Canada: Christmas in September

September 2018

We’ve stumbled into a place of magic. Autumn and winter built a palace, and look at their art!

RMNP snow4

It’s quiet now, with skies lightening after last night’s snow. Spruce grouse wander the roads.

Spruce grouse Sept 18

…roads: pathways past miraculous beauty.

RMNP snow3

And – this!

Bears3 Sept 18

A bear! Three bears in fact; mama and two cubs of the year. They must be wondering who has repainted their forest, but seeing these wonderful creatures contrast the white is spellbinding.

Bears2 Sept 18

Black bears are a special species to me after all the time I spent with them out west. I’ve travelled so far driven by the hope of seeing one again, and here there are three! Christmas come early, I think.

A good moment. A special moment. The type of moment that makes you realise how precious our wild neighbours are.

Canada: Eventide

September 2018

Out there, where land and sky are greeting. Where wind whips the grass into waves, and light dresses hills in gold.

It is wolf country. Can you hear them call?

For ninety years they’ve been gone, but the deer, I think, are still listening. The grasslands never forget their own.

White tailed deer GNP Sept 18

Things that belong to it: implausible ridges cloaked in sagebush.

GNP sundown2 Sept 18

Ghosts of villages that crumbled under Time.

Old barn Sask Sept 18

Trees that grow grackles like autumn leaves.

Grackles in the tree Sept 18

Shallow lakes the locals call ‘potholes’: scars of past glaciation, now tended by muskrats.

Muskrat Sept 18

And roads that redefine infinity.

Farm gate Sept 18

I’m on one of them. It’s been an eventful 48 hours in Saskatchewan, but now it’s time to turn north.

Canada: Song Dog

September 2018

I’m a lean dog, a keen dog, a wild dog and lone,
I’m a rough dog, a tough dog, hunting on my own!
I’m a bad dog, a mad dog, teasing silly [photographers];
I love to sit and bay the moon and keep fat souls from sleep.
Not for me the other dogs, running by my side,
Some have run a short while, but none of them would bide.
O mine is still the lone trail, the hard trail, the best,
Wide wind and wild stars and the hunger of the quest.

– Lone Dog, Irene McLeod

Coyote, spirit of the prairies. What it is to hear them sing!

Coyote 22 Sept 2018

We live in a strange era where the grey wolf is saluted for its ecological importance, and its coyote cousin is often criticised for having the gall not to become endangered. Not a fair judgement. Science has shown that coyotes, too, are keystone predators who have widespread and fascinating influences on the rest of the natural web.

Coyote1 GNP Sept 18

As for wildlife watching value – well, who could ask for more? Coyotes greeting on wild prairie, ruffled by the wind, shadowed by a passing golden eagle.

Coyotes greeting

Golden eagle sask Sept 18

North America has rewritten the book on wolf genetics, and there will probably be more surprises in the future. Current understanding is that the coyote, red wolf and eastern wolf are all close relatives and ancient North American natives. The grey or timber wolf is a relatively recent arrival from eastern Russia. It would have entered North America through the lost land bridge of Beringia, arriving in what is now Alaska.

It is strange that the coyote did not return the favour and migrate into the old world. We have an ecological equivalent – the golden jackal – but no coyote.

But it’s no hardship to travel to this beautiful land to hear them sing.

Coyote2 GNP Sept 18

Romania: Daia – Storm Bells Ringing

June – August 2016

I’m not sure what Daia means in Romanian, but in my mental dictionary it is ‘authentic, beautiful, rustic, irresistible’ 🙂

Meadows at Daia

It is hard to remember that all the world used to be like this. No car noise – merely the sweet chirps of sparrows, and the whinnying of horses.

The streets are old, and stray dogs play in them.

Daia streets4

This is Transylvania at its purest. Daia is everything that a medieval village ought to be. And the transects! If there’s a more beautiful corner of agricultural Europe, I haven’t found it.

Daia transects1

Walking in these meadows is to be lost in a fragrant dream. Crushed thyme infuses the air with every step.

But like all the best parts of the world, Daia is moody – the weather spins on a dime from suffocating hot to something entirely else:

July 29th

Hear the loud alarum bells– Brazen bells! 
Bells, bells, bells! What a tale their terror tells of despair! How they clang, and clash, and roar! What a horror they outpour on the bosom of the palpitating air! Yet the ear, it fully knows, by the twanging and the clanging, how the danger ebbs and flows… (Edgar Allan Poe)

Bells cry from the church tower. Not continuously, but after each peel of thunder, and today there are many. I’m told it’s a ritual; people here believe it will drive the storm away.

The light levels are dropping although it is only 5pm, and wind is licking around the tent corners, but so far no rain. The thunder is more than weather; it sounds like the sky itself is rending like a –

Plastic sheet. I think that’s what I meant to write. In the middle of that sentence the wind slammed into my tent like a tidal wave. I was ready (in the sense of having footwear donned) so grabbed my laptop bag, slammed the laptop into it while running, and bolted for shelter. These clouds are painting grey blotches, circling overhead like aerial hunting creatures.  It’s like being inside a plughole watching the torrent circle.

Storm coming2

Lightning strikes, sheet mostly, and from all possible directions. The sky is a living thing that roars at us. Nearly the whole expedition huddle under the lecture room roof, save the botany team, who are getting a swimming lesson somewhere out on transect.

Bells, bells, bells! They’re still ringing…

The storm consumes itself, and the sky is given over to night.

Daia church at sundown