Sunday, 11 December 2011

Remembrance of snipes past

Posted to Multiply April 28 2011

A memory of 40 years ago, a time when late April reliably brought warm weather and luminous green trees.

We were living in Christina Lake, about 4 hours from Nakusp, and had bought the land the previous fall. This was the first time we came up here to camp. It was all a lot wilder then. The land went right down to the fence of the big field below without a road in between. It was a wide-open sunny abandoned hay field, gently sloping with a few more level benches, facing more or less South.

An island of big trees in one spot  had been too rocky to cultivate, ever. The rest was not really worth the effort to farm, too sandy/rocky, hence the decision to sell it. We were told so honestly.  On the other three sides there was empty woods, most of it crown land.

On this weekend of April 1971 we had basked naked in the warm spring sunshine, marveling at the idea that we owned these ten acres. In the afternoon the twelve-year old son of one of the hippie-settlers in the neighborhood dropped by. He took it upon himself to show us around.

First a walk through a swamp with blooming skunk cabbages and yellow violets,  past an old log cabin that had belonged to an old Australian trapper, long departed. The cabin is long gone too, and the trail has become a serious gravel road. The trapper's memory lingers on in the name of the road: Kangaroo Trail.

Up a ways we came to a clearing with a strange sort of shelter: a tipi made out of  cedar shakes and clear plastic. A young couple had cheerfully overwintered in it. They were now celebrating the new season in the same way we had. There was a lot of casual nudity in the Kootenays in those years. It was not nakedness in the 'look-at-me!' way. We just had no clothes on in order to feel as much of the sun and the soft spring breeze as we could. It was lovely.

The trail wound on and down into the homestead of F. and R., 15 gorgeous acres of woods and meadow, with a stream running through it and a usable cabin. They had bought it in 1968 for $2500. They were masters at the self-sufficiency game. The cabin may have been basic, but the gardens were brimming with food, there were fruit trees, nut trees, a cow, goats and chickens and pigs. R. even canned a bear once. It had been raiding the homestead and would not be scared away. Said R.,  years later when I expressed my admiration: "I was young, and the bear was dead".

Later we sat around a small fire, with cups of tea made from mint leaves that grew wild around the vernal pond, having dined (among other things) on wild violet leaves and bracken fern shoots. I was deep in my Euell Gibbons and Bradford Angier phase.  Wild asparagus could actually be stalked between Christina Lake and Grand Forks. I wasn't crazy about the marzipan-like taste of the fiddleheads. Later we found out later that edible fiddleheads are the young form of a different fern, and bracken is even a bit toxic. We suffered no ill effects.

As the campfire dies down we look at the stars and take in the deep silence. It was so quiet then. The neighborhood did not have electricity. There were no power tools. You could hear a car go by a few kilometers away on Highway 6. What we did hear was frogs and birds, all kinds of them. The sound I first mistook for starting machinery, popppoppopppp! turned out to be male grouse beating their wings to impress potential mates.

But the sound I associate most with those evenings has only recently received a name. A strange sound, heard mainly at dusk. It comes closer as the bird dives down, hunting for insects? Huuuuhuuhuhuhuhuh. Impossible to imitate. You end up sounding like a loon when you try, but we know loons when we hear them and this is different.

Thanks to a remark from Melanie in Ontario and the wonders of Google our mystery bird has been identified: Snipe. What we heard was a snipe. There is less swamp in the neighborhood than there used to be, and we don't hear this haunting sound nearly as often. But after 40 years it is nice to give it a name.
It is the last few seconds on the link below.

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