Neither living nor dead
Last year, wolverines. This year, fishers. As in the bigger of the tree weasels. There’s never been a confirmed sighting in Glacier since the park came into being in 1910. Plenty of crusty folks in the park, young and old, have seen them, but anecdote however experienced is not science. I’ll be part of a few trips in the next months to set hair and camera traps to confirm if they’re around or not. And just as with the wolverine trips last year, a large part of the appeal is an excuse to get out in deep winter, as well as having access to patrol cabins to make that more luxurious.
This past weekend Lauren and I headed up McDonald Creek on a route very similar to one I did this time last year. Little could conditions have been more different. Last year we were in the three-day-long teeth of the first major storm. This year winter, and the snowpack, is already well along. The cabin had over twice as much this year versus last, and on the way in we had sun and a nice supportable crust.
The gear and field protocol are less onerous this year. Instead of deer legs, we have frozen chickens encased in wire. These are tacked to a tree in a likely spot (old growth preferred), a little house erected over them with folded plastiboard, and wire gun brushes screwed to the trunk a ways below the opening. Ideally curious Fishers will smell the meat, come to eat, and leave fur behind. Stations in particularly good spots get motion-capture cameras.
The coupe de grace remains adding trapping lure to the tree so that the carnivore-attractant deck will be stack. As Lauren demonstrates, this stuff (beaver gland concentrate, among other ingredients) smells incredibly bad. It didn’t take us long to get the setup pretty dialed, though sinking drywall screws into old growth with a leatherman isn’t especially efficient.
Why the dramatic title? I’ve been suffering from varying degrees of the death cold for over a week now. Last Sunday and Monday were spent in a haze on the couch, and while I was able to work the later part last week my productivity was rather scattered. I wasn’t going to miss the trip though, hacking cough aside the boredom of staying home would have done more damage. It made for an interesting experience; going through a bagful of Halls Vitamin C drops to keep my throat alive and experiencing the altered thermoregulatory regime which comes with an off-kilter system. Get hungry, eat, sweat a lot for some odd reason, then (when outside in single digit weather) work hard to keep from getting chilled. Obviously having a nice cabin with an especially efficient wood stove made this all doable. All of this is to say that while the memories will be a bit different, the beautiful conditions and unique luxury of barefoot comfort in the middle of the wilderness were as poignant as ever. All I’m really left with today is a happier outlook and an annoying cough that really has no good reason to still be around.
The first of many to come.