Like many Canadians, I am looking forward to that first snowshoeing trip of the season. This will occur sometime after we get a reasonable amount of snow.
I’m not saying the lack of snow is entirely my fault. I know a guy who bought a brand new snow blower too. But I will say this is how winter typically goes. You go to the basement and dig out your snowshoes and ensure the webbing and bindings are in good condition. You ready your day-pack and thermos. You look at maps and start envisioning routes and dreaming of the winter landscapes. You find the hat, mitts, and the snow pants you snowshoed in last year– which, by the way, also held the beef jerky you blamed your buddy for eating. (Sorry, pal.)
And, in response, Mother Nature gives you an inch of snow.
By January we should be well into the snowshoeing season. Instead, this year we are well into the no-shoeing season.
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This is not just bad for snowshoe sales and the places that depend on people using their trails. It is also really bad for red squirrels and the predators that rely on them.
I know this is not something most people think about very often – or ever. But you have to look at it from an ecological point of view too.
Red squirrels spend 90 per cent of their time cursing at things. And humans play an important part in that.
Fortunately, in autumn, the red squirrels have hunters and hikers to vent their frustration out on – generally with a string of squirrel curse words that would make a worldly sailor blush. And, while this is uncomfortable at times for us, it is good for red squirrel stress levels to get all of those frustrations out. That’s important because any biologist will tell you we need a healthy red squirrel population to keep the food chain intact.
Sadly, in winter, all that is threatened. Then, there are very few hunters or hikers. This leaves those little rodents with far too much time on their tiny hands and lot of pent-up resentment bottled up inside, which, along with seasonal affected disorder, makes for very stressed squirrels. These creatures say really hurtful things. The kind of things that are off-putting to predators and that could potentially disrupt the food chain.
Predators have feelings too. Never forget that.
Enter the hapless snowshoer.
In the grand scheme of things, a recreational snowshoer has very little practical purpose. Or at least that’s what most people think.
Yet, we play an important role in winter by providing meandering circular trails and by giving red squirrels a healthy outlet to vent their frustrations upon, which keeps them from going off on their predators and upsetting the delicate food chain.
Some of the longest and most virulent strings of curse words I have ever experienced have been unleashed upon me while I have been snowshoeing. And not just by the person whose snowshoes I just stepped on either. No, the red squirrels get in on it too.
True, I don’t always appreciate the comments they make about my mother, but I do take pride in knowing I am playing a small part in reducing their stress levels throughout the long days of winter.
But it goes both ways. And, this year, if the snow doesn’t come soon, they are going to have to return the favour.