Family Fun

Lake Superior Provincial Park is a family destination. There’s a small family of snowshoe hares that lives right outside my cabin. They snack on tender leaves under the window, though they haven’t yet invited me to lunch. They look like gawky eleven-year-olds who haven’t yet grown into their huge feet. In the winter, their brown summer fur is replaced by white to camouflage them in the snow. How many generations does it take to evolve paws that can walk on powder, and fur that changes color with the seasons? I wish I could see the failed prototypes: hot-pink hares with footbinding fetishes, perhaps.

A family of shiny Merganser ducks goes fishing on Lake Superior every afternoon: mother, father, and four ducklings. There were eight in the original clutch. Mergansers have big families to compensate for holes in their loss-prevention program. Sitting on the beach yesterday, I saw what might have happened to missing ones. A peregrine falcon swooped straight out of the rockface and divebombed the little family as they bobbed for food. The ducklings had the sense to duck, and they stayed down while the falcon wheeled and tried again. The alarmed mother quacked and flapped, and gathered her babies in a tight knot. Dad seemed untroubled.

The falcon young are almost ready to fledge, and I felt sorry for the mother going back empty-clawed to her large, demanding offspring. The beach is littered here and there with gull remains, their staple. They eat everything but the wing and the breastbone, and the spread, abandoned wings look like driftwood sculpture.

The squirrels here are the tiny reds that have all but died out in Europe, hunted or interbred with the large, rattish gray ones. One just ran over my shoe in a dramatic chase sequence. I was proud to be less threatening than an eight-inch-long fellow rodent.

A fecund family of mice lives in my cabin. We each pretend that they live outside, but they and I know I can hear them nibbling in the night. I rescued a Webster’s Dictionary this morning, which was being shredded to make a cosy nest somewhere (probably in the tangle of laptop cables). They are very cute, these deer mice, if you overlook their incontinence. I have a horror that I will actually catch one in the traps soon and have to—ugh—throw out its stiff little body and reset the trap. I am too afraid to ask the manly rangers to carry out such a task.

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