Spring is slow to arrive in Rangeley, but the snow is in fact melting and the rivers are flowing again! A few fish are biting and the snowbanks that I have to climb over to stand in the rivers are quickly diminishing. Last week as I stood in the river, bundled up in layers beneath my waders, three osprey circled overhead fishing with me. None of us caught anything, but it was still good to be out on the water.
The birds are starting to come back and forage on the newly bare ground around camp. As I stood on the porch drinking my morning tea a flock of 150-200 dark eyed juncos flew into the yard and surrounded Red Quill on all sides! I stood on the porch amidst them as they flitted between the ground and tree branches feeding for about 7 minutes and then they all flew away. It was a whirlwind of feathers and chirping announcing the arrival of spring.
buried in snow!
For the second time this winter as I pulled into the driveway of Red Quill I could hardly see the windows because the snow banks were so high! It was a clear and bitter cold night; the stars twinkled behind the frozen brittle branches of the birch trees in the back yard. A few deer stood beneath the thicket of evergreen trees and stared at my headlights, their nostrils steaming with breath, their thick healthy coats making them look like miniature elk. I shut my headlights off and strained to see them in the dark. When I got out of the car they had already disappeared into the night.
Around camp I could see the tracks of rabbits and weasels crisscrossing the yard and I added my own footprints to the mix. I was eager to track them in the morning.
Adventure called this winter and it has kept me from writing about what a fantastic winter it has been! I was away in January exploring the jagged peaks and glaciers of Patagonia Chile and Argentina–a truly wild landscape! And although I was happy to be away during the bitter cold start to this season, it was also nice to come home to the cozy fire of Red Quill and fresh snow.
a cozy fire
Adventuring in Patagonia
The porch was warm and the windowsill was lined with wine bottles for Thanksgiving dinner. I snuck out of the kitchen and scooped up my niece in a bear-hug to steal her away for a moment while the cranberry sauce thickened. The house smelled of turkey and pie and the yard was covered in festive winter snow. There was plenty to be thankful for at Red Quill this year and I watched the snow falling as I played with my niece.
I woke up still stuffed with turkey and mash potatoes and looked out of the window to the sun streaking through the frozen tree branches. The snow was lightly falling and everything was covered in glistening white powder—8 inches of new snow!
I headed to the mountain, giddy with anticipation for the first turns of the year on the slopes. Saddleback wasn’t open for the season yet, but I peeled my climbing skins apart and stuck them to the bottom of my skis and we started cutting through the powder to the top of the mountain in the morning sunshine.
Near the top I pointed my tips down the slope and let the first turns of the year rip! The cover was a little thin and I hit a few rocks tucked under the white surface, but as long as I didn’t dig my edges into the snow I could manage without getting too many core-shots to the bottom of my skis. I let the powder fly, occasionally cringing at all the little rocks I could feel underfoot, and then rejoicing when I found deeper snow to turn in. I hooted and hollered leaving a poof of snow behind me. The first ski of the year is pure joy; our laughter rang out on the mountain as we remembered the magic of skiing fresh snow.
sunset on the river
The loons are singing their last calls before flying south for the winter; it is chilling to hear them calling at night and I know it may be one of the last times I hear them for a while. Each time that I hear them I become very still to soak in every last note.
last day of fishing
The river is much colder as I wade in it on the last day of the fishing season. The leaves are starting to turn red and yellow along the riverbanks and the maple leaves match the brook trout’s red fins and bellies. I fish in the cool evening air until my feet start to feel numb and my fingers hurt from pulling brookies off my fly in the cold water. I can smell a few skunks as I walk back to camp at dusk.
I sit with my little two year old niece around the campfire and tell her the story of how the night sky was made. She snuggles into my lap in the cold autumn night and we gaze at the brilliantly speckled sky. When the story ends she simply gazes skyward and a loon calls in the night. I suck my breath in and say “Did you hear that?” “Listen it might call again.” And we both listen for its haunting clear call. I let the sound surround us and we stay still and silent for a bit after its call. Then she stirs in my lap peering at the low burning fire and I pull a log out from the nearby pile, brushing off a few fallen leaves that have collected on the pile and add it to the fire. We sit up late by the fire and listen to the night sounds and watch the starry sky above us and the bonfire flames at our feet.
Nyana at Red Quill
It is Autumn; a time for harvesting the last of the summer’s abundance, soaking in the last bit of warmth during the day, building the first fire in the wood stove at night, and pulling out the winter wool blankets.