I woke up one morning in a half-dazed fog. I was in the woods at a cottage in the wilderness where normally the forest was quiet and still. There was no wind this night to rustle the leaves in a nearby stand of poplar trees or to blow through the tall pines surrounding the building. It was the early morning, in those dark hours just before the first signs of twilight. My friend Mike had woken me up and I popped up in bed with a focus on the window. He was wondering about a sound. Then it broke the silence. It was a hard-knocking sound deep in the woods. It sounded as if someone was striking a two-by-four against the trunk of a large tree.
I acknowledged that it was probably a moose and went back to sleep. In the morning Mike was still excited about the noisy night. He described the sound he had been hearing and I, of course, recalled the few bangs I noticed before falling back into my dreams.
We theorized amongst each other as to what might have caused the sound. I thought as before that perhaps it was a moose brushing its antlers up against a tree. I recall stories from hunters telling me about moose shedding the soft velvet skin covering the antlers by rubbing them against trees and brush. It also could have been woodpeckers or peepeesh-che-oo as we had heard these birds during the day making unusual chipping or knocking sounds in the surrounding trees. However, on more reflection I recalled Elders saying that most birds keep silent in the dark. It occurred to me that perhaps it might have been a distant cottage neighbour splitting a few logs for an earlier morning fire as it was a cool night.
When you spend a good amount of time in the woods, you begin to realize just how much life there is in the wilderness. After spending a few days in what seemed like a quiet uninhabited stretch of woods, we began to notice the many residents that make up the surrounding forest. Several animals and birds made themselves known through various sounds.
Loons (makwa) regularly landed in the lake nearby to swim and fish. They sang in a series of calls that ranged from long mournful notes to high-pitched whistles and cries. They fluttered their wings and stood on the water in a show of either agitation, excitement or the sheer enjoyment of being on a beautiful lake full of small perch. A hawk (mikisheesh) flew overhead on a regular basis and its distinct scream was a sign that he was not happy with our noisy human presence. Whiskey Jays (weesakeechak) darted in and out of the trees looking for morsels of food and when they weren’t singing, they were fluttering nearby and very curious. Woodpeckers (peepeesh-che-oo) drilled away on nearby trees but we rarely saw them in action.
On a few occasions, when bold beavers (amisk) came close, they nosily lumbered over the ground, thrashed their way through bushes and splashed into the water. Sometimes they slapped their flat tails with a crack on the water. A rabbit (wabush) magically appeared on the property without making a sound but once discovered, it lightly thumped the ground in a few quick bounds before diving noisily into a thicket. Squirrels (aneekoochash) regularly complained about our presence by chirping, squealing and clicking in our general direction. Chipmunks (aneekoochashish) kept an eye on us while chewing on pine cones. In their more adventurous moments, they ventured closer in scurrying, scratching sounds on tree trunks to check us out. Sometimes squirrels or chipmunks would find each other and a full-blown war for territory would break out with these tiny animals leaping from branch to branch, bark scratching, chirping and squealing. A family of eagles (mikisoo) screamed from their high perches in the tall pine and we watched them circle overhead from time to time at distant heights.
That visit into the far north wilderness reminded me that we are never alone even in the middle of nowhere. When people claim there is nothing but trees in the forest they are very wrong. Still, my last visit was a surprise in that I heard a sound that I had never known before. I have not managed to explain that wooden banging sound as I was reminded by friends that moose normally rub their antlers on trees in the fall not summer. It remains a mystery. Perhaps you have an answer for me, and if so send me your thoughts by email to firstname.lastname@example.org