Today I saw the first leaves on the trees as we drove into the Junction. Their appearance was as startling and sudden as it was beautiful. One moment we were staring at barren branches along the roadside and the next we were watching bright green fluff that framed the base of the still snowcapped mountains and moved gently in the breeze. The difference in the progression of spring between Haines Junction and camp is hard to believe. At squirrel camp the forests are still dark with the green of spruce, and colors of mud and bark and earth not yet warmed by the sun. But here in town the sight of fresh, spring green is so uplifting that laughter is practically bursting from our lips at the sight of it. Leaves! It’s a wonder that such a simple thing can bring so much happiness, but here, of all places, it’s the simple things that we take pleasure in. A foam mattress for a bed, a gravity fed sink so we don’t have to pump water by hand, a woodstove for heat, and squirrels for company for the lonely days on grid.
This week saw the start of my own research and the (unfortunate) return of my sleep habits from my undergraduate days. Lately my days end after midnight and begin around 6am. It’s a brutal schedule and one that I can feel wearing on me already. And to top off the exhaustion and the frustrations that the first week of starting your own research brings, today I paid $5 for an ice cold shower. It was perhaps one of the least pleasant experiences I have ever paid for. If there is one thing that we all look forward to at the end of the week when we are sweat-soaked, dirt-encrusted, tree-scratched, oily, itchy, and an all-around miserable excuse for a civilized human-begin, it is a hot shower. A long, steaming, hot shower. Instead I got a miserable dance between water droplets with a lot of yelping and yowling in between the violent shivering. If I am at all clean it is only because I left so much soap on that my skin is still absorbing it.
But I paint too bleak a picture when it was also a week of brilliant sunshine, new birds singing every day in the woods, and the moon rising, orange and full, over the mountains at night. It was also a week for squirrel babies. Perhaps you remember the pictures I posted, almost two months ago of the first squirrel babies of the season- the little pink things that looked like naked mice? Well now they’ve grown up a bit and grown a fair amount cuter in that time as well. When the pups reach about 25 days old we enter the nest one more time to take another DNA sample and to tag the pups so we can follow them as they grow and move away from their mom. This past Tuesday I took some time away from my own work to help with a “rodeo” nest on Agnus. Typically at 25 days old the pups still have their eyes closed and are therefore unable to travel too far on their own. However there are occasional times when a mother squirrel will elude us for several weeks and by the time we are able to catch her and find her nest, the pups are past that 25 day mark and oftentimes have their eyes open. As a result they are able to jump around and climb at will, requiring a sort of “squirrel rodeo” in order to collect them all from the tree. This often requires the person who is climbing to grab two handfuls of biting pups and stuff them in a baby bag or to toss the squirming pups down to squirrellers on the ground. Occasionally the pups will jump right out of the nest and the squirrellers who are on the ground will have to pounce on them before they can run away. The other day when I was in a tree for a rodeo nest I had two pups in my hand and a third that jumped on my head before flying headfirst to the ground where it was caught safely by a waiting squirreller.
Amazingly the rodeo nest this past Tuesday was quite tame and rather than jumping on escapee pups I was actually able to take some pictures.
Here are the squirrel pups just out of the nest.
After weighing them we give them a numbered tag in each ear with an identifying color.
Then we take a small DNA sample from one ear.