Sunday, April 15, 2007

the hills are alive

I took the Irish hiking in Algonquin Park on Saturday. It's a bit early for moose, but that was our hope. If you didn't know this, there's a highway that runs through the south part of Algonquin, and in May and June, the moose, (normally such shy and reclusive creatures) wander out to the road, looking to party or maybe just lick the leftover road salt. In April, they're usually still pretty deep in the forest.

We somehow dragged ourselves up and out the door by 8 AM, threw a little Hot Chip in the CD Player, and were off in my "new" (seven-year-old, third-hand) smokin' hot wheels, aka Smokey. (Maybe that name will stick; turns out that Chachi who owned it before me sucked on a lot of cancer sticks behind those cheesy tinted windows. Blech. How did I not notice during the test drive? Any tips on how to get rid of the stench? Do I have to get a filter changed and shampoo the upholstery?)

Our first stop, about two hours into the drive, was to pull over for homemade pancakes and check out how maple syrup is made. You know, good old Canadian stuff. The guy told us that while Canada produces a huge amount of maple syrup, we only domestically consume about 2% of what we make - the rest gets sold to Europe and the States, which makes NO SENSE TO ME. However, if I've done my math correctly, I account for 0.5% of that, because I like to bathe in maple syrup and I put it on everything, including steak.

We finally got to Algonquin Park, where the cheery fellow at the gate told us that it was way too early for moose and good luck looking for one. An older woman hanging around the office with a long braid had been listening to me ask about moose. Thinking I wasn't looking at her, she shook her head and smiled in that "ah, morons from the city" kind of way.

I was about to say "I've heard the best way to lure them out of the woods is to make really loud kissing noises, is that so?" but I held off.

"No problem," I said to the girl part of the Irish couple, who was the most heart-set on seeing a moose. "We'll just head out and see what we can see. I've never been to Algonquin and not seen a moose. Except for that one time. But I wasn't really looking then anyway."

So here's me and the girl Irish hiking in the Gonk, looking for moose. I'm the one in the front, because the Irish, they seemed to think I knew what I was doing, bless them:

The greatest thing about the hike was that the forest was so clearly full of spring excitement, despite the wintry six inches of snow still on the ground. The forest was noisy as hell - woodpeckers, dozens of different bird songs, grouse beating their wings against logs to attract mates (you know, the grouse equivalent of cologne, gold chains, tight black jeans, and a shirt unbuttoned to the navel, sub-woofer, ground effects on the Camaro), but beating hard enough that we could feel it in the ground under our feet from hundreds of meters away: THUMP-thump-thumpthumpthumpthump.

This shot was taken lying on my back in the snow after we spent some time by a rock wall sticking icicles up our noses:

In the four hours we were out sloshing through the snow and slush, we were rewarded with many sets of moose tracks (some old, some fresh) and finally there she was, a large female moose making her way up a nearby slope on gangly long legs. In the brisk air and in all that snow, I was struck by the fact that this creature, this winter-ragged, huge fellow mammal we'd encountered, was warm and was doing herself some hard work. Does that make sense? I mean, my life is challenging sometimes, sure, but I just ate a chicken salad sandwich and I have a pair of dry socks back at the car. I'm not waiting for the pond to thaw and some plants to grow before I can get my belly full.

We would have been thrilled with that, but on the remainder of the walk we encountered (at very close range) two beavers with emaciated haunches and ribs, stripping branches of bark in the narrow thawed edges of a frozen lake, (which was also new and exciting for the Irish). We also saw a ridiculous variety of animal tracks, including more beaver, hare, mouse, bear, possibly bobcat, a gazillion more moose of different sizes, and these:

...which were maybe wolf tracks, or maybe they were from a large fox that has 3 inch long feet? You tell me. Whatever it was, it was traveling alone and veered off into the woods after taking the snowed-over human path for about 30 meters.

It was wonderful to be out there - way before tourists and summer traffic, way before anyone else thinks it makes sense to be out wandering an untrodden snow-covered path in sneakers. After feeling so wretchedly sick last week it might not have been the smartest thing to head out for a long hike, but somehow it made me feel like a million bucks.

And then, on the way out of the park, we met this pretty young thing, who was kind enough to pose in the light of the setting sun.

Happy Spring, little lady!


At April 16, 2007 4:30 a.m., Anonymous sgazzetti said...

I am especially embittered that my browser won't load the pictures you've illustrated this post with. Inability to communicate with the localhost, apparently. Will keep trying.

It's okay, though, because your words do a lovely job of illustrating this soggy, moosey trek. This reminded me so much of when I used to live right on the edge of Acadia National Park in Maine, and would spend more time on snowshoes or skis than indoors. It's a great time of year, that period of throwing off winter's yoke in northern places.

Here it's been spring so long it's nearly summer, already getting too hot. I can't complain, though, as I have a woodpecker working outside my window right this minute. One of my most favorite sounds in the world.

At April 16, 2007 6:30 a.m., Blogger Mungo said...

My system apparently is also unable to view images loaded from your c: drive. Repost 'em!


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