Nature Column #9305--Week of March 3, 1993--St. John Valley Times



For three days I was at the Maibec Logging Camp in T13R14 as a coordinator and judge at checkpoint #3 for the Can-Am Crown Dogsled Race. Another judge, Ruth Schenk, and I drove to the camp on the Michaud Tote Road from Allagash. Snow started falling as we started our trip. We arrived in early afternoon. We were welcomed and made to feel at home by Maibec personnel.

There was a stand of cedars and spruces next to the camp. We rightly surmised that it was a swamp buried in the snow. Ruth (on snowshoes) and I (on skis) explored the swamp. It was slow going because many little spruces were under the snow, forming air spaces that would not hold us up. As we wound our way through the swamp, we saw piles of bell-shaped cedar cones with some cedar leaves in humps of snow. They were probably put there by red squirrels. Snowshoe hares probably benefit from these piles. Both mammals may eat the foliage and cones, though cedar is not a preferred food for either of them. We saw plenty of squirrel and hare tracks.

The spruces growing among the cedars had short needles, less than 1/2" long and cones about an inch long. They were black spruce or perhaps a hybrid of red spruce and black spruce. Black spruce prefers wet locations, such as a swamp. I kept looking for signs of the spruce grouse, a rare relative of the ruffed grouse. Here in northern Maine the spruce grouse prefers black spruce habitat. I saw no grouse, but did hear some pine siskins which were most likely feeding on cedar seeds. When the dog teams arrived at Maibec we were impressed with the care the mushers gave to their dogs. The dogs received immediate attention. The mushers chopped frozen meat with an axe, then poured hot water over the meat and let it set to thaw. The dogs had dropped down to sleep as soon as the team was halted. While the mushers prepared the food, we spread blocks of straw for each dog. When the dogs saw us coming with the straw, they stood up and pawed the air. As soon as they had the straw, they collapsed on top of it. Then each dog was fed from a dish of its own. Only after the dogs were cared for did the mushers take food and rest. Before a team left, the dogs' paws were greased or booties were put on. Sometimes both.

It was good to see the rapport between dogs and mushers. On their feet and ready to mush on, the dogs were so eager that they even howled a bit as they awaited the signal to go.

Gale L. Flagg

Fort Kent, Maine 04743

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