When you choose to live with nature in a yurt, it is a marriage: you accept the good with the bad. But even the bad can be great in the springtime! We have only been back in the yurt for a few weeks now, but our encounters with the wildlife have been nothing short of enthralling and amusing.
Last autumn, we closed out our season in the backwoods with a visit from a family of four raccoons, who systematically destroyed every bird feeder we had put up while they scavenged for the last meals of the season. A couple of squirrels determinedly decided to winter in the insulation under the platform deck of the yurt, as well, but we were willing to tolerate them for the four bitter months that we were away from our home.
As spring broke this year, though, we found just what damage a couple of active nut-eaters can do to insulation! Our raccoons have returned, as well. What is unusual is that the family of four remains together, with no new litter of kits in evidence. They announced their return by using their can-opener teeth to puncture a Coleman cooler that I had left outside. For dessert, they gnawed their way into a plastic gas canister, filled with mixed fuel for my chainsaw, and dragged the leaking container across the grass. Given their “finger” dexterity, I am glad I did not leave a barbeque lighter around!
Thirty miles north of us, Hecla Island, in Lake Winnipeg, is the summer home of turkey vultures and a few bald eagles. Rarely has either been spotted away from that area, yet, just as the snow melted from our meadow, a bald eagle pursued a mouse, and landed in the field to finish his lunch. It is just one example of the changing patterns of wildlife in the area. We have two mallard couples nesting in the creek bed not fifty yards from the yurt, sand hill cranes that have relocated their annual nesting area from the adjacent farmland to our small meadow, a grouse sitting on eggs under a three-foot high spruce in a clearing only paces from our home and coyotes that have decided that it is safe to howl, nightly, thirty feet away from where we sleep.
Late in the winter, I encountered a lone black wolf (probably from the Hecla pack) that obviously had strayed form its traditional range twenty-five miles north of us.
My wife is less happy with our annual migrant bear, who has, each spring and fall, travelled along our old riverbed with her latest cub. Two weeks ago, she came up to our doorstep with her cub, demolished a sealed garbage container and dragged one of the bags two hundred yards through our garden before tearing into it. As bold as that action was, she showed that she is less wary of human contact than ever, when she returned, during a rainstorm, to the yurt and rooted around the deck. In the morning, her huge paw prints in the wet clay where I had been excavating provided more than ample evidence of her visit.
Fortunately, our resident skunks and badger have not opted to become emboldened, and move in under the yurt platform!
More humorous that dangerous are the romantic interjections of local wildlife. Our ducks and Canada geese have almost finished their courting, calling, dancing and preening, while the frogs continue to be in great serenading voice. There is nothing quite so mood-destroying, though, as the cooing, gurgling and raucous clucking of crows in love. Their grating calls have all the appeal of a screaming baby. On the other hand, who can turn a deaf ear to the Buddy Rich drumming of a male ruffed grouse at 3:00 a.m?
The best of the strutting males though, has to be one of the many sapsuckers in the woods. For six years, he has chosen to drum his mating song not in nearby trees, but on any metal that he can find. Six years ago, it was my old Cockshutt tractor. Then, he found a better sound with an empty 45-gallon steel drum. Last year, it was the tin bonnet on my old camper. This morning, though, he reached the apex of quality music when he found that the roof of our new Prius provided the melody that he wanted.
It is there that I draw the line at passive interaction with nature. Tomorrow morning, I expect to join him with a few well-directed tennis balls to divert his attention from his new $30,000 toy! I expect, however, that, with the abundance of empty containers and old iron in the yard, it will be only moments before our rock-star drummer finds a new beat with which to lure his mate.