The Cabin Fever Trail
Our farm sits on the edge of thousands of acres of logging company land. Every year, patches of the trees reach maturity and are cut down and carried off to make paper. The deal is, in exchange for a lovely tax break on all that land, the logging companies have to give full access to the public. The result is that we live on a farm on the edge of thousands of acres of public land. Our dog, Maple, and I push further into this expanse every chance we get.
The perk of having a dog made for negative temperatures and hauling wood is that nothing stops us. I set out to make a snowshoe route around our property, something that, once created, could be walked easily as a way to get outside without the strenuousness of breaking fresh trail with snowshoes. The trail soon extended past the boarders of our property and into the endless logging land. I call this route The Cabin Fever Trail. I like to keep tabs on the wildlife that cross and use our the trail, whether it be a red fox, ears ever cocked mouse-ward, or a deer, transitioning from bedding to browsing, or a coyote, on patrol. Every once and a while a lone wolf, a wolf not associated with a wolf pack, will wander through our area and will use the trail for some relief from dragging its belly through the snow. On one occasion, while examining the countless trails of snowshoe hare that dart amongst the young hazel, I came upon a unique and unmistakable track of a lynx. A dispersing lynx can travel hundreds of miles and I suspect it was one such individual that graced our land with its silent but profound presence.
I am always amazed at the creatures that are adapted to live, year-round, in the north woods. In northern Minnesota, the temperature can shift 130 degrees F from mid summer to mid winter. Some animals, like black bears, sleep through nearly 5 months of the year to avoid having to face some of the most frigid conditions head on. Still other species face both the summer highs and winter lows. For example, the white-tailed deer enjoys a bounty of green leaves and grasses, seeds and nuts, in the spring through the fall. Once winter comes to the land, life changes. Suddenly every deciduous leaf is gone, every blade of grass has died and dried and is beneath a foot or more of snow. All there is for them to eat are next years buds, and evergreen twigs, at least only those that can be reached. Each bite of food is small and spread out. This lean time coincides with subzero temperatures that requires more energy to stay warm and movement through deep snow that covers the land, drifts around field edges, settles twice as deep in meadows and, perhaps most importantly, slows any escape from ever present wolves. Life is hard, and it stays hard for 5 months.
Maple sticks her nose in every hole in the snow made by wandering deer looking for its next bite of food. Maple does not know such struggles nor does she smell her next meal in those tracks as her relatives do. She bounds and runs with the assurance of three meals a day and a warm stove to curl up by each night. Perhaps she knows what struggles she avoids by being a dog, by being domestic. Perhaps it is the reason for her constant joy and more likely still, her strong affinity for me.
As the sun burn like a coal behind the silhouettes of balsams and spruces, we make our way back home, our cabin fever cooled, toward the pillar of stove smoke that assures us of warmth, of dinner, and of comfort. I can’t speak for the dog, but my mind is on those we leave behind, those who are about to enter into another long winter night in the north woods.