far this winter, and temperatures in the Notch that night hovered around 0 degrees F, but between the woodstove and the dancing, we were wearing t-shirts indoors.

Every winter, caretakers hear the promise from certain guests who, huddled cold and sedentary by the woodstove on a winter night, promise that they'll pack up their own firewood to supplement our wood supply the next time they visit. After a year to think about it, they invariably opt to carry extra warm clothes instead. But future guests who dream of a 60 degree hut should forget about the woodstove and heed instead the example of Kearsarge RHS: a fiddle, skillfully used, will produce as much heat as a dozen stout logs.

This week's reading:
  • The Sot-Weed Factor by John Barth
  • Harper's, January 2006 issue, which I found in the box of games (?) on Friday and had read almost entirely by the next evening.

    Wildlife sightings this week
  • A pair of red foxes (vulpes vulpes) were flirting with each other around the hut on Monday afternoon. I watched them through the windows of the hut and had the chance to snap a few photos, which I will post here soon.
  • Our resident masked shrew (sorex sinereus), which has been a frequent sight inside the hut for the past few weeks, was only identified as such after it drowned in the dishwater buckets and was found frozen to the gray water screens on Saturday morning. It was a little bit sad to lose such a cute critter, especially since it never invaded my food supply but was always content to clean up crumbs on the floor, but hopefully the corpus will make a good snack for one of the local predators.