This and That

Red foxes have been upgraded from threatened to abundant in the woods where I'm working.

I think I speak for all of us in expressing thanks for the natural order that’s been restored by January’s cold. Two weekends ago I was still afraid to walk on the lake ice around here. By last weekend there was six inches of marginal ice – enough that we went ice fishing for the first time. By tomorrow I’ll bet there’s 10 inches. The shanties are going to bloom on the heavily-fished waters like crocuses in April.

Dad and I have been logging in our sugarbush, where we’re creating songbird habitat, harvesting firewood and some sawlogs, and releasing some crop trees. The cold weather has finally tightened things up enough that we’re not holding our breath as we skid out every hitch. Ideally there would be more snow – without it we’re scuffing up roots a bit here and there and I’m worried about Armillaria – but this is our window to cut, so it is what it is. We’d never get anything done if we let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

I’ve struggled with sharpening saw chains my whole life – I’m just not patient enough. But our friend Scott Maguire let us borrow a nifty two-in-one saw sharpener that files the cutting teeth and rakers at the same time. We don’t normally endorse products, but I’ve got to say I love it – it’s the best sharpen I’ve had in years. Stihl makes the model I used.

I’ve been struck by how much fox sign I’m seeing in the woods where we’re cutting, and in the adjacent meadows. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you might remember a piece that ran almost exactly two years ago, where I wrote: Growing up, I’d see foxes clamoring up manure piles, chasing each other during mating season, feeding with their puppies on wild strawberries that were growing outside their den. And I never remember seeing coyotes. Now it’s the exact opposite. I do still see some fox sign, but it’s probably 10 to 1 coyote to fox. The old fox dens sit empty, for the most part. And so I’m pleased to report that I’m officially an unreliable narrator. Every skid road was littered with fox prints last week – they’re starting their breeding season activity. And a week of trail camera footage on one such road had foxes outnumbering coyotes 6 to 1.

The lesson here is that nature is complicated and enormous and so much bigger than what we can possibly observe. It’s human nature to extrapolate, but this can get us into trouble if we don’t take our extrapolations with a dose of shoulder shrug. We have a bad deer season and we think there are no deer. We’re not covered in black fly bites during a May hike, so we assume there’s got to be something wrong with the ecosystem. The maple in the yard has crown damage so it’s got to be global warming or acid rain and portend something catastrophic. I’m ribbing us kindly – I’m as bad as anyone in this regard, and have at times in my life worried about everything I just wrote. The point is simply that there are a lot of variables we can’t see and correlations we don’t understand – there’s both solace and power in this acknowledgment. There’s a lot of room to learn and observe between the Pollyanna and everything is-going-to-hell extremes.

In other random news, I bought a copy of Bill Gove’s new book last week, called Logging Along the Moose River. It’s a history of the early timber industry in the Victory, Vermont, area. If you’re familiar with the Victory basin, you’ll enjoy the old pictures and stories from this bygone era.


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