Under the hunger moon, the new snow brought by this afternoon's squall softens the harsh edges of the old, crusted snow, feathers up crevices in the bark of ash trunks and down the branches of spruce until it fingers out at the needles, creating photographic negative images in the stark white light. The fresh snowflakes maintain enough individual integrity to create minute angles as they lie, a few positioned so that they collect and spark the moonlight to mirror the pale stars in the mute black sky. Against the billowing contours of snow -- a surface devoid of solidarity -- the geometry of interlaced tree shadows is precise and strict. The shadows themselves are tinted with deep purple, like the violet flowers that sleep in the soil beneath.
In a tangle of deadfall made snug and cave-like by a thick blanket of overarching snow, a vixen fox wakes when her mate's exhale ruffles her whiskers. His breath smells of mouse: their improvised den is located near an opening in the forest where a human spreads corn every afternoon. The feed attracts deer and turkey, but also rabbits, squirrels, crows, and mice. And, of course, the ones who feed on these animals. Like her mate, the vixen rests with a belly full of mouse, but she is still hungry, unsated. Last year these midwinter urges troubled and confounded her, but after raising two kits she now understands the source of her unrest.
The vixen opens her eyes. Moonlight filters through the den's mouth, which has grown larger with use and now allows too much outside air to penetrate. This night is warmer than usual -- the winter is advancing -- but instead of bringing comfort this new weather troubles the fox. She knows that spring will bring thaw and her family -- those delicate young kits -- will become homeless. She remembers the cozy warmth of the den where she was whelped with her eight littermates, beside the river near an old log building. She returned to that den this past fall, dug out the old whelping chamber, but then the humans returned with two new dogs: not the old, gentle dogs that had been so tolerant when she was a kit. The humans had never bothered the young foxes but the vixen's mother always had been wary, nervous about their presence. After raising her own two kits, the vixen now understood her mother's anxiety. Restless, she squirms around her still-sleeping mate and buries her nose in the ruff of his tail, away from the draft. Tomorrow she will begin the search for a better den.
Under the hunger moon, a lone coyote slides down the slippery fresh snow that covers the steep river bank and pads across the ice, desultorily following the not-so-fresh trail of a young doe. On the river ice, the coyote first crosses the tracks of a snow machine and then the packed trail left by the human who walks her dogs down the river every afternoon. The coyote pauses, sniffs the still, dry air: not a trace of deer scent, or wolf scent, or anything else for that matter. He could be alone in the world right now, alone with the moonlight. The snow is deep in the woods where that deer is leading him, while the human trail is firmly packed under the inch or so of new powder. And unlike the snow machine, the human is smart enough to avoid holes and thin ice. The coyote veers sharply left and follows the river north.
At the mouth of the river, he discovers that the surface of the lake is covered by ice all the way to the humped dark hills on the opposite shore. The coyote has lived four winters and never before seen the lake completely locked in ice. Under the flat, metallic-looking sheet, he can hear the still-liquid water shifting, the waves a deep bass echo beneath the reflected moonlight. In the west, he notes the dull orange lights of the city; in the north, a white glow, almost cloud-like: a ghost of the northern lights.
In the fresh snow, he finds paired, wan tracks where a mouse ventured onto the ice. Further along the shore are more mouse tracks. Silly creatures: what do they expect to find in that frozen wasteland? Why would they leave the protection of deep snow, tunnels, shadows, and brush for the unknown, naked, stark ice: no food, no shelter, no protection? Each individual mouse is not old enough to remember summer, to remember ice, to remember cold and winter. Do they understand danger? Do they yearn for adventure, for the unknown, to discover something new after months of confinement in the same snow tunnels? In an easy trot, the predator follows one set of mouse tracks over the ice. Whatever thoughts or dreams compelled the mouse to abandon his home and head out onto the ice will be extinguished by one snap of the coyote's jaws.
Under the hunger moon, behind a plate glass window in the artificial warmth of a human house, a yellow dog wakes, searches the shadows beneath the Scotch pine and cedar along the river until he locates the slender gray ghost of a deer. The dog's eyes narrow as he watches the deer pick its way along the beaten path to the little roofed platform where the man piles corn every afternoon. The dog has not seen deer often this winter: since the first snow fell heavy and deep a couple months ago, the deer virtually disappeared from the area. Just recently they have returned, and every night the dogs sees ten or twelve of them slinking past the cedar tree in front of the river.
Last year the deer came later in the winter, when the nights were shorter. The dog -- a puppy then -- barked at every shadow he saw, but the humans didn't appreciate his vigilance. He now watches mute as each deer floats past the window. Maybe next winter he will join his companion dog, older and perhaps wiser, sleeping undisturbed in a room with no view to the outside. But for now, the yellow dog that is barely an adult watches without barking as the deer file past in the night under the hunger moon.
Causes Louise Young Supports
articulation of indigenous rights (organization: Cultural Survival)
sustainable, renewable, and independent energy sources