Although the new training year is well underway, I’d like to take little time to look back on the month of April. For a professional ski racer, it is our vacation month, the one time of year when we can stop thinking about training or racing for more than a couple days at a time. Most athletes will travel somewhere exciting or find a part time job. After four months in Europe this winter, I wanted to stay close to home.
April in Craftsbury was extremely quiet. With the ski trails melting and the lake not yet ready for rowing camps, the Outdoor Center shut down for a month. The parking lots emptied, the dinning hall closed up, and the residents of our team house at Elinor’s dispersed. I felt like the entire trail network, the lake, the dirt roads, and all of the local plants and animals were my own private world.
My favorite part of living at the Outdoor Center in the spring off-season is seeing lots of wildlife. For example, every morning at breakfast, I would hear the unearthly gobble of a big old tom turkey from the bottom of our field. (He conveniently vacated the neighborhood, of course, just days before hunting season opened on May 1st). Wondering what other wildlife might be out and about, I began taking early morning and late evening “wildlife” walks around the trails. I startled deer who took off bounding with white tails blazing high. From the Black River swamp, I flushed prehistoric-looking great blue herons. I heard barred owls hooting from the cedar trees, the courtship drumming of ruffed grouse, and coyotes yipping far away. On warmer days, a mighty chorus of spring peepers cried out from wooded vernal pools, where they left globs of gelatinous egg masses. On my excursions, I sometimes stopped by patches of edible wild ramps and fiddleheads and picked a few for dinner.
My biggest fear walking around the woods at night is not bear or moose, but that I’ll literally run into a porcupine. They can’t see, hear or smell, at least not very well. One evening, I stood 15 feet away watching one obliviously gnawing on some sticks at the forest edge. He slowly foraged towards me, not sensing a human in the vicinity. He would have bumped into me I think, had I not backed away from the threat of his quills.
Following the last Spring Series races, I continued to ski the 1.5 km loop and only gave up when the trail’s mud sections outnumbered the skiable slush sections. I stopped to take a picture of the melting ski trails and inadvertently captured a rare creature on camera, one I never had a good glimpse of before:
One day Eric Hanson, a ski trail groomer at Craftsbury and the Vermont state loon biologist, invited me to help install nesting platforms on a couple of local lakes. These platforms can facilitate higher rates of loon reproductive success, especially in lakes that have little natural hummocky habitat or in lakes with high water level fluctuations. The platforms are basically floating log rafts tethered to cinder block anchors. Decomposing cattails, muck, and low shrubs are added on top to provide nest building materials and protective shelter. Transporting the rafts to their chosen site was a challenge; it involved balancing them over a canoe’s gunwales or towing them though the water at a snail’s pace.
After installing one nesting platform, we encountered a trio of loons. We watched them for awhile and saw some wing beating, an aggressive territorial behavior. Loons will fight other loons of the same gender for the right to breed on a lake.
As I write this, I am once again far away from Craftsbury in pursuit of my ski dreams. This time I am in Bend, Oregon, another beautiful and wild place, where there is still plenty of snow for skiing. The US and Canadian national ski and biathlon teams are all here, as are many other athletes, including some Craftsbury GRPers. We are putting in lots of on-snow hours which will serve as foundation for the rest of the year’s training. Stay tuned for future updates and pictures.