Wildlife & Tree Brackets

Technically I’m still on Winter Retreat forest practice, but it’s getting pretty hard to ignore the signs of spring. The squirrels outside my kuti have been engaging in quite loud and sometimes shocking territorial combat. After meditating in the long stillness of the snowed-in weeks, with only the distant sound of coy-wolves howling, for me this is pretty exciting. Yesterday there was some sort of rodent-brawl that involved several of them; banging the door, running up and down the porch screens and squeaking with insane intensity.

I was a little afraid to go outside. It is not often I get intimidated by squirrels, but Spring is madness for them.

Along with all that commotion, one of our younger monastics, Vipassi, told me about a plan to build a tree-platform (gasp!) for outdoor practice in a little grove on the new land, and he wanted my advice about constructing it. Well, my mind took that up like a retriever takes a tennis ball, and would NOT let it go. I’ve been designing ‘tree brackets’ in mental space now for 2 days. Maybe it will calm down soon and I’ll get a few more days of peace and quiet before the work year starts up.

We’ve been hearing about the current pandemic, of course, despite being mostly off-line and out of sight in the monastery. The effects reach everywhere. Accordingly we’re being extra diligent about hand-washing and using hand sanitizers. Our social-distancing practice was already in pretty good shape, and we’re quite accustomed to quarantine protocol and sheltering-in-place – have been doing it for years.

More unsettling is how most of our plans for 2020 have fallen apart and vanished like the igloos of February. All travel is now uncertain, meetings and monk-exchanges have been cancelled. We’re cautiously optimistic that our construction and financial plans for the year might still hold together. The foundation for the Dhamma Hall might still happen, if this strange virus business doesn’t persist for too much longer. Otherwise, well, we’ll just respond to circumstances as best we can, like everyone else. The event-tent is still in OK shape and we can keep it going for a few more years if need be.

My old friends Deer and Woodstove kept me company at my kuti all winter once again. Woodstove gave me new lessons, maybe I’ll share them later.

The deer have been getting a little bit of dried corn in the mornings during the worst of the starving season. It’s more complicated than it sounds – you can’t just hand them some corn, you have to be clever about it or else there will be trouble. If you let them eat freely from an unlimited source they’ll gorge on it and this can be fatal when the grain swells in their stomachs, so you have to ration it. It’s best if they don’t make the association “human being = corn”, so I randomize the time I put it out and try to not let them see me doing it. Also, even though they’re so cute and sweet-looking, the deer aren’t nice when it comes to food. They will kick and bite each other, fighting for it if there’s only a single feeding spot.

So, in the very early morning, while they’re still sleeping snug in their curls, I sneak out and deposit a long, thin line of corn kernels along the icy crust bordering one of the trails. It’s only 1 liter of corn, but I stretch it out over 50 meters or so. When the deer discover it, they start jostling for it and then some will notice there’s more over here, and more over there… ‘ In a matter of a few seconds there will be 8-10 does and yearlings strung along the line, nibbling greedily.

Some of them have gotten wise to my tricks. There’s one pair, a doe and her yearling, who camp out next to my kuti. They always catch me when I come out in the morning, ears alert. It’s like being under guard. If I look out my window during the day I’ll often see one of them gazing hopefully at my dwelling, ever watchful…

The point of all this isn’t just to be nice to the deer, though that is fun. I’m also keeping them in the habit of corn-feeding near the deer-bait-station. Lately that’s where I’ve been putting the feed, now that the snow has mostly melted. In another week or so we’ll set up the treatment rollers and start getting them used to that. By mid-spring we should be back to free-feeding and the whole herd will be getting treated for ticks, which should result in less danger from Lyme disease for everyone in the community.

It’s sunny this morning and it’s supposed to go to 10C – practically balmy. There’s still a little bit of snow and ice out there, but less than 3% coverage. It will probably all go this week.

Today’s list of evidence:

  • The magnolias in the ornamental section are showing big buds, they’re always the first out of the gate.
  • Many other plants will be budding in a matter of days.
  • There are robins stumping across the meadows everywhere,
  • and Canadian Geese arguing across the skies, heading north. And lastly,
  • A woodchuck defecated on my porch stoop this morning!

Spring is here.