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Caribou Tales #8: The ones that paws the ground in search of food

Catch up on previous episodes: Episode 1  |  Episode 2Episode 3 | Episode 4 | Episode 5 | Episode 6 | Episode 7

Check back on the 25th of every month to read the next episode.

Carla is up to her eyes in snow. Though the trees have filtered some of the snowfall, the snow is still deep, even directly around the trees. Around her all the caribou have scooped holes in the snow with their broad flat hooves and are nosing around in the holes for the grasses and lichens that lie beneath. Sunlight glints off the ice crystals clinging to the thick tuffs of hair protecting their ears.

A sneeze, squeal and a thunking noise pulls Carla away from a tuft of something vaguely green and rough on her tongue; she looks up. Still chewing slowly, Carla looks around and sees that baby is staring at her. Baby has snow all over his muzzle, pure white against the cream colored hairs that grown in and around his nose to protect him from the cold. The snow is also coating his ears; in fact it is also on the front of his face and on the top of his head.

She looks the question at him. “The snow tickles the hairs on my nose” he tells her shaking his head to get the snow off, “I was trying to rub it off on a tree and more came down on my head.”  The flying snow hits a herd mate who grunts as the snow sprays onto his head. He looks up, leaning forward as though he will charge baby for this irreverent act, then stops when he sees Carla. Her antlers are still firmly in place; his have been gone over a month. She tilts her head slightly in his direction, and he looks back down into the hole before him, suddenly very interested in the brownish-yellow grass he had uncovered.

She turns back to baby about to respond, when she sees a dark shadow behind him. The wolf has reappeared. Her muscles tighten. This lone wolf has been following the herd from a distance for several days. From his size she guesses that he is still quite young and hungry. He is closer than before.  Her awareness of him has spread to the entire group. Several of the herd that had been lying down, stand up quickly and as one the herd shifts closer together. All thoughts of food are forgotten.

Several of the mothers call out to their calves, anxious that they have strayed too far from the group.  The group stands clumped together, not yet sure whether to run, looking around, calling out to those in the group that are further away. Carla looks around her, the herd is healthy, but some of the younger caribou have struggled in the deeper snow and many of their grazing sessions have been cut short with periodic flights from the trailing wolf. The wolf too will struggle in the deeper snow, she knows, and is getting hungrier.

Slowly she starts to move, away from the wolf and into the untouched snow towards the north, calling her baby to her. Quickly the herd starts to follow her, their pace increasing all around her until they’re leaping together among the trees and away from the threat. The wolf follows in their path, but does not increase it pace. Quickly the distance between them increases and once she no longer senses the wolf Carla starts to slow down. It’s only a question of time before the wolf comes back and one of the herd gets tired, but for now the herd is untouched.
Ambling together, the herd now starts to look around again for tufts of grass or bushes that might provide a tasty morsel. A boreal chickadee calls from her perch where she has discovered a hibernating insect for dinner. To her left Carla sees several dry branches sticking out around the base of a small tree. Putting her head down she starts to dig again at the snow, encouraging her calf to do the same next to her.