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Rich Bard

Rich Bard photo courtesy of Rich BardRich Bard is a wildlife biologist who began his career as a zookeeper. Having spent most of his adult life moving around the country working with various wild animals, he settled near the coast of Maine in 2004. Amid the striking beauty of this remote region, he passes the time with his family, hiking, snowshoeing, gardening and watching the tide ebb and flow.

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Life on the Edge
Thursday, 03 January 2013 00:00  |  Written by Rich Bard | Blog Entry

Snowshoes photo by GrongarDonning my snowshoes, I leave the plowed, shoveled and accessible world that we humans carve out of the winter snows. Each snowfall is cleared from what is “in bounds” for human use during the winter—and the plow banks and piles of snow grow taller each time. Anything outside of that maintained boundary is by necessity off limits—unless, of course, like me you put on your snowshoes.

Setting off across the top of the pristine white surface, I glimpse the world that the rest of the animal kingdom experiences all winter long. Mouse and squirrel tracks scamper across the top, or burrow just beneath the surface. Coyotes bound through the powder, sinking in past their bellies at each lunge. A flock of chickadees chirps and flits their way past me on their way… where? How do they all survive months of cold in this frozen wasteland?

It's easy for us to get fixated on the problems that man has created. We can gripe about global warming, deforestation, water pollution, light pollution and social justice until the cows come home. Every now and then, I have to set it all aside, take the weight of the world off my shoulders, and realize that from day to day, wild animals are not looking to humans for help. For the deer, slowly starving as they nibble lichens and twigs to ease aching bellies, a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions is an idea from another planet. They have more pressing issues to consider. All deer that live with severe winters are basically starving, beginning when the leaves and grass die. They eat what they can, but it will not be enough to survive on. The only question is whether spring will come soon enough to save them.

The surface of the snow can be both savior and grim reaper for the deer. During a warm spell, the top of the snow melts slightly, then refreezes when temperatures drop again. If the crust that forms is strong enough to hold the deer, then they may be able to make it to a new supply of food and can run from predators. If the deer break through the crust, but predators like wolves, coyotes and cougars can run on the top, then they bide time, hoping to remain unnoticed until conditions change again. Each passing day and each new snowfall can shift the balance of power from predator to prey and back again.

As I shuffle along on my snowshoes, I know the deer are out there among the trees and I hope I don’t disturb them. Wasting precious energy avoiding me can literally be the difference between life and death for an animal on the edge.

I make my way back to the world of man, take off my snowshoes and put back on my worries about mercury pollution, offshore drilling and the dangers of genetically modified organisms. Meanwhile, the deer continue their single-minded struggle for survival.

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Comments (2)add
Written by Eric H. , March 15, 2009
Yeah, and while enjoying the out-of bounds world on snowshoes, the 23 pounds that we gained over the winter just melts away! Best workout ever.
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Written by Abe Gilbert , March 14, 2009
What a beautifull sentiment! I play and work outdoors all year around, but have never thought about the animals with quite as much respect as Rich seems to have for their total environment. We could all use a little more respect for nature even those of us who live closest to it. It's nice to focus on the stark beauty around us for a while isn't it?
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