Friday, March 12, 2010

One of the best things to do in the Yukon is picking up the mail.

Today I'm at the KPI (Kluane Park Inn). The local watering hole with pretty good free wireless internet access. I just had a bowl of split pea soup and I'm charging up all my batteries. Myself and my coworkers are the only customers here right now. The bartender went to the University of Guelph and they seem to like us a lot.

My first real week of work and training has went very well. I'm having such a fun time. The weather has been great. We do have a whole lot of snow and we work outdoors long days. I've actually never dealt with so much snow in one place at one time. All of my gear has been great. I've been warm and dry and comfortable every day. Not showering all the time has been okay. My hair had already started to dread, but I conditioned it and combed it today, so all is well.

Our days at squirrel camp are pretty straight forward. We're up at 7:15, the sun is starting to rise, but it's too dark to go out trapping. We all eat breakfast in the cookhouse and get our gear ready. Everyone wears a vest with huge pockets to hold all of the things we need for collecting information in the forest. Our camp is on one of our research grids. Each of the grids has a name. Camp grid is Kloo, I work on Joe (named after the town drunk, Thomas Joe) and Lloyd (named for someone else). There are also Sulphur, Agnes, and Blue Trailer. Each is about 1 km wide and 1 km deep. All run along the edge of the Alaska Highway. We have plowed pullouts to park our trucks on and we carpool to the grids in the morning. We arrive at the grids at 8:30 am each day. We strap on our snowshoes and head into the grid to set up our traps. In the morning we set about 10 traps (it takes awhile to break trail through the snow right now so we move a bit slowly). Each squirrel has a well-defined territory with a central stash of cones called a midden. The middens are all mapped out and there are traps at each of the middens. Once the traps are all set in a circuit we go back around to see if we've trapped any squirrels. It takes about 2 hours to get around and process any captures. We have to put the squirrel in a handling bag, weigh it, stretch it out and time how many seconds out of 30 it squirms (a handling test to determine some of the squirrel's personality traits), put colours in its ear tags so we can ID it with binoculars later in the season, retag its ears if they are not done properly, and if the squirrel is a female we have to determine if it is pregnant by feeling its little belly. Not bad, but squirrels can be pretty crazy once they get into the little handling bags. If you can get their eyes covered they settle right down.

This is me on the way out to work in the morning. I'm standing on the edge of the Alaska Highway looking out at the St. Elias Range.

Dylan and the girls getting ready for the day.

In the wilderness.

My snowshoes. Trusty MSR's with extended fins for extra deep snow. They're pretty easy to walk in, but also pretty easy to trip over.

One of my traps, Golden Eagle. They all have names. Some of mine are: Darth Vader, Kirchner, The March Hare, and George.

Learning how to squirrel-stretch.

Some of the animals I've trapped. My favourite squirrel. His name is red!/blue! The exclamation indicates that he is a male wearing pipe cleaners. Females wear wires. Juveniles wear disks. He lives on the corner of Joe grid.

This little girl has her tail over her eyes to hide and keep her calm. I've put blue and purple wires into her ear tags.

An ermine that I accidentally tapped. He was a wild little devil in there and was really angry with me. I'm very glad that I'm not working on an ermine project. But it's cool that I got to see one up close. The smell bad, like rotten grape kool-aid.

A cute little guy in squirrel jail.

At 2:30 we meet back at the truck and head back to camp. The afternoon is used for entering data and learning other skills we will need to use this summer, such as telemetry. Which is tracking the signals from little collars with an antenna and receiver. I did a bunch of that in Australia when I was tracking numbats, so I'm pretty good at that already. Each day one person has a camp day and they are responsible for the meals and everything. I like camp day a lot because I like to cook for a crowd. Dinner is at 6:00 pm and we all eat a ton. I've already lost weight from snowshoeing every day and I eat much more than I ever did at home. We're very healthy too because we're vegetarian with no junk food. It's great, actually.

The cookhouse from the driveway.

The kitchen inside the cookhouse. The dining area is on the right with the big windows out the front. I"m standing in the living area and clothes-drying area.

The datahut. You can see the entrance of the cookhouse in the background. The little window up top is directly beside my bed in the loft.

This is the little shack that I will eventually move into. Nothing glamorous, but its name is Nemo. Everything here has a name.

The view at the end of the driveway. The clouds are constantly changing and flowing over the mountains. Some days it's been so snowy that we can't even see the mountains.

After dinner we have free time. I knit, we listen to music, we play music, we chat, we drink beers (there is a great local brewery up here), and we write and read. Dylan, Frances, and I also have a push-up challenge going on where each night we do one more push-up. Tonight I have to do 7.

This is the winter wonderland we live in. There has been some time to play with my camera, so I've taken a lot of cool landscape shots.

Here are some pictures from the drive up.

This is a moose in the middle of the road. There are moose everywhere up here. Dylan ran into one in the woods. We see their tracks all the time on our grids.

Caribou. We also saw a lot of elk.

Wood Bison! Incredible, huge animals. The like to sleep on the highway. That's dangerous.

This is the little town of Haines Junction. It's called Haines Junction because it is basically the widening of the Alaska Highway where you can go one way to Haines, Alaska, or the other way to the rest of Alaska. A lot of large trucks come through here.

I've decided that I'm staying at Squirrel Camp until the end of June. I just think this is the best place ever and I'm having such a good time. I have a few days off, so I'll be checking out Whitehorse and on my way home I'm going to get a ride into Haines, Alaska, and take the Alaskan Ferries down to Prince Rupert. From there I'll travel south to visit friends in British Columbia before flying home for the summer and wedding events!

Today I received a postcard from the other side of Canada, lovely Halifax, NS. Getting mail up here is the one of the best things ever. Any fan mail can be directed to:

Cass St.
c/o Squirrel Camp
Box 5506
Haines Junction, Yukon
Y0B 1L0

It would be very nice to hear from any of you. Also, there aren't any treats up here at all, so if you happen to have a spare Cocoa Camino chocolate bar of the chili and spice variety, I'd be thrilled if you stuck that in the mail and sent it up north to me.

Love ya and miss you all, Cass

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