Friday, January 21, 2011

It's Really Winter Now

Below zero temps. Wind chill advisories. BRRRR.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tracks and Trails

Last week, tracking was pretty good. The show was deep enough for good tracks, not so deep or powdery that the animals kicked snow in their wake and covered their feet features. But I really didn't think today would be that great. See, yesterday, it snowed... which we needed... the snow from the week before was fast a-meltin'... but then the snow turned to rain. It rained most of the afternoon and evening. This meant that the snow was all covered in an ice crust. It also meant that the weather was, not to put too fine a point on it, crappy. I figured, if I was an animal, I would hope I had enough in my cache that I could curl up on my warm den/bed/nest or whatever and not come out. Or, to be more accurate, I am an animal and if I had enough cash I would have stayed in my warm home and waited until it was nicer. Perhaps late March.

Turns out, I was wrong. Either no one had enough put away, or wet cold isn't a deterrent for the rest of them... we say coyote, rabbit, vole, and skunk tracks without leaving the school grounds. Also some tracks that I wasn't too sure of because they had filled in with ice but actually did NOT look like any of the above in terms of stride. And not just one of each, there were places where it looked like there was a canine convention out there. (No human tracks around. Well, previously. Now there are 22 sets if human tracks.) Birds are out, too, but they don't sink into the snow even if they land upon it right now. I guess it was a pretty good day once I got over myself and got out there... There's a lesson in that, somewhere...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Let it Snow!

It's snowing, snowing snowing...

this winter we've heard on the news about snowfalls everywhere... even the south seems to have more snow than us... School is cancelled below the Mason-Dixon line, and our ground is bare! So, we have a covering now. Not enough for a school cancellation (not that much by anyone's standards) but enough to cover the ground, at least.

Happy day for voles... I think of them often on cold, non-snowy days.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Yellow Bellied

The lake has a yellow flag. I've never seen such a thing, and I'm not entirely sure how to interpret it. To fill you in, across the street from school, there is a flagpole. Underneath the American flag, they fly a colored flag that is meant to communicate the status of the ice vis a vis walking safely upon it. The system is simple... red flag = Stop! Danger, ice not thick enough to safely support you! Green flag = Go. For the past 7 years, those were the choices... and now, all of a sudden, yellow. Proceed with caution, if we continue with the obvious traffic signal parallel. So is that... Feel free to walk on it, but we won't be held responsible if you break through and sink into the frigid waters below, succumbing to the calm of cold as you wish you had exercised more caution at the "proceed with caution" color? Only certain parts of the lake are safe? (Which parts?) We were too lazy to go out and measure the thickness, so we're letting you guess? Things are changing so fast... what with the 55 degree day on New Year's Eve followed by a 22 degree day on New Year's day... that we don't even know what's going on with the ice from minute to minute? I don't know... yellow is my favorite color, most of the time, but this is not a place where I want to see yellow.

Personally, I will be staying off the ice unless the following conditions are met:
1. Green flag, for at least a few days.
2. Very cold weather, so there's no water on top of the ice.
Travelling on ice is not something I did as a kid. I mean, we skated. Quite a lot, when I was young. But we skated indoors, generally, and if not, on ice rinks that were not lakes the rest of the year, but fields flooded for that purpose.

The first time I went on a frozen lake, I was already 23, and we were learning to teach frozen lake ecology at Wolf Ridge, where I did a naturalist internship. We walked down to the lake and got to the edge and everyone else followed right on but I stopped at the edge, a statue paralyzed with fear. Yeah, I saw the truck out there. And the little "house" (if you will). But still. Lakes are not meant to be walked upon. I did go out, after a little coaxing, but for the entire (long, cold, Minnesota) winter, I had to swallow my fear when I taught that class, or had to snowshoe across the lake.

The very worst days were the relatively warm, sunny ones, when a layer of water would from on top of the ice. This was terribly disconcerting. The ice was 15 inches thick under the water, and crystal clear with integrity and strength... but no matter. Snowshoes would get clumps of ice frozen to them and if you slipped, you became uncomfortably wet, and... ugh. Or when there was cracking. The ice would sometimes creak and crack. Again, They assured me that 15 inches of ice would hold even with a crack (or 10, or 8 inches). The ice was floating and a crack wouldn't stop that, and the sheet covered the entire body of water so it's not like the two pieces of ice could split even if there was a crack all the way through, which there actually wasn't. But I didn't care. When the ice moans and groans, it's not because it's welcoming your weight.

All that is to say... I am not afraid to go on the ice (anymore) when I know it's safe. But I don't play around with maybes. Shiver. I don't even like imagining it...