Winter is beginning to feel long here in late February, as the temperature dropped below zero for the umpteenth time again last night. Today’s crisp, clear, still weather does elevate the spirit, though. We took a walk in the sunlight to start the day — a good way to fight seasonal affective disorder at this time of year.
I’d guess that the creatures in the woods are having a harder time than we are. We and our neighbors have been seeing more of them lately; they seem to be getting hungry. Last Wednesday, as I was packing a bag for a short trip to Boston, Wendy called from her office, “Mark! Come quick! Come quick!” And there in the back yard was the first fisher cat I have ever seen in broad daylight, jet black against the snow. (I’ve seen them in the headlights before, skulking by the side of the road; they’re generally nocturnal.) He (she?) was healthy and chipper-looking, easily three feet long, a good portion of that length being a strong, shaggy tail, and he seemed to be snooping around for food, which, in a fisher’s case usually means flesh or blood, as I understand it. The first time we visited this property, we hung around admiring the place for a while after the realtor left, and the neighboring dairy farmer and his wife drove up the dirt road (they and their family are the only other inhabitants on this dead end) and stopped for a long chat. I’ll call them Bob and Marilyn. At one point, they began telling us animal stories, and Bob, who pastures a few heifers and grows hay and sweet corn on some of our fields, told one about seeing a fisher the previous spring trying to drown a baby fawn in the stream that runs through our property.
The fisher we saw last Wednesday looked beguilingly friendly, although I wasn’t close enough to see the icy weasel eyes. He was quivering with energy and intelligence as he checked out the empty chicken house in the backyard (where a squirrel and a vole or two are headquartered for the winter) wandered across the small frozen pond next to it and meandered downhill in the strip of woods that follows the stream where the attempted and perhaps successful drowning took place, checking out the trees for living inhabitants. Not finding any, he followed the stream across the road and down toward the Connecticut River.
That same day or the next, a bobcat nabbed a chicken from a neighboring friend’s coop. She happened to be outside when the cat came by the following day, hoping for another treat, and the cat was utterly unconcerned by her presence, even when she called to her roommate, who also came out to watch. The cat turned and stopped, looked them in the eyes for a while, and took its own sweet time wandering away.
It’s nice to know there are such healthy critters in the woods, but Wendy kept the cat inside for a day or two.