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I watched the trapper put his feet up on the block by the stove letting the
heat seep through his
old bones. Tom had been trapping for as long as he could remember. Spending months in the
bush, no one to talk to but his dog Sally, he seemed to be making up for lost time these days. I
had thought I knew the bush until I met him. I felt like I had learned everything from books
maybe, never really been there myself . Today for example. It seemed like everything I said he
knew better. He wasn't mean about it He just knew stuff.
"Pine marten" the old trapper rasped softly "you hafta get into the hills fur dem. Gotta be high."
"Ten years I've spent roaming the northern boreal forest, and I have yet to see one that isn't
stretched, ready for the furrier." The pine marten had always interested me. The soft yellow
brown fur with its pale throat and its sorrel like black legs and feet make it very distinctive.
"American sable" some know them as. "I heard you need to be in old forest to find them" I
"Yup. Pines is best. See dem around squirrels. Dey eat squirrels. When dere's lots of squirrels
dere's lots of marten." Tom said.
"Oh, I thought they were pretty solitary animals."
"Oh no martens lives by demselves. There's more a dem in years dat dere's lots a squirrels."
"So is that all they eat?" I questioned curious about these seldom seen critters. I had read about
the omnivorous nature of the marten. Mushrooms and berries form a surprising addition to the
diet. They will look for a fill on a wolf or lynx kill but will shy away from carrion dead from old
age or starvation.
Tom grinned. I knew there was a story coming.
"Well" he drawled, "I watched one kill a woodpecker onct. I could hear the old feller bangin
away and I was kinda lookin fur im when I saw a flash o brown. I thought it was a mink but I was
a long way from water and he was too dark." He paused to see if I was following the story. "Just
as I spotted de 'pecker there was a flash up the tree and feathers were flying. He looked over at
me, grinnin, like to say, 'gotta a problem' and den he turned and was gone quick as wink. Just a
few feathers floating down."
"I heard they were pretty efficient predators," I responded remembering
the article about the vast
territory covered by a single marten. As many as 25 square km are travelled by these brown
energetic killing machines in their hunt for small rodents and birds. I wondered if he knew the
strangest fact of all about the little pine marten.
As if reading my mind Tom spoke again, "Strangest thing about dem dough
is babies. Dey screw
in summer but they don't have the family 'til it taws"
I wondered if I dare explain, "Yup, the embryo starts to divide and then
stops at the blastocyte
stage. It implants in the female uterus in late February or early March with young ones born in
April. Strange how it just stops growing like that and then starts again. Another one of nature's
little miracles." I smiled amazed at how nature provides a way to keep everything in balance.
Tom grinned at me. "Fur a biologist yur not bad."