March 10 (Day 13)
Indeed, it was a warm night…the clothing layers were removed and the outer sleeping bag unzipped. No frost rings my sleeping bag breathing hole. It’s positively summer outside, only –10C at 7am. I’m the first up and enjoy scampering around in long underwear, feeling almost naked with out the bulk of outer clothes. With the over night warming, even the old snow feels thick and soft under foot. Taking water pails in hand, I intend to replenish the supply for breakfast. A fresh crack has developed in the ice along the water hole, and I study the potential for sudden breakage. Not wanting to ‘swim’ with snowshoes, I opt to consult Garrett for his expert opinion. Using the ice chisel, he probes below the snow cover and pronounces it safe – I feel somewhat of a coward, needlessly raising an alarm. With more experience however…the buckets get filled and we return to the tent.
By noon, the temperature is +3C . Thick gray overcast with a definite humidity in the air. Feels like rain. I trail behind Garrett as he heads out ptarmigan hunting. Inspecting the willows for tracks, nibbled branches, Garrett almost immediately spots out the elusive bird, betrayed by its black comb. He fires a shot and wings the bird - it manages to fly off – diligently we search for a body, but in vain. Anther ptarmigan presents itself, this time Garrett blows its head off. Quickly, he grabs the bird by the neck and swings hard about 8 times until the neck and body detach. He covers the body with his hand, gently a gesture of giving thanks, respect or soothing its soul. I also put my hand on top of the feathered body and feel the pulse of heat as life ebbs. What delicate wings and white feathers! Five feet away the head lays frozen and unblinking on pristine snow. Garrett quickly plucks the feathers while the body is still warm, the dark purplish and very naked flesh jarring against the pale plumage. He guts the bird and I inspect the innards: soft looping intestines filled with willow buds, the gizzard loaded with tiny stones, the tiny heart. I feel like a murderess.
Back at camp, not much is happening. People are reading, sewing, weaving, making tamarack geese, writing in journals. A slight break in the cloud cover temps me with my camera but it closes before I can compose what I want. Just then, it starts to rain, pelting hard driven by south-west winds. The tent walls billow in and out, we hunker down warm and toasty inside and relax the balance of the afternoon. My favourite desert for dinner: fruit compote, a warm delicious mix of dates, figs, currents, raisins, blueberries, apples, cranberries, apricots and pineapple. By 10pm, the temperature is heading below freezing and it’s a fuzzy overcast sky.