Over the past few years a grizzly mama with her cubs beds down each summer just behind my pergola. I have watched in horror as she stole a whole garbage pale full of duck feed right out from under the ducks beaks and have been startled while hanging my laundry by her and her cubs as they raced through my front yard having been scared off by the neighbour’s dog. I have also had them come in the yard and harvest many of my apples, breaking valuable tree branches as they go.
Because of the numbers of bears we have coming through the property each summer, one of the tasks I work on over the winter and spring is clearing the dense undergrowth from the second growth forest that is on the front half of the property. It is no where near forty acres, instead it is a two acre tangle of alder, birch, maple, fir, hemlock, spruce, and a host of dense ugly undergrowth species–the worst of which is devil’s club; a beautiful but deadly plant thanks to it vicious two inch thorns that can take out an eye if you are not careful and has a penchant for grabbing hold of passers by and clinging to them with the tenacity of barbed wire.
While this undergrowth is impossible to get through when you are a human, the bears manage just fine. They tunnel their way through it creating an extensive network of trails that, with practice, I have learned to identify. Now that spring is almost upon us, I have found myself out there again hacking and hewing my way through this barely identifiable network and opening it up for human accessibility. It is hard going without machines. A few days with a front end loader and Bobcat would be all that it needed, but I haven’t got that kind of ‘pocket change’ to hire someone to just get the job done. So each spring I pick away at it by hand and tell myself it is better exercise than paying to go to the gym and run on a treadmill! Blessedly, I do have a Husqvarna power tool with a chainsaw attachment which has allowed me to reach higher up on the trees than I can with my hand cutters.
Clarence came by the other day while I was hard at work. He tenderly reminded me that I should be looking up every now and then being watchful of cougars. He then took me on a little walkabout and pointed to a spruce tree, “Why just there I shot a cougar a couple of years ago.” I told him I always bring my dog with me and sometimes even the goats. (Many days I just take the dog and carry the browse back to the goats.) It is a sad but true reality of living here, that one of my animals might save my life by sacrificing theirs. “It’s a good idea” he said when I explained the secondary reason as to why the goats were free ranging that day. They are efficient browsers and would make short order of clearing much of it for me but I couldn’t possibly let them out there alone to do the work. Sadly, it would be like sentencing them to certain death. When we are out there together, I know we all stand a better chance. There is safety in numbers.
On the one hand, I’m clearing the brush for the sake of clearing the brush and on the other I have more than bear dissuasion in mind. Now that I have the area developed to a stage that I can walk through, I have begun fantasizing about a cow. While I would love to breed my goats and develop a dairy based on them, the cougars and bears make such a serious investment in goats much too high risk.They are not only part of the cougar prey profile, they are considered a gastronomic delicacy to cougars and because of this people keep telling me to “enjoy the goats while I have them.” Thankfully, cows are not part of the grizzly prey profile so farmers tend to lose few of them to those predators. It would be nice to have an animal that I don’t have to worry quite so much about. Rumor has it that there are a couple of dairy cows in the valley and that one of them is pregnant…
When I am doing this clearing work I always build a huge bonfire to clear the brush away and at the end of a hard day’s clearing I sit by the last of the glowing embers and enjoy a whiskey and roast some marshmallows. Someone asked me how I plan to render down the Birch & Maple syrup. This year, instead of just enjoying the fire at the end of the day, I intend to use the fire to boil down my sap transforming it into syrup.