make a donation

Caribou Tales #2: Living off the path

Missed the first episode? Read it here.

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

“Take that! And that! Annndddd that!” As Carla watches on, her calf leaps through the air, kicking at real bugs and imagined foes. “Look, I’m getting them” he calls to her, sounding a little like the bull frogs croaking in the water nearby. Today he has been feeling rambunctious and more confident on his feet. He has survived a long swim off the island to an area of deep forest near a bog. Here they will stay for a few days.

The sun warms Carla’s coat. A weight lifts from her chest. The first two weeks have been difficult; she and the calf had not been getting as much to eat as they should. His weight, rather than doubling since his birth, is closer to that of a first week calf. But here she has seen many tender green shoots, new plants with maximum nutrition, as well as an abundance of lichen on the ground around them. She is comforted, but still somewhat nervous. She is off the well worn paths of her adulthood and feels it somewhere in her belly; the uncertainty rolls around inside, kicking occasionally at her heart and making it beat faster in response.

Carla had reached the new calving ground only hours before her calf was born. After her panicked swim away from the island, she had stopped on the shore to let her heart rate settle, to think about her next move. On the shore, Carla had remembered passing by the place her mother had been born. Carla had only gone that far north once, following her mother and grandmother around a newly burned forest to their summer grounds. Her grandmother had pointed out the island, but had also spoken of large white bears in the area and had warned her to stay close. Only barely calmed by the memory and the new plan, she had headed north, hoping she could remember the path, hoping no bears would be nearby.

When she’d found the island, she’d lain, sides heaving, on a bed of pine needles, hiding herself from the wind that would carry her scent to predators. She felt safe, surrounded on two sides by tall rocks and only a few feet from the water. When she had stood again, it was to give birth; the process lasting longer than she’d expected, as the small bundle had resisted falling out into the world. Finally, she turned and he was lying on the ground behind her. She started to lick him clean and prodding him to get up. She had not yet caught scent of a wolf or bear, but she knew they could come any time, and would come running if they caught the scent of the blood.

Her calf was slow to rise and run that first day. She had licked and licked him to clean him and tried to nudge him up at the same time. First he had straightened his front legs and then while scrambling with his hind legs had over balanced and somersaulted forward, pitching onto his nose. Concerned she nuzzled his head, but he’d ignored her. Balancing on his nose, he then had tried straightening his hind legs to push himself up, but his front feet had gotten crossed and again he tumbled down. She hovered above him, nuzzling his soft fur between each attempt and grunting encouragingly at him. He’d made few sounds, concentrating absolutely on the task at hand, untangling his long legs. She had felt desperate that he start moving soon. They would need to find a new place; there was not as much food here as they needed. Her new calf would soon be able to swim, but the water around the island was still deep and very cold. He needed to be strong.

A splashing sound draws Carla back to the present. Calling out to her calf she looks around frantically, but it is only her boy, splashing in a small pond. He’s seen a lemon yellow butterfly with a black border on its wings and a large spot on the underside flying across the water, and has jumped in to get a closer look. The butterfly, now aware of his curious follower, takes off. Keeping her ears tuned for any new sounds, she puts her nose down to eat.

Special thanks to Jean Polfus for the incredible artwork.

Help protect the caribou and its habitat. Add your voice to our caribou pledge.