An ermine is sniffing my feet

Have you ever noticed that warm, stockinged feet will act like Velcro on a frosty porch? It's a new discovery for me.

Have you ever noticed that warm, stockinged feet will act like Velcro on a frosty porch? It’s a new discovery for me.

Actually, the temperature of my feet is rapidly approaching that of the frosted planks I’m standing on, trying to be still and not scare off the ferocious hunter clad in white. It’s our resident ermine, resplendent in white, battling to free the frozen mouse corpses from our traps. Her jaw clamped on one unlucky peanut butter fan, she jerks and pulls, her long body curling and unwinding like a whip in the effort.

I fear for the skinny wire that tethers the trap to the porch and gingerly move closer, my socks emitting soft sucking noises as the wool fibres tear free from the boards. I try to relax, to exude serenity – animals have such a keen sense for tension, and I’d love to watch the little weasel in action. With lightening speed, the ermine darts underneath the porch. So much for putting her at ease.

The trap’s metal bar has squished the neck and back of the mouse, making it impossible to shake it loose without a bit of a pull. I grasp the cold, soft tail – this is how we manage to touch wild animals, we need to kill them first – and get the stiff little corpse out. The ermine keeps poking her head up through the cracks in the floor boards, scoping out the situation (will the human steal my breakfast?). I entertain brief thoughts of holding the mouse out to its nemesis but can’t quite work up the nerve to sit with a dead rodent in my hand, waiting for a weasel to bite.

Instead, I hurl it off the porch into the leaves, one dead animal joining dead vegetation. I creep away from the traps and stand still, emptying myself of all expectation and excitement, letting my limbs grow heavy and my breathing slow. The ermine flashes back up on the boards, hops over to the now empty trap, sniffing in dismay. No mouse! She checks all around the trap, briefly tries to scale the cabin wall as if her breakfast might have vanished that way, and begins to zip all over the porch at dizzying speed.

Into the section of stovepipe and out again, a short rummage through the cardboard box with paper scraps, across the flowerpot, over to the bucket trap, halfway up the cabin wall, off the porch and back up through the boards. I’m starting to get motion sick. Can’t she smell the mouse in the leaves? Suddenly, the ermine screeches to a halt, or she would screech if this was a movie. Perched on the edge of the veranda, she sits, her body one intense muscle, and looks at me. Really looks at me. One of those moments when an animal doesn’t just register your shape and slaps the label “human” on you, but when its glance fastens on your eyes and something, some recognition akin to wonder, passes. An attempt at contact, at communication.

Goosebumps run down my arms as they always do when this happens. I stare into her inky black eyes, her ferocious small life, and she slowly comes closer, her eyes still fastened on mine. Her body undulates sensuously as she walks, none of the hectic jumping now, she carries the black tip of her tail like an exclamation mark behind her.

Tension starts to rise in me, I try to let it pass, get rid of it. The ermine has almost reached me now and stops, way down there on the floor boards. I’m acutely aware of our size difference – she’s so far away. Maybe she’s thinking the same thing. Her glance lets go of my eyes, slides down the length of my body and comes to rest on the blue wool socks, on my feet. A brief image of ermine teeth sunk into my toes flares across my mind. Her head an inch away from my feet, she stretches her neck and sniffs at my toes.

The spell breaks, she turns away and hops back across the veranda, but more at ease now it seems. Every now and then she comes close again, runs a circle around me and finally races off into the leaves. And then, hallelujah, she finds the mouse. With the stiff corpse in her teeth, she comes up on the porch once more, thinks better of it and vanishes underneath the cabin.

I become aware of my icy feet. With a hiss, the frosty boards release me and I stalk back inside to thaw out, awash in happiness. It’s not every day that an ermine sniffs my feet.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

City of Whitehorse’s Selkirk pump house on Selkirk Road in Riverdale on Jan. 26. Whitehorse city council decided Jan. 25 that there will be no advantage for local firms planning to submit proposals for the final report and design of a second barrier water treatment project for the Selkirk pump house. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
No local content weighting on pump house contract

Work will see design for water treatment system

The Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board is issuing $10 million in rebates to employers this month. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Yukon employers to receive $10-million in rebates from Workers’ Compensation Board

Eligible employers will receive cheques based on total premiums paid in 2020

Connie Peggy Thorn, 52, pleaded guilty Jan. 27 to manslaughter in the 2017 death of Greg Dawson. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Whitehorse woman pleads guilty to manslaughter in death of Greg Dawson

Connie Thorn, 52, was arrested in October 2019 and pleaded guilty in Supreme Court on Jan. 27.

Abigail Jirousek, left, is tailed by Brian Horton while climbing a hill during the Cross Country Yukon January Classic in Whitehorse on Jan. 23. Jirousek finished second in the U16 girls category. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Cross Country Yukon hosts classic race

Cross Country Yukon hosted a classic technique cross-country ski race on Jan.… Continue reading

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver talks to media on March 5, 2020. The Yukon government said Jan. 25 that it is disappointed in a decision by the federal government to send the Kudz Ze Kayah mining project back to the drawing board. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Territorial and federal governments at odds over Kudz Ze Kayah mine project

The federal government, backed by Liard First Nation, sent the proposal back to the screening stage

Yukon RCMP’s Historial Case Unit are seeking the public’s help locating Bradley MacDonald, a 42-year-old man who has been missing since Aug. 5, 2019. (RCMP handout)
Historical Case Unit seeks man missing since 2019

Yukon RCMP’s Historial Case Unit are seeking the public’s help locating a… Continue reading

Yukon RCMP said in a press release that they are seeing an increase in tinted front passenger windows and are reminding people that it is illegal and potentially dangerous. (RCMP handout)
RCMP warn against upward trend of tinted windows

Yukon RCMP are seeing more vehicles with tinted front passenger windows, prompting… Continue reading

An arrest warrant has been issued for a 22-year-old man facing two tickets violating the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em>. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Arrest warrant issued for CEMA violation

An arrest warrant has been issued for Ansh Dhawan over two tickets for violating CEMA

The office space at 151 Industrial Road in Marwell. At Whitehorse city council’s Jan. 25 meeting, members voted to sign off on the conditional use approval so Unit 6 at 151 Industrial Rd. can be used for office space. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Marwell move set for land and building services staff

Conditional use, lease approved for office space

The bus stop at the corner of Industrial and Jasper Road in Whitehorse on Jan. 25. The stop will be moved approximately 80 metres closer to Quartz Road. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
UPDATED: Industrial Road bus stop to be relocated

The city has postponed the move indefinitely

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment in Faro photgraphed in 2016. Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old building currently accommodating officers. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Faro RCMP tagged for new detachment

Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old… Continue reading

In a Jan. 18 announcement, the Yukon government said the shingles vaccine is now being publicly funded for Yukoners between age 65 and 70, while the HPV vaccine program has been expanded to all Yukoners up to and including age 26. (1213rf.com)
Changes made to shingles, HPV vaccine programs

Pharmacists in the Yukon can now provide the shingles vaccine and the… Continue reading

Parking attendant Const. Ouellet puts a parking ticket on the windshield of a vehicle in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 6, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is hoping to write of nearly $300,000 in outstanding fees, bylaw fines and court fees, $20,225 of which is attributed to parking fines issued to non-Yukon license plates. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City of Whitehorse could write off nearly $300,000

The City of Whitehorse could write off $294,345 in outstanding fees, bylaw… Continue reading

Most Read