Hunting Themes

Thoughts Near Christmas

Copyright Lark Ritchie, 1998. All rights reserved.

This past Saturday (December 19, 1998) marked the beginning of winter in this region of Northern Ontario. Although today is the first day of winter (Dec 21st) on Saturday, we experienced our first two inches of snow.

Normally, we can expect our snow to fall and stay sometime during the first or second week of November. I expect this is the snow that will stay until some time in late April. We came close to a green Christmas, but did not quite make it! Ahhhh� tradition still prevails!

I traveled to Chapleau (my home-town) this week-end, to visit with my mother, and on the way came across a Snowshoe Hare (Lepus americanus,) and a Pine Marten (Martes americana,) playing out life�s drama in the wilderness.

It moved me to some thoughts about life in general, and an observation I feel worth sharing at any time, but especially now, as we enter the Christmas season, and a new year.

My encounter with these two animals lasted only a few seconds, but the experience has been with me until at least now, almost some three full days.

The Pine Marten is an animal about the size of a Mink. He is a member of the weasel family, with a body length of about 14 inches, and a tail of about 5 inches. Rather a little guy. Some of you might be familiar with a relative, the Sable. (Think of the movie, �Gorky Park�) The Snowshoe Hare is a bit larger than a Cottontail, weighing in at about 3 -4 pounds on his best days. He has evolved to survive in a snow covered environment, white fur, big feet, and an ability to eat almost any form of vegetation available during the winter months, even the bark of trees.

The Marten, of course, is a carnivore, and like a weasel, proficient in his skills as a hunter and meat eater.

I saw the rabbit first, hopping along the road, having just narrowly escaping from the path of a vehicle in front of me. �Lucky guy.� I thought, as he veered off the highway just ahead. Seconds later, the smaller, brown form of the Marten flashed out in front of vehicle ahead. Leaping, bounding, in pursuit of the rabbit. For the Marten, the vehicle was more a moving rock, his attention was not diverted from his prime objective: To get that rabbit.

I had watched the full scene several times before in past winters.

The rabbit running for life, the Marten, in pursuit, but in little danger, save becoming tired. Most likely, ten to one, the rabbit tires and becomes food. On that one occurrence, the Marten tires, becomes distracted, or becomes prey himself to an owl or hawk while focused on the rabbit. The pursuit can last in the neighbourhood of twenty minutes or more, the rabbit, as rabbits do, veering and circling, the Marten, pushing him on until exhaustion, or in some lucky circumstance, the rabbit loses him.

Those brief seconds brought home to me the value of perseverance; the ability to persist; to endure; to reach beyond discouragement. For both animals, perseverance meant a continuance of life; a future. Succumbing to discouragement ended that future. For the rabbit, an attitude that allowed quitting meant becoming food. For the Marten, an attitude that allowed quitting meant he would not eat, and if this was his predominant nature, he would starve in a short time.

I flashed to my rear view mirror. A lumber truck barreling up behind me, a cloud of snow billowing from each side of the big rig. And, between the rig and myself, the rabbit and the Marten. Hopping and bounding.

My next look through the mirror showed the truck moving out to pass me. I focused on the road ahead, and let him and his cloud of snow pass.

It was 6 days to Christmas, no need for an accident. And being near Christmas, I somehow knew that rabbit had hopped off the road, and that Marten had been scared out of his wits; forced in the other direction, the rabbit lost from his mind.

This was the 19th of December. In two days, we would be moving towards Summer. From the longest nights, towards longer days; slowly, back into the warmth. For animals, and for human beings the ability to persevere is what moves us through time. And when we do, we allow the future to happen. Like the rabbit or the Marten, the future�s not always predictable, but it is there for us to explore�. When we persevere.

I wish you Peace at Christmas, and a Happy New Year in 1999.

Lark Ritchie.

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