Log Cabin Chronicles
Beth Girdler: Doing It Naturally
Beth Girdler
Beth Girdler
is a naturalist based in Ayer's Cliff, Quebec.

Her previous columns are archived HERE.

Posted 03.26.01
Ayer's Cliff, Quebec


Taste of winter's end

Snow fell steadily, big wet flakes of it, all Sunday afternoon and into the evening. As I was crawling into bed that night the wind picked up, the temperature dropped and I fell asleep with a smile on my face.

Sure enough, I wake Monday morning to brilliant sunshine and a minus 10 degree day, perfect weather for a cross-country ski. I eat quickly, load my gear and big black dog into the car and head to a nearby trail.

Silence reigns as I strike out through dense bush first passing through a mixed stand of spruce, fir and cedar. Pools of sunlight dance among the deeper shadows. Suddenly a stream of birdsong issues forth from the uppermost branches of a knot of spruce trees.

The song reminds me of those little imitation, singing canary whistles, sold by carnival barkers at summer fairs.

It is a melodious but crazy song and I know a flock of white-winged crossbills is feeding on the seeds of last summer's bumper cone crop.

The tracks of rabbits, red squirrels, mice, a mink and a fox crisscross my path a hundred stories to be told. I spy the single file footprints of a lone grouse and seconds later their author explodes from the lower branch of a cedar leaving nothing but a few loosened feathers, a waving bough and falling snow.

I stop to inspect a fallen red squirrel nest of shredded cedar bark, rust coloured and sweet-smelling.

Further along, I move into a grove of white birch. Bands of shadow and light flash blue, white, blue, white - by my field of vision creating a mesmerizing strobe effect. Tiny moving shadows thrown by chickadees flitting overhead bring me back to reality just in time as I glide out of the woods and onto the bottom slope of a farmers field.

I am momentarily blinded by dazzling sunshine and an impossibly blue, speckless sky. Last night's wind has wiped any tracks off the surface of the snow leaving sculptured drifts, swirls and ripples. Blue shadow tree fingers reach across the field from the east and as my dog charges past me up the hill completing a scene reminiscent of an Andrew Wyeth painting.

I work my way to the top of a ridge. Behind me is a weaving trail of ski and dog tracks and my own shadow; emerging ahead is a spectacular view of the rolling hills and distant mountains of the Eastern Townships.

I sit a moment on an exposed rock to soak up the beauty of the moment. The hoarse call of a raven and the barking of a farm dog become part of the tapestry and, popping several frozen highbush cranberries from a nearby bush into my mouth, I add a taste sensation to the memory.

Like tart ruby sorbet, the fruit is bitter-sweet, mirroring my conflicting feelings of sadness at the end of a glorious winter and excited anticipation of another joyous spring.

You see - I know something. The writing is on the wall so to speak. All the signs are there. Daylight hours are increasing. Maple sap is running. Catkins are peaking out of their bud sheaths. Raccoons are on the move. A chipmunk joined the red and grey squirrels raiding my feeder.

From the ridge-top, I can hear the territorial drumming of a downy woodpecker. The ultimate and undeniable sign of spring came through the telephone line this morning. My sister called from southern Ontario to say she had seen her first robin! Spring has come on the wings of a bird.

I hold the berries on my tongue and savour the cool, sour sensation. I ski for another few hours, savouring this very special day, one of the last of the season.