Tides of Spring

Whoa slow down!!

About two weeks ago my wife, Nancy, and I had finished up some serious trekking in Kauai and watching the daily comings and goings of surfers. We came back home to nearly two feet of snow and over the following week we watched the packed, crystalline water take on a more liquid state as it disappeared under warming south winds.

One week upon returning, I watched my first bluebird of the year, followed the next day by half dozen red-winged blackbirds, followed the next day by the primeval calls of a pair of sandhill cranes. And then it was a handsome male harrier kiting over the field. Clearly the migratory cascade was underway.

These are the signs that spell spring far better than the tick of the clock and the turning of calendar pages. And now, as I type these words wearing a pair shorts, I look out the window and can spot only vestiges of snow patches. Taiga, our 120 pound, “sled dog,” moves frequently from his usual pone position, seeking these shrinking cool patches to lay on.

And while the world is accelerating towards spring, I have my Sorel boots, ice auger, snowshoes, winter camping sleeping bag and assorted camping gear and sleds piled in front of the garage. In less than two hours we, like the stream of migrant birds will move north in pursuit of a retreating winter.

In 24 hours my brother-in-law, Bill and I will be pulling our gear even further north as we move into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. While one can safely assume that we will not likely have to deal with bitter sub-zero temperatures, I am far more concerned about a greater threat and that is getting wet. And getting wet is far more of an issue when confronting hypothermia possibilities. So, we have extra boots and clothes and our accumulated gear looks like a deportation station.

Given that this is the last week we can fish lake trout, we felt compelled to help our families in securing necessary protein, high in Omega fatty acids. Someone has to do it. I’m hoping while I practice the ancient art of hunting and gathering, I can watch the cavorting courtship flights of ravens.

And if the going gets a bit rough, and a moment of humor is needed to lift the spirits, I will break out my packed pair of shorts, stained from the red dirt of the Kalalau trail and my Hawaiian shirt.

Musk Ox Warming

I clutched the musk ox fur inside the boiled wool liners of my weathered leather mitts. I am thankful for this shaggy beast that lives on as a relic of the ice age where it shared the landscape with wooly mammoths.

I have a passion for the arctic. Recently I have been thinking of the arctic as the threatened home to musk ox.

With humans impacting climate change by the increased release of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, it saddens me to think of the rapid change in the arctic. Some scientists are forecasting an ice-free arctic before 2050. And what will come of the overdressed musk ox?

No mammal in North America has longer guard hairs. The two-foot long hairs hang straight down giving this beast, that is more goat than ox, a push broom appearance.

Oomingmak is the melodious Inuit word for musk ox. The translation is “the bearded one.” This beast thrives in the arctic winters because of its soft, thick under fur. The Inuit call the wool “qiviet.”

I live in Minnesota, but my hands clutch a ball of qiviet inside my mitts as I drive a tractor pulling a hay wagon of firewood.

Over twenty summers ago, I journeyed to the high arctic. While hiking on the tundra, I discovered clumps of shed musk ox under fur clinging to stunted willow shrubs. Attracted to the soft sensory pleasure of simply handling it, I stuffed handful after handful into my pockets.

On hikes, I jammed my chilly hands into my pockets.  They quickly warmed in the nests of qiviet. I brought a zip-lock plastic bag full of of the soft underfur home to Minnesota.

On a cold winter day, my fingers always prefer the company of each other. That is why I choose loose fitting mitts instead of gloves. Gloves condemn each of my fingers to a cruel sentence of solitary confinement. Alone, without the ability to snuggle with each other gloved fingers soon turn numb and useless.

I am to the point that my stash of qiviet is almost gone. Each winter I freshen up each of my mitts with a small handful of under fur. By winter’s end the wool is matted into a tight ball. The compressed hair no longer effectively insulates my hands.

As I pull into our driveway, my face is cold enough to crack but my fingers are cozy in the comfort of qiviet. If I make it back to the arctic, will the change be too much to bear? Will the musk ox survive? In a world that is gradually warming I fear that my Minnesota winter will be experienced without the company of qiviet.

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