I've been reading The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman. I've long been a fan of Ackerman. One of my favorite books is a collection of nature essays by her called Moon by Whalelight. The Zookeeper's Wife is about the Zabinskis, a couple in Poland during WWII that ran the Warsaw zoo. The husband was an active member of the Polish Underground resistance movement and the couple provided hiding and protection for many jews (and others) escaping the Warsaw Ghetto. It's an extraordinary story, and Ackerman tells it well.
The Bialowieza forest is mentioned quite a bit in the book. I have heard of it before, but this renewed my interest. Bialowieza is an ancient, primeval forest straddling Poland and Belarus. It may be the last remnant of an old growth forest in Europe. It has towering trees and an astounding amount of biodiversity, but one of the things it is famous for is its forest bison, or the wisent (European bison). They had been hunted to extinction in the wild with the last one in Poland being shot in 1919. Since then, however, they have been successfully bred from captive populations and released back in to the wild in various Europeans habitats, including Bialowieza. I was captivated by the image of these huge, dark, creatures strutting through this ancient forest. In addition to the bison, Bialowieza has wolves, lynx, deer, elk, wild boar, and many species of birds.
These late winter months are the toughest, aren't they? We've had our fair share of snow, which I do love, but it has thawed and frozen several times over to make thick icy coatings over trails and sidewalks. I find that I rely heavily on 3 things to get me through this time: our wood burning stove, good tea, and the awareness of daylight stretching later in to the day.
Some weeks ago I watched this incredible Nature documentary about a Korean photographer that braved an extreme climate and isolation to observe and film Siberian Tigers. The Siberian wilderness is an austere, sparsely populated habitat. Aside from the mysterious, and majestic tigers, I was a bit smitten with the Siberian squirrels; those ear tufts! I am sure the squirrels have it as tough as every other creature that inhabits that cold landscape. Being squirrels, though, they had that little mischievous glint in their eyes.
A friend of mine that used to work at the Field Museum now lives up north in Marquette, MI. This person was the one that first connected me with the zoology department and I have been volunteering there ever since; something I will always be grateful to him for. The museum has been seeing some really rough times these last few years, and the research and curatorial staff have taken painful hits. As a result he and many others were let go. It looks like it's happening again, and you can read about new proposed cuts here, and sign the petition.
Anyway I didn't really intend this post to be about that today, and will address it more fully in a later post. My friend that is in Marquette recently set up a night camera to view the nocturnal wildlife around his home, and posted a screen cap of a gray fox his camera had captured to his FB page. The fox looked like some ethereal night spirit, trotting though the falling snow. I had seen many red foxes, but never a gray. His photo was black and white due to the night vision of the camera, but the telltale sign that it was a gray fox was the dark tipped tail with a darkened stripe running the length of it. Grays are a different species from Reds. U. cinereoargenteus is a more primitive species of fox, and less widespread than the Red in the northeastern US. And unlike most other canids, it has the ability to climb trees.
On another note, my daughter turned two at the beginning of January. I am so proud of her, and I am so proud to be her mama. One of the unexpected joys of becoming a parent, was the deeper connection I felt to the natural world. That primal instinct to nurture and protect one's offspring I now shared not just with my human family, but with so many other animals.