6:44 a.m. 34 degrees, wind NNW 8 mph, howling and whisper. Pine trunks
sway, branches wave, a landscape in flux. An orchestra of trees, the
original woodwinds: creak, sigh, moan, yowl. A triumph of noise, enough to
drown out crows and blue jays . . . a deed, indeed. Sky: at first,
occluded, atmospheric topography, mostly blues and grays. In the east, a
hint of peach. Spits tiny, bouncy, milk-white hail, which adheres to metal
roofs and every low spot on the road, melts elsewhere. As I wander, clouds
break-up, dividing into islands and archipelagos. Permanent streams:
clearer and fuller than yesterday. Wetlands: marsh dreary, sky vibrant.
Luminous, shape-changing clouds, suggestions of pink. Wind as a sculptor:
smooths, tears, teases, welds. Sky empty of birds. Pond: yesterday's rain,
today's ice. A stratified surface, two fragile layers. Wispy lines of hail,
a cold smoke, drifts like hope. Then, stops. Momentary windrows, ephemeral
stripes, until set in motion, again.
Red squirrel tends a cache of pinecones, twenty feet away. Bored with the
morphology of clouds, dogs focus on the busy squirrel. Sit and stare,
hoping it strays into the leash zone.
The other day, I picked up suet from the butcher counter at the Hanover
Coop. No charge, which makes it affordable. I hung the suet in the front
yard cherry, out of reach of the dogs. Over the years, a parade of birds
have visited the suet feeder: chickadees, titmice, red- and white-breasted
nuthatches, blue jays, crows, hairy and down woodpeckers, red-bellied and
pileated woodpeckers. A brown creeper, once. Friends have had mink, long-
and short-tailed weasels, black bears, fishers, and a bobcat stop by for
In the pre-Columbian Northeast, deer and moose carcasses—mostly leftover
wolf and catamount kills—were a reliable source of suet. Today, coyotes and
bobcats occasionally bring down deer . . . provision birds with suet. Cars
Ten years ago, off the east bank of the Connecticut River, I watched six
bald eagles on a deer carcass, likely a casualty of nearby Route 5. The
eagles roosted in silver maples, picked at the deer for days. Then,
decamped, leaving behind a sardonic skull and a rack of ribs. Several years
ago, more than twenty ravens stripped a deer carcass on my running route;
farther down the road, another carcass was claimed by a red-tailed hawk.
Through the years, I've noticed many mammals feeding on deer and moose
carcasses—red and gray fox, coyotes, fisher, opossum, raccoon, bear,
weasels, shrews of many species, even red squirrels. In fact, fishers often
give birth close to a carcass, the meat and fat a windfall for the mother,
who won't leave vulnerable kits unattended for long. Shortly after giving
birth, when she comes into heat again, her new mate will also be rewarded
with a free meal or two in late February.
Like dead trees left standing for cavity nesters, carcasses left in the
woods are critical for hordes of birds and mammals. Deer season winding
down, carcasses accruing in the woods and meadows. Before you haul one
away, consider who depends on the protein and fat . . . even the first wave
of spring warblers visit stashes of suet, whether your feeder or the frozen
ribs of a deer.