On Saturday, I had an all-day class on tracking and scat. I'm always so amazed at how in just one day I can gain ten times more knowledge than I've ever managed to eek out of books and field guides. Armed with this new knowledge, and track and scat keys, I headed out in the wintery world Sunday morning, in search of mammal signs in my study site--the gravel pit pond near our house.
Unfortunately, it had already snowed an inch or two that morning, and any tracks from the night before were wiped clean away.
We have this funny little basin adjacent to the gravel pit that, despite being only a few inches deep, and despite temperatures well below zero most nights for the last few weeks has still not frozen. I guess it must be a spring. Looks kind of like a hot spring doesn't it? If it were you know where I would be from November through April. Too bad we don't have such things on the east coast.
I tromped across the pond, aiming for a line of what I thought were tracks, but which turned out to be a narrow crevasse, completely surrounding a basin of snow with a wet, brown, slushy patch in the center. Had the weight of all the snow collapsed the ice and forced it underwater? Or is this another never-freezing spring?
Finally nearby, I found some actual real live tracks.
Even though they were somewhat obscured by snow, I figured out they were probably from a gray squirrel, who had scampered down a tree, hopped a few dozen feet across the snow and then vanished into thin air, or perhaps bounded his way over some spindly branches near the ground.
Not exactly another otter, but fun to explore anyway. Later in the day, we all went on a stomp down the river. I left my camera at home--it was snowing pretty hard by then--and just enjoyed. I was a little nervous heading down river after a near-incident on the ice last winter. Although it's been very cold lately, we've also had a lot of snow to insulate the water and prevent the ice from hardening. But we managed to make our usual loop without crashing through thin ice, and we made it in record time. Maybe because the kids are finally old enough to troop along without falling down to rest every ten feet, or maybe because it was too cold to stop and rest or enjoy the scenery. The tall grasses the boys usually like to play in when we make this trek were completely buried by snow and we never even saw the beaver lodge, so obscured by snow it was. Have I mentioned we've gotten a lot of snow this month?
I also begged, bribed, threatened, and generally coerced E and Z into making Valentine's Day Cards for their classmates. They claim the teacher made it optional. I opted for them to opt in. I mean, come on, they're in fourth grade. It's the last year they (and I) will have to do this. We copied this idea (using pre-used tissue paper from my gift-wrap box and cheap watercolor paper from the craft store) only we glued the strips of tissue paper onto whole sheets of paper and cut out the hearts afterward, because efficiency. E snuck outside before I could rope him into part one--the gluing on of strips, so Z and I did it. With each page, he would whine, protest, complain, do it badly on purpose, and then for a few minutes, he'd slip into a "flow" state, focusing, painting glue, laying down tissue, and then it was like he remembered he HATES making Valentines all of a sudden and he'd snap out of it and protest some more.
Later, after the sheets dried, I got both of them to help cut out the hearts and then, the next night, again under duress, they wrote their classmates names on them (writing the four girls' names was especially painful for them; it will be very interesting when they do take an interest in girls. I will remind them of how repellent they once thought they were).
I think they came out pretty cool-looking in the end, sort of stained-glassy. And I also think I am now done with Valentine making forever. I calculated that I've been involved in the making of approximately 395 Valentine cards since M started preschool. And we've made every single one of them from scratch (well, not counting last year's, which we printed from online, and which E still remembers really, really hating). I'm not sure why I've felt compelled to make homemade Valentines...maybe because I'm crazy. Or stubborn. Or have this idea that if my kids learn how to make things by hand now, they'll have the self-confidence and inner resources to not depend on pre-made commercial everything later. Or I'm crazy. In any case, this is one milestone I will not feel weepy about passing by.