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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: February 3, 2021

Only 45 Days!

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,



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Spring is really just around the corner " not that I'm counting the days. (Actually yes I am.)

We can still easily get around in the woods because there is only about four inches of snow here. The amount and variety of tracks are fascinating, in contrast to what I would see when I struggled out there through the deep snow two years ago. Then, the surface was a blanket of nearly undisturbed white, with the wild ones bunkered in somewhere safe waiting it out. This year there is a spaghetti maze of tracks large and small everywhere.

What I didn't fully appreciate until I read my February issue of "National Wildlife' magazine is that while this lack of snow is helpful to some of our woodland neighbors, notably the deer and coyotes, it makes life a bit harder for others.

It seems that under those unbroken blankets of deep snow, life teems, much like I know it does under the ice covering Hank Lake. The snow is the friend of many woodland creatures, helping rather than hindering their winter survival.

Deep and long-lasting snow has a distinct environment underneath it and above ground called the "subnivium." Shielded from the bitter cold, the snow actually provides protection for a variety of animals, a few birds and insect eggs. The animals can move around feeding on plant stems, roots and seeds, even while sub-zero temperatures and raging winds punish the creatures above the snow cover.

I was aware that voles, small rodents similar to mice, spend the winter this way. Our dogs have an uncanny ability to hear them moving beneath the snow and they pounce or push their snouts into the snow, sometimes coming up with an unlucky vole. Foxes, coyotes and owls use this food source. Every fall, my preparation for winter includes securely protecting the trunks of our three little fruit trees, lest the same fate befall them that did an acquaintance's. He was unhappy in spring to find his small fruit trees girdled by rodents who chewed through the bark to feed on the inner layer of the tree. The attack occurred beneath the winter snow and couldn't be detected until it was too late.

But now I know field mice, chipmunks, shrews, martens and wolverines also take advantage of the snow layer to stay comfortable. Insect eggs benefit too, because the snow blanket prevents them from dehydrating in the dry winds, and buffers the freeze/thaw cycle that can cause them to hatch too early to survive. Similar advantages are enjoyed by snakes in burrows. And Ruffed Grouse will dive into the snow and burrow in for the night, much warmer than they would be perched in an evergreen tree.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised at this, because our fellow humans who survived brutal winters decades ago in in what is now northern Canada and Alaska also chose snow for their dwelling " what we call "igloos." Some of these were totally constructed of snow, but others were made of whalebones and hides insulated with a thick snowpack. When temperatures are as low as 49 below zero, human body heat alone could result in interior temperatures of 19 to 61 degrees Fahrenheit in these shelters.

As in all things, more or less of something helps some of the wild ones, while it hurts others. I look at the snowy woods differently now, appreciating something I hadn't thought about before. Having these interesting things to mull helps the winter days go faster for me.

In January, each day gets about 90 seconds to two minutes longer. It is such a gradual change as to be almost unnoticeable, but after the 31 days of January the difference adds up to nearly an hour of extra light per day. In February, each day adds about two and a half minutes of light. The current result is that instead of fighting the urge to go to bed and read starting at 6 p.m., (which I resist with varying degrees of success,) I feel more alert, and I love walking dogs at dawn instead of in the dark.

The wild ones are waiting out the winter in the places that best suit them, and hope for Mother Nature to be kind, as do I. An igloo body-heated to 60 degrees is better than being outdoors exposed to much worse, but I am very fortunate to winter over in a much warmer place.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.


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