January Thaw

     The temperature rose 56 degrees so I thought I’d go see the yaks.
     Perhaps I should explain.
     A farmer about 15 miles south of here has a bunch of Chinese yaks. I thought they’d look good in the snow. They’re enormous orange dudes, with horns out to here. Yak fur is the only way to make a really good clown wig.
     This is all true.
     It was 12 below zero last weekend, so when the temp rose to 44, it felt great.
     It didn’t feel so good, though, after I’d pedaled my bike up that third long hill beyond the Massachusetts state line, and the sun was sinking and there were still no yaks in sight. So I settled for a good look at the frozen beaver pond. (This is a different beaver than the one that chewed down a tree a few weeks ago.)
     The beaver has turned his bog into a multi-level development. There are no angles in it; everything is rounded off – long low dikes wind all through the pond, each section at a slightly different elevation, like a frozen rice paddy.
     Broad Brook enters the pond from the south, disappears under the iced-over beaver paddies, and reappears at the north. Any fish, reptiles or other food that travels in that brook has to pass through Beaverville. All the beaver has to do is patrol his little paddies and snatch lunch as it comes from either direction.
     But that wasn’t the week’s best animal story. The best animal story came before the thaw, after the 2 feet of snow.
     With 2 feet of new snow on the ground, the temperature dropped to 12 below and stayed there. I think a high temperature of 6 degrees is an improper use of the term “high temperature,” but that’s how it was. It was so cold it felt like an insult. People stayed indoors; animals hid. Nothing moved.
     On the third day it rose to 22 degrees, so I ran through the woods along the Green River. The river had frozen, thawed and frozen again. Enormous ice rafts had piled up, glowing translucent blue and green in the winter light. In other places snow and ice still covered the river. Where the water broke through, it ran fast and black.
     Snow muffled sound and weighed down the branches of old oaks and pines. Wind blew clumps from the high branches, and they cascaded down, sparkling in the sun. I ran for an hour and didn’t see a soul except the FedEx guy, who was lost. I sent him on his way and kept running.
     I wanted to see a moose or a bear. I’ve seen all the other animals that live here – fishers and foxes, giant storks and herons, deer and big turtles, snakes and clay-colored salamanders, a big old porcupine, skunks, coyotes and baby raccoons.
     What do the animals eat when there’s 2 feet of snow?, I wondered. They must get hungry.
     Up ahead, bark had been gnawed off a tree. A moose? Deer, probably. Poor deer, gnawing bark in a storm. I ran up to the tree and examined it. Something had clawed or bitten halfway through the trunk, a little higher than my head.
     Well, I thought, running back the other way, maybe I don’t want to see a bear anyway.
 
(Update: I wrote this on Tuesday. I pedaled out Wednesday into an even brighter, warmer afternoon. Before I hit the state line, the sky had turned gray and wind was blowing rain in gusts. I arrived home soaked with cold rain as trees were blowing down. Just now, as I typed the “Update,” a 60-foot oak tree blew over; its topmost branches grazed the window by my desk. This concludes our January thaw.)

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