Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Inside a Porcupine's Brain: Winter Tracking 2014

I am not sure why seeing a porcupine's trail in the deep snow makes me philosophical.

Perhaps it's because of the limited range of a porcupine. When the snow is deep, it doesn't take as long to find its den. Less trudging through the snow, more thinking.

Of course, I can track beavers to their holes in the ice that leads to their lodges.

But porcupines are there for the touching, though I won't advise that. Leslie followed the trail while I took a photo of the porcupine's recent meals, patches of gnawed bark up pine tree trunks.

When I got to the tree where the porcupine had its den I told Leslie I didn't see it and she told me to get closer. I saw the quills, but, didn't  thrust the camera close to the porcupine.

Not that porcupines panic when they are in their den. Last March I got a photo of a porcupine that didn't quite fit into the trunk.

I was impressed that its quills were relaxed. Being inside the trunk of a large tree must be therapeutic. No doubt a porcupine finds its center inside a tree.

But philosophically speaking there is no center in the woods. Stepping back from the tree, the porcupine's tracks in the snow proved that.

Turning around I saw further proof in the continuation of the porcupine's trails in the snow.

If only I could have climbed the tree and taken a photo from the top to make apparent how the woods stretches the brain of the animal that thrives in it.

At this time of year I make my own presence felt in the woods, not as the ever philosophical tracker but on my own account. I cut down trees for next winter's firewood. Logging, for I do drag logs out, is universally depicted as a heroic act, and what I mean by "heroic" is unthinking. Man sees tree, chainsaw roars, and timber the tree is down on the ground, especially when a mass of men sets out to level the trees for profit. But one person in the woods in the winter, colder the better, with only a hand saw begins to get an inkling about why the mammalian brain is shaped with such convolutions. The brain must comprehend four dimensions in a deceptively unpredictable realm. Trees hang around a long time and each has its quirks.

Let me hasten to add that this is not an instantaneous realization, not instinctual fear of the dark woods. It grew on me. I evolved to the point where the woods became my brain. Animals come to this realization much more quickly since their survival depends on it. Plus the brain of any tree climbing animal like the porcupine must evolve beyond our flat screen thinking cap.

Of course, I can't illustrate all that with photos but toward the edge of the woods I stumbled upon the works of a smaller porcupine. Its gnawing on a pine tree seemed large enough

But the den was just a few feet away

Note the smaller trough and the bark stripping at the base of the smaller tree. This porcupine didn't have the brain yet to command the woods with the elegant curves and angles of it deep troughs (deep thoughts). It climbed the nearest trees and stripped what may.

Now brainy as I make myself out to be, did I make any scientific observations to prove this not uninteresting distinction between the foraging of mature and immature porcupines, for example, try to eyeball this less venturesome one and prove that it was indeed smaller?

No way. Too damn cold for unpaid work. The golf course between me and home was a few feet away. Once again I had the cold wind blowing my brain back to its puny size. No wind chill in the woods. How my brain can stretch there, 

though if you saw me you'd think I was just looking dumb up into the trees and not see the man looking for his god.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Ice Paintings Pond Sculptures: January Abstracts 2014

Just before the snow squall the snow already on the ice picks up and flies blurring the islands and obscuring the eagles picking at the deer carcass out on the ice.

Because of the cold wind in my face, I can only look up and stare into that distance a few seconds at a time.

I prefer the beaver ponds and the trunks of the dead trees on the ice.

The snow adds blue shadows.

Death warmed over abstracted into a blue line.

There, I always thought, was art unmade. Then I went out today and saw a woodpecker’s signature.

There are paintings on the ice surfaces of the beaver ponds

But this year the snows covered those masterpieces. The flash freeze of the near reaches of the river that had remained unfrozen

invited us to shuffle head down and imagine we were walking on gallery walls.

The cracks convinced us that we were on something

Less dangerous

And trust that slippery masterpieces

Don’t become too seductive

It will take a thaw before we can take a piece home and hang it on the wall behind our stove.

Compared to such cold abstractions, the winter sky can seem too mannered