I spent last weekend in Algonquin Park, staying at the Wildlife Research Station by Lake Sasajewun. I was there as part of a 10-month, one-weekend-per month, tracking apprenticeship with Earth Tracks that I’m doing for the second year in a row, this time as part of a pilot second-year program in a work-trade supporting role. The past few months I’ve been helping to write up detailed stories of our days for the Earth Tracks blog. This month my two fellow second-year apprentices took on that task for the entire weekend. So I’ll take share a few of my highlights here, without feeling any need to be comprehensive, and without giving away anything like all of the weekend’s stories. And I’ll share some photos, to balance out all of the writing – the inner tracking – I’ve been sharing recently.
Blueberries are in season. Even if we hadn’t seen any bushes, we would know, because everything is eating them. And mostly they don’t get chewed or digested very well. We came across blueberry scats of all shapes and sizes. Also, sarsaparilla berries in scat – a good mystery that took us most of the day to identify. The clue was their D-shaped seeds. Yes, we do spend a lot of time poking apart animal poop with sticks. But it’s such a wealth of information. Coins, while not much use in the woods, are always useful for scale.
My hand inside a black bear track. There’s something very powerful about putting your hands inside the track of a huge animal like a bear. This track was hard to photograph on its own. A vague shape in the moss caught our eyes, but it was putting my fingers inside it that gave me the jolt of identification. My fingers fit so neatly into the impressions of the bear’s toes. The moss was soft on my hand and I could imagine the spring of it under the bear’s feet. Tracking by feel is surprisingly effective in debris like leaf litter and pine needles, especially with a heavy animal like a bear or moose, or one with sharp-edged tracks, like a moose or deer. Also, it’s exhilarating to take in information through non-dominant senses.
Blissfully cool and beautiful water on a blazing, hot August day. Algonquin Park reminds me of why we gave our older son his name, Lachlan: “from the land of lakes”.
We found huge old moose bones half-buried in the ground, just starting to decompose back into the earth. This is the pelvis. I find the pelvic bone strangely beautiful. I can imagine long ago – or not even so long – in a time and place where everything had a use, these bones being used as masks or fulfilling another ceremonial function. They are gracefully but solidly sculptural, and hold the residual power of reproduction and birth.
Saturday after dinner, we went for a sunset paddle on Lake Sasajewun. The lake was still and the sky clear. It was the night of the August full moon, the “super moon”. My camera never does justice to a photograph of the full moon – oh, I try, believe me! It never looks anything as spectacular and huge as it does in real life. But here is the sky to the west instead. Ohhhh…. We paddled to the north end of the lake, watching beavers and herons, peering into the trees for a glimpse of the moose and bear and wolf we had tracked earlier in the day. As the sky darkened fully, we paddled back south and rafted up in the middle of the lake for a glorious wolf howl. The wolves didn’t howl back… not this time. But they sometimes do.
So many more stories and mysteries from the next day. But I’ll leave it at that. Check out the Earth Tracks blog for more.
Grateful for these wild spaces and the creatures who inhabit them. Grateful that I’ve had the space and support in the past few years to take part in these adventures, and to bring these stories back with me.