On the Inside, Looking Out

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Embrace it, endure it, or leave. Winter doesn’t offer many choices and for the better part of this past week the best option has been to endure, hunker down and hope for the best.

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The sun shines brightly, through a lens of frigid arctic air, but the wind cuts like a razor and going out to do chores is, at best, a chore. Numbers on thermometers tell incomplete tales, unfeeling statements of fact, and over the years I have developed my own crude methodology to quantify cold. Completely unscientific and more than a bit subjective, it involves such things as the speed at which boogers freeze and the distance I can travel across the dooryard before I find myself doubled over and cussing. Based on those measurements, the cold this week qualifies as “pretty darn freakin’.”

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It’s also darn freakin’ pretty.

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After six days of hiding indoors, there’s an urge to go out, not so much to embrace the season as to defy it, so when the full moon comes up the armor goes on for a trek in the moonlight. Among popping trees and over thumping ice, coyotes howl and wind-blown snow sparkles like diamonds but after a couple of hours of that nonsense, there’s a serious urge to go in and embrace the stove.

The mixed flock of chickadees, nuthatches, and redpolls have been working the feeders through the cold. The seed they knock to the ground feeds mice and voles, which a pair of coyotes has discovered, but most other creatures in the neighborhood spent the week curled up in a hole, trying to stay warm, just like me.

Just like me, they’re also ready to get out again and this morning I saw a fox trotting down the road, looking ahead for a meal while also looking back, aware that it could just as easily become someone else’s meal. Everyone is hungry out there, after a deep snap like this, and the search for food goes on for as long as it takes. The fox risks death, taking what the coyotes consider theirs, and night creatures will work all day if that’s what it takes to survive.

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With coffee in hand, I sat in my blind (which is cleverly disguised as a house) and watched a flying squirrel this morning, a rare treat. Both shy and nocturnal, I can count the flying squirrels I’ve seen on two fingers.

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To the ground for a seed, to the tree to eat it, this flying squirrel spent an hour going back and forth. I have twenty shots that all look alike, so regular was its routine. Again and again, it sat still long enough for one picture before streaking away, returning five seconds later to the same place.

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Foxes and flying squirrels take big risks to survive on days like this but I don’t have to and, as much as I like going out to take pictures of animals and frost, I have to admit that sometimes it’s just as nice to be on the inside, looking out.

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Categories: nature, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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9 thoughts on “On the Inside, Looking Out

  1. kengortowski441

    We had flying squirrels around a few years ago. At dusk, I thought they were bats going from tree to tree. We had a small platform feeder nailed to a tree and would put sunflower seeds out for them every day then sit and watch them. They would come to expect the seeds and sit and wait for us if we were tardy. I have pictures of my wife petting them as they sat and ate. One day the racoons took over their hole in the tree and they disappeared.

    • We usually have the little red skwerls, which are not welcome within 30 feet of the house or the barn because they’re so destructive. This guy was kind of cute and it was so cold I couldn’t bring myself to chase it away.

      Had skwerls in the barn this spring but the racoons took over and the skwerls disappeared but that whole deal worked out badly for all of us.

  2. hookandhackle

    My inlaws had about six of these little guys in there back yard one summer. We all would sit on the deck watching them squirrel their way through the wire mesh surrounding the feeder. One evening we noticed they were gone but in the distance we heard the distinct screech of a barn owl.

    • I have a feeling the barred owls around here are one reason I don’t see flying skwerls more often. I thought this was a chipmunk at first, when I saw the stripe, but he was much too fast and polite.

  3. Never had the good fortune of photographing Rocket J. Squirrel like this, but one winter long ago I had to take out a small army of his drones that had encamped somewhere in my eaves and made a nightly racket in the attic. Hated to trap them, but they wouldn’t leave, even after patching the eave. Squirrel is kinda cute!

    • No one I’ve talked to has had just one! The average seems to be a dozen or more, and the last few are a lot harder to catch than the first few. When a skwerl decides a place is home, it sure can be hard to convince them otherwise, especially when they’re cute.

  4. hookandhackle

    By the way. Great blog. I’ve spent the better part of an evening perusing your essays and enjoy the writing very much. Thank you.

  5. Flying squirrels inhabit the same realm as tree frogs. You know they’re out there but rarely see them. Very cool stuff.

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