No significant snow is bad news for so many of us, but it's great for swamp-tromping.
Last week we had the two grandkids for a few days, one being a 7-year-old, non-stop boy. He was kind enough to agree to explore the white cedar swamp across the road with me. Being short and tough he was ideal for winding his way through, under and over the winterberry and alder shrubs, the stems of which go every which way but straight up. He tended to follow the snowshoe hare tracks when they took the easiest ways, from frozen pool to pool and around the sphagnum hummocks. I followed as best I could.
The swamp was laced with hare tracks, not because there are many hares but because there has not been snow enough to cover up the earlier tracks. The fox, fisher, and coyote tracks following the hare tracks don't bode well for the hares.
Snowshoe hares turn a brilliant white in the winter and are different in other ways from cottontail rabbits, which are rare in the Adirondacks. Hares are the bread and butter of many of our native mammals and predatory birds. These include, formerly, the lynx, and now the bobcat, coyote, fisher, American marten, red and gray foxes, weasels, great horned owl and goshawk. If the other predator, man, does not need them for food, it would be generous of him to leave the hares for the ones who can't go to the supermarket for their survival. Here we do not have the extreme population dips and peaks of the Canadian north, as ours have the lowest reproduction rates for their species anywhere. The sparse population does not need the help of hunters to "control" them.
After almost an hour of tromping we'd had enough track studying, ice chopping, scratches and pokings, and we headed for the road. He could not believe that we were just five minutes from the house. I could, because I have explored cedar swamps before!
The next day we went back to do the part we had gone around before. This time I found him a white cedar and a white pine to climb to see if he could get high enough for an "overview" of the swamp. He's an excellent climber, trained by both me and his father, but the cedar top got wobbly too soon, and the pine ran out of convenient branches. We saw ruffed grouse tracks, and surprisingly, a new animal for him - snow fleas. How could a short person miss those mysterious black hopping specks all those years? I still don't quite understand where they come from out there in the swamp, but I know what they eat-the invisible pollen and algae that come in the wind.
We also found a beautiful little "room" surrounded by a circle of white cedars. We will try to get there in the summer for a picnic or reading books, but it may take some wading through the pools to get there.
A couple days later a friend called to ask if I wanted to go to the cedar swamp that I could not find last summer. I sure did, because this is the one with the amazing bear trail. For generations the bears have tromped a lovely, dry trail through the length of the swamp, standing up and scraping their sign as high as they can reach, and all the way down to the ground sometimes. These are old cedars that have had the bark on their trail sides clawed ragged, or removed completely to the solid inside part of the trunk, which the bears often bite for good measure. And we found many of the long black hairs stuck in the bark, which prove it was not a herd of Boy Scouts doing the damage.
We ate lunch on logs in the foggy quiet of a forest preserve wilderness, where we hope the bears can continue their age-old ways for endless years into the future.