Yukon Trail Building, Animal Tracking

All winter I worked on a trail going due south from the house. My initial goal was to reach a little hilltop in the middle of the Takhini Valley.

First, I followed the firebreak to the highway, and some days that was as far as I went.

If I saw fresh elk or deer tracks, I would look for the animals, and occasionally I did spot them, some as near as 30 metres from the house. Another day I ended up following Lynx tracks. They took me on an hour-long adventure, but I didn’t see the elusive cat.

I would set off with different footwear depending on what I was planning. To make a new trail, snowshoes are best. For gliding along, it’s skis, and for clearing the trail, I prefer travelling by foot.

From the highway to the closest meadow of the Mendenhall River, I made a clearing through a thick spruce forest with many Woodpeckers hammering while I sawed away with my little handsaw.

Leaving the forest, a big meadow leads to the river, and having studied Google Earth, I went into the willow scrub expecting a little pond. On my first attempt an opening didn’t materialize. As the willows grew thicker and thicker, my skis had to come off and the snow was too deep to walk in.

At home I studied the satellite images again, and the next outing I faired better. Looking from the sky, the ponds and meadows frozen over and snowed in, are pure white and roundish, like giant pearls. All these round, white openings scattered along the river like pearls. With my skis i string them together, my tracks a line in the snow. Unable to see from one pearl to the next, because of willow scrub or forest, the next pearl was always closer than expected.

One day I took my skis off where I knew the strings of pearls ended, and climbed the hill. It was very nice to sit on a hilltop in the middle of the valley, enjoying the panorama. A white world, with all shades of grey to black and bright red branches of willows, yellow grasses poking through the white snow and blue skies.

My husband also explores the meadows looking for bison. I sometimes go with him, and knew his skidoo trails coming from the east would emerge close to the hill. One day while skiing with my friend Mary, we connected with those trails to ski a loop. Mary suggested following skidoo trails over to a beaver dam. We came upon a beaver lodge and then we followed a hunter’s footprints that followed bison tracks. We came upon another beaver pond.

Don and I already had bison in the freezer from earlier this winter, but he’s still interested in where they hang out, so a few days later we went in with the skidoos — going beyond where Mary and I had skied — floating from one beaver pond to the next, seeing different stages of drowned forest, some recent and some seemingly ancient.

We spotted a poplar tree two feet in diameter that the beavers had tried to fell. It was easy to imagine that here the legendary giant beaver from Beringia still exists.

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