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Much closer now we hear the ratatatatat of beak on wood. Carefully searching through the trees checking especially the dead ones. We fail to see it. "Oh sweet Canada Canada Canada" rise the pure notes. This is the white throated sparrow. Their clear notes belay the drab gray brown coats. Like diners awaiting a fancy meal with their bibs all tucked in, the white flash in the throat of this sparrow is their distinctive feature. Other bird song is mixed in with it, giving the morning a festive air.
Mike listens intently, "Hear it? The one that sounds like a finger running along a comb..."
And there it is, the sounds of spring. This is one of the sounds that means spring to me. Slowly voices are added to the single sound and we can hear little but the boreal chorus frog. Better said frogs. Like a mad group of teenagers with their plastic combs, the sound rises till we can hear little else but the rrrrrrrrrrtttttttttttt of the frogs. I can't begin to describe how it feels to have a name for this sound. I have spent on the odd occasion time trying to figure out if it is a bird or a frog. We have several frogs and the descriptions that I have seen for their sounds have been singularly useless. In one moment Mike captured the sound and imprinted it clearly on my mind. Of course burning with in me now is the desire to learn more about these little creatures.
Suddenly the moment is broken as the jump jet of a puddle duck leaps from among the flooded trees, wings thundering as he twists and turns amongst the low boughs of the pine forest. He because as he flashes away we glimpse his head, the unmistakable iridescent green of a mallard. When these birds take off, they leap four to six feet straight up with one mighty kick and wing beat and then zoom off flying in a much more normal duck fashion.
"Walk on." I smile, "We still have a ways to go." And with a chorus of groans that rival those of the frogs, they walk on. I know the grumbling will disappear as we go and they become captured by the world around them.
The damp morning has made the walk on the slippery moss and rocks and roots a little treacherous. Why won't kids tie up their shoes? It always take one hearts stopping fall to get me to check every bodies shoes and warn of the dangers of falling miles from any where. "Yes I could carry your pack out," I answer the inevitable query about me carrying someone out, "but it would be a shame to leave your skinny bones for a black bear to work over."
The blackened forest catches me by surprise. I have my head down as I come around the bend, and looking up I stop suddenly the fellow behind bumping into me. I knew it was here. I have been in burnt over areas before but the somehow this caught me. Maybe it was the familiarity of this spot. It should have looked green. The giant balsam fir so thick around at the base I can't get my arms around them soaring in to the sky tapering so quickly it makes them useless for lumber. With no branches, the blackened bark hangs on the tree with patches hanging loose. Standing amongst the skinny rails of black spruce, these majestic trees rise above the forest ending in a curving spire that I think inspired early church architects. The "Mallard" fire swept through this area almost a year ago to the day. Patches of spring green catch my attention. Already the forest is recovering. The rich thick stems of aspen are already coming up and starting to flush with this years growth. I know that the forest is recovering, that this is part of the long cycle of the boreal forest. Still the blackened devastation catches at my eyes and tugs a tear.
Mike again calls a halt. This time the burnt forest echoes with the sound of beak on wood. Yes it's woodpeckers but what kind and where are they. "Black backed female" comes the triumphant cry. If they were three toed, the other alternative for a woodpecker this size the backs would be laddered with black and white. Searching through the woods with his binoculars Mike comments, "they are all ladies out to dine." The male it seems has a brilliant yellow patch on the back of his head, making him look like someone marked him with a can of spray paint. Indeed when we catch a glimpse of one down the trail there is a brilliant patch of yellow. Some three toed woodpeckers make an appearance and again gender is pointed out.
As we walk through the forest clambering up and down the sooty rocks, the dad stops and points out the veins of quartz that in this area often have gold embedded in them.
Time for a shoulder stretch. Packs are slipped off and people sprawl on the rock, letting the morning sun warm away the chill of the early morning. Long drinks of water. Someone passes the fruit jerky and we try to guess the flavor. Imagine my surprise when it turns out to be mango. I take this moment to point out the hundreds of blueberry stems. This was a great area for blue berries. The open expanse of area, the little dips and valleys to catch the rain. Now the berries will come back with a vengeance. The millions of four to six inch stems will begin to bear fruit next year, taking advantage of the influx of nutrients into their tiny worlds to grow and multiply. They will draw in bears and birds alike. This close to town, the area will probably fill with people come next August.
Rising and starting again, we find ourselves entering the strange world of the boreal fen. These high bowls of rock hold water. Over time the reeds and lilies of the marsh become willow and water birch. And then the black spruce come in, creating a canopy with a lush green sphagnum moss floor. This half lit world has its own animals and birds. Who expects the marsh on the top of the ridge?
My favourite woodland on this hike is the birch forest. There is only one place on the trail. It always puzzles me as to how this has arisen. Does it have to do with the south facing slope? Is it some strange combination of soil and climate here? The clumps of birch stand scattered through an open parkland of perhaps an acre in size. I keep expecting to see deer quietly grazing here for the grass grows thick and lush here. Now the birch stands in tight clumps of maybe six or seven trees, one or two fallen over and not cleaned up assure us that really there isn't a gardener here. They are spaced generously with plenty of space to see through them.
Now time to finish...but vignettes to not lose that which burns within. the
eagle soaring. the quiet conversation about the Serengetti with a fellow traveler.
the fool hen who almost succumbed to the dogs eager advances. the quiet exuberance
of the dog ranging through the forest. The insect stuck in the crack of poplar
bark. The eternal debate about campsites. letting the two boys put their tent
on the slope. "It'll be cool." and my surprise the next morning at
the how far down the hill it had moved and how funny it looked nestled in at
the base of a big old spruce tree. The two paddlers who have slowly and patiently
worked their way through the leads in the ice to come to their cabin. The cool
refreshing taste of lake water after a long hike.
figuring out how to arrange my sleeping fly. And then waking in the middle of the night watching the clouds drifting across the stars. the distant call of an owl.
Yes I have much to tell and it is here on the page that it rushes out.