Monday, February 25, 2008

At the wolf's door

By David Horst

Twenty-two people ride a darkened school bus down back country roads in search of what all of their childhood fairy tales warned them against. 

Up front is Cindy Mueller, a naturalist at High Cliff State Park and various other area nature centers. The evening's activity is a typical fall Saturday night for Mueller. She's a wolf howler.

Normally a more solitary activity, Mueller has agreed to take a group from the Northeastern Wisconsin Audubon Society to her assigned howling grounds. She had to clear it with the top biologists in the state wolf recovery effort.

We have agreed to a series of strict rules, including wearing no fragrance, exiting the bus in total silence, no coughing or throat clearing, and should you be inclined otherwise, no urinating outside of the bus.

We also agreed not to disclose where we were, so it must suffice to say we were within a three-hour drive of the Fox Cities.

The plan is to make several stops, where we are to climb down from the bus by the light of the moon and stand silently as Mueller lets loose with her well-practiced wolf howls. At an orientation at Fallen Timbers Environmental Center near Black Creek, she offered no guarantee that we would hear wolves, and all but assured we would not see them.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Puppy power fuels aerobics

By David Horst

We’ve discovered a new form of aerobic exercise that may leave even the spinners and the kick-boxers winded.
All it requires are a snow-covered trail, a pair of snowshoes and a 1-year-old yellow Lab.
We had one of the latter come into our lives a couple of months ago. Houdini is a shelter dog – a stray no one claimed. And he is a runner.
There is nothing in the world Houdini loves more than flat out running. Calling his name, commanding him to come, waving cocktail wieners in the air – none of it distracts him from running.
Should he manage to slip his collar – and he has – his first instinct is to head for the horizon. Unlike every other dog we’ve owned, we can’t walk him off-leash on the trails up on our little sand hill. He requires a harness and a leash, every time.
That’s become problematic in this winter so bent on toppling the snowfall record. When the snow got deep enough, we needed snowshoes to break trail. That meant walking on snowshoes while tethered to a ball of puppy energy.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Little owl is welcome barn guest

By David Horst

Put up a barn in the middle of an oak woods and you never know what might drop in.
We’ve had snakes and rabbits, swallows and phoebes, and one lone grouse on a stormy night.
Most recently, one of Wisconsin’s littlest owls paid a visit up on the sand hill we call home.