Moose alarm! I don’t even try to get my eyelids unstuck, they’re too heavy, motionless like my limbs at this ungodly hour. Wilson barks again. Words rumble their way up through my chest and throat, out through sleep-clenched teeth into what I presume to be darkness: “Shut up.” Too tired to add an exclamation mark.
Sam rolls over on his side with a heavy sigh. My mind hovers in semi-consciousness, ready to snap at the puppy, ready to slip back into the dream I just had; something about looking for things and not finding them. Ah, too much like reality. “Ruff,” goes the dog once more.
I raise my head a quarter inch off the pillow to muster more authority. “Wilson, no. Go on your blanket.” Plonk. Dog on blanket, head on pillow. Back to sleep.
It’s great to have moose around the cabin until you get yourself a puppy with the urgent need to alert his family members to all nightly movements of these creatures. Though sometimes, he barks at other things, quite possibly at spooks that leave no tracks. Now that there’s snow, it’s easy to check up on his alarm calls in the morning.
What a traitor winter is: serving up all tracks to us sight-hunters, too underdeveloped in the fine art of smelling and too insensitive to hear much. Unlike Wilson. I circle around the cabin on my morning chores, hauling up water from the creek and feeding the chickens. He was right last night – here are the hoof prints of a cow and, a bit further off to the side, her calf.
I wander along their tracks to where they stopped to give the wild saskatoons their annual pruning: the core of the amputated twigs glints fresh and greenish. Then a few spots where the snow has been brushed away on the ground and grass is trimmed to lawn-bowling shortness. I abandon the moose tracks to walk over to the chicken coop where, lo and behold, the cow and calf are continuing their breakfast.
“Morning,” I greet them and earn an astonished stare from the calf as if it was most surprising that people should be where people smells and buildings are. Moose calves seem to be stuck in a perpetual state of wonder and surprise. His mom twirls her ears, the equivalent of a shoulder shrug as far as I can tell. While she gets back to munching willow twigs, I sneak a quick peek at her bell, trying to be all professional and bushwise in my moose identification.
But no, she’s not the cow who was keeping us company last winter, unless she completely rearranged the dangling flap of fur underneath her chin. That’s a bit of a let-down; I’d been looking forward to sagely report that I recognized this cow. But I don’t. I let the chickens out and check for signs of undue ermine interest around the enclosure but only find a mouse highway. This is an opportune time to find out who is behind the theft of strawberry leaves – the snow should give the culprit away that has been steadily chewing his way through the plants, leaving only the leaf stalks pointing up into the air like unwilling nudists reaching for their clothes.
In the garden, I find reason to apologize to the resident voles. It wasn’t them, my main suspects, it was a snowshoe hare. Quite possibly the same one who’d made a cozy bed for herself in the box of carrot greens a few weeks earlier, leaving a few rabbit pellets in the centre of the compacted greens as a sign of appreciation.
Back at the cabin, small dots of ermine feet indicate that my weaselish friend is still busy harassing the mouse population; a much better occupation than attacking our chickens. Satisfied that all is order in my world, I go back inside to put the feed bucket away. Once the sun has mustered enough energy to climb over the mountains, if not through the clouds, we’ll go and see what went on in the woods since yesterday. Maybe some bear tracks? Though what I’m really hoping for is wolverine. Even if we’ll find no tracks other than rabbit and marten, there’s still the possibility that something was around – Wilson’s trackless spook.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.