I am Aspen Smoke. I am finished.
So begins my flash fiction yarn that explains death using found footage of wilderness and wolves.
Click the pic to watch the 4:39 video, to hear the story, to know.
At my old friend Terry’s suggestion we trekked north out of Winnipeg into the Interlake so named due its location between Lakes Manitoba and Winnipeg. Our destination was the red-sided garter snake dens just north of Narcisse on Hwy #17 though neither of us are particularly fond of snakes. It was the phenomenon we were looking for.
The day was cloudless and warm, a perfect day to escape the Hive. Immediately upon our arrival a friendly and informative snake lady who works for the site gave us some information about the most active dens – today it was 2 and 3. There are four dens. The late spring has put the emergence of the snake population back about a month, she explained, so we can expect snakes to still emerge for the rest of May into June. She mentioned the wood ticks are out so stay on the trail. I just did a tick check of my body and turned up none. The limestone trails to the dens are an easy hike across flat land and completely wheelchair accessible. The viewing areas sets the visitor above and apart from the dens below, well out of each other’s way. Snakes moving in the dry pit created a constant low rustle.
Although the snakes haven’t eaten since last summer, their first imperative is biological – to mate. For that purpose male garter snakes wait to the mouth of the den for females to emerge. They throng the female creating a passionate mating tangle that moves across the ground, up the side of the pit then tumbles back down. Today there were small clusters, no large mating balls of hundreds of snakes.
We passed two school buses of kids coming from visits to the snake dens and there were at least a dozen cars in the lot. But there was no crowd, just the happy, enthralled voices of kids discovering the snakes.
As Terry pointed out, we seldom get to see the ancient pivotal moment in another creature’s life when they are governed by The Old Rules of procreation. We found our phenomenon.
I shot a 2 minute video of the snakes today. Watch it here.
My earlier visit to the snake dens in 2002 prompted this report.
Current information on the Narcisse Snake Dens.
“When one thinks like a mountain, one thinks also like the black bear so that honey dribbles down your fur as you catch the bus to work.” – R. A. Roshi
Driving through the park today I saw a small black bear foraging by the side of the highway. I drive through RMNP every two weeks or so (I’m so lucky!) and have seen this bear on three trips this summer. Click the pic to spend two minutes with a bear.
I caught this video while driving through Riding Mountain National Park on May 21/13. By the road a mother and two very young moose paused. They entered a stream leading into the bush. The little ones made chirping noises as they swam in the deep water. At the end one calf has trouble climbing out of the water. Click the pic to watch 30 seconds of moosey cuteness!
This old church, built by Anglicans for the Parish of St. Andrew’s in 1893-94, is a classic example of austere Anglican church architecture. Unadorned brickwork laid in American Bond, extremely steep roof pitch, pointed Gothic windows topped with staid sunbursts and side buttresses are basic to the style. The tiny arched window under the gable ends is charming. Built by local artisans and church volunteers, the church has been described as a textbook example of Anglican church style.
The chancel at the rear of the church was added on in 1907, its steep roof the same pitch as the original building. Lacking a pastor for an number of years, the old place has found new life and new purpose in the little community of Hartney, becoming the home to a new community of the faithful.
For views of Old English Church from all angles, check out my 2:05 video.
This amazing image is one of many dazzling captures in the 2012 National Geographic Photography Contest. Photographer Ashley Vincent captured, Busaba, a well cared for Indochinese Tigress whose home is at Khao Kheow Open Zoo, Thailand, enjoying her private pool then shaking herself dry. View more of the award winners at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2205906/The-world-Sublime-images-nature-best-vie-prize-2012-National-Geographic-photography-competition.html
I’ve covered lots of Manitoba ground over the last ten days and the signs of change are everywhere, not just in the fields where the harvest progresses apace sending plumes of chaff and dust into the air. The red maples flame as loud as our flag. Always the leaders in changing colour, cottonwoods burn yellow in the dry dusty sun of late summer. Greens start to fade as russet and pumpkin shades emerge. An especially good summer for poison ivy, now its scarlet and orange leaves form bright carpets in the understory of shallow forests and along the ditches of the TCH. This year mountain ash are laden with large clusters of hot red berries awaiting the first frosts to sweeten up for the jays and waxwings.
Murmurations of blackbirds weave and dive across the highway coordinating their aerial sonar for the long flight ahead. Tiny flocks of LGBs (little grey birds, thank you Ed Abbey) polka along with the Tragically Hip on the mighty Avenger’s CD player. Vs of geese broadcast their lonesome message across the land. Red-tailed hawks populate telephone poles keen-eyed for their next meal, an easier feat now those nice farmers have cut down all the long crops making the yummy wee critters more vulnerable.
Generally critters get more mobile at this time of year in anticipation of winter. They plan ahead like the garter snakes who are now heading toward the nearest karst that’ll take them down below the frost line where they can overwinter thus many flattened snakes on the highways. Night critters like skunks, raccoons, porcupines and badgers populate the shoulders in larger numbers now than during the hot weather. Ravens tug at the carcasses. Nature bats last.
I caught this cluster of wild bees and several of their honeycombs over the entrance to Zoria Hall, a popular dance hall now and ago. There was honey dripping down the wall! It was a cool windy day so the bees were inactive.
In the cemetery next to the Zoria church was this beautiful white angel turning black with time.
Still driving around…
She watched the fuzzy dice sway gently back and forth from the rearview as the Chiffons sang “He’s So Fine.” He was large and hot, increased his pace inside her, did a few dick tricks and groaned. She told him to bark like a dog and he always did which made her even hotter and hornier. His face and shoulders were getting red. He was just about to come when…
It’s impossible to visit as many heritage and sacred sites as I do and not notice that some of them are used frequently as lover’s lanes. Very often these places are secluded on little-traveled gravel roads that some locals and a few tourists know about. Often they are remote and utterly dark at night. A common clue are the worn tire tracks through the grass indicating the basic biological imperative can be satisfied just about anywhere.
Though the hazy distance of 45 years separates me from my last experience of having sex in a vehicle, I understand the urge, the need, the excitement, the lonely but safe darkness wrapped around your sexual cocoon, your car or truck.
Speaking of safes (when was the last time, if ever, you heard a condom called a safe?), the obvious clue to an area’s sexual usage are the bright flowers that turn out to be condoms blooming in the tall grass, often accompanied by their wrapper.
Walking trails through the bush attract mating couples, especially in spring. Besides the warning grunts of a bear, the only other uptrail sound that immediately turns me back are the amorous cries of rutting humans trysting among the timbers. While the visual doesn’t appeal to me, the way their groans and shrieks are enfolded into the sounds of the forest makes the sex seem at home, traditional, sacred. When you get right down to it, fucking in the forest is as old as God.
I won’t mention all the locations where I’ve seen evidence of love nests but I did interrupt a nooner this summer at St. Albans, the Criddle/Vane Homestead just south of Shilo. My apologies, folks. And to the guy getting the BJ on the hood of his car deep in the Marsh Lake oxbow, sorry buddy!
Here and there across the Canadian countryside you’ll see these bright blue shelters placed in patterns in pastures. Their openings all face the same direction and their presence has a rather otherworldy feeling about it. What are these things?
They are plastic shelters for alfalfa leaf-cutter bees, a native North American bee that has been domesticated. The blue dome is used in western Canada, variations in other parts of the continent. The shelters, usually found in alfalfa pastures, are needed for their warming ability and as a place for the bees to build their nests out of alfalfa leaves. One shelter for every 4 to 5 acres contains about a dozen nests.
His name is Kevin Richardson. He is a lion whisperer.
Click pic to watch video
In the cemetery of the church yard around St. Francois Xavier Roman Catholic Church in St. Francois Xavier, MB stands a huge tree, once magnificent in every season, now dead every day. On its naked branches, some entangled in the church steeple, European starlings gather to discuss important bird business. In the neighbourhood, Rover barks at imaginery foes, halftons roll past one by one and the dead are patient, as ever. Click the pic to watch my latest video, Tree Birds Dog Trucks Dead.
UPDATE: As of summer 2013, the tree has been cut down, just a low stump remains.
For the second year in a row, February 1st is Grassland National Park Day on my blog. This year I’m offering two new videos, one of prairie dogs in GNP and a video tour of The Convent Bed & Breakfast in Val Marie, SK on the edge of the park.
Grasslands National Park is an enchanting place. Features of the park include its recent designation as a Dark Sky Preserve, in fact, the darkest Dark Sky Preserve in Canada. Critterwise, GNP is celebrating its first wild-born black-footed ferrets. The park reintroduced black-footed ferrets without much success until last year when, for the first time in 70 years, a wild black-footed ferret was born in Canada. Watch a park video of the ferrets.
Another reintroduction to Grasslands National Park is plains bison. For the first time in 150 years, a herd of plains bison now numbering about 250 head are part of the prairie ecosystem. Adaptable and comfortable, the plains bison population is increasing quickly with about 75 calves expected to be born in spring 2012. The herd has increased from the 70 bison first released in 2005.
Read posts from last year’s Grasslands National Park Day.
For sheer cuteness and adorability it’s hard to find a rodent more fitting than the black-tailed prairie dog. Largely extirpated from most of their habitat which extends down into Texas, the prairie dogs in Canada are safely preserved in Grasslands National Park. Several easily accessible dogtowns dot the park and you won’t be disappointed with the shenanigans of these cute critters.
Prairie dogs are a keystone species, meaning they are often the main course for several other species in their habitat. In GNP prairie dogs are preyed upon by newly-reintroduced black-footed ferrets, prairie rattlesnakes, swift foxes, ferruginous hawks, golden eagles, badgers and coyotes. Burrowing owls nest in old prairie dog burrows. It’s a cozy relationship. Click the pic and spend two minutes in dogtown.
I’m reposting this piece from May 2011 just because it’s a fascinating project and the wriggling tail of the lizard in the video is a little spooky!
Reptiles and amphibians are collectively known as herpetofauna or just “herps.” There are 24 species of reptiles and amphibians in Manitoba and you can find them all described, illustrated and located on the Manitoba Herps Atlas. The Atlas, part of the NatureNorth.com site, is the work of Doug Collicutt, a local biologist. The site contains information on frogs, treefrogs, toads, salamanders, turtles, snakes and a lizard (yes, Manitoba has a lizard!). Fascinating and informative!
Manitoba’s lizard is the Northern Prairie Skink and is mainly found in the Spirit Sands in Spruce Woods Park and the Lauder Sandhills. If under attack and grabbed by the tail, the skink will release the end section of its tail as a distraction so it can escape. The piece of skink tail wriggles wildly adding to the distraction. Watch it happen here.
Click the pic of the Western Painted Turtle to find the Atlas.
The cat you see above is my buddy, Tulu. Linda and I found Tulu at an animal shelter about 18 months before Linda died. Tulu won the lottery then lost half of it, so to speak. She’s a beautiful little cat. If you look closely you can see Linda reflected in her eyes when she took the picture.
Two polar bears, high as kites on the first growth of reindeer moss, share a joke.
This is the joke they shared:
Did you hear the one about the hunter who liked to shoot bears from small planes? No? Well, seems there was this hunter who liked to shoot bears from small planes. He was flying over the tundra and spotted me loping across an open area. The plane swooped low, he took aim with his rifle but, at the very last moment, I stood on my rear legs and said right to his face, “You can’t shoot me, I’m a piano.”
In hysterics, both bears roll on the ground until the worth of the joke gets used up.
Personally, I don’t get it but then, I don’t have any reindeer moss, I’m not a polar bear nor have I ever been hunted from a small plane plus I’m not a piano. But I commend those polar bears for still having a sense of humour even though, according to Big Head, they are nearly extinct. Greed thinks we could use a few thousand more species like polar bears, nice critters who will disappear from the world with good humour and a positive attitude. It’s a dream that could come true, as long as we don’t run out of reindeer moss.