The January Hills…

and their denizens. Federico Calbolli sent me this video of a hunting fisher in Canada.  It is a great hunting scene– watch how she overcomes the hare -pure speed and focused audacity!

Here is the video, and text:

They are splendid but slightly scary creatures. Long ago I lived in western Mass, in a drafty 1700’s farmhouse on a ridge overlooking Quabbin reservoir, in a place  that shows on maps as the January Hills– a perfect name, though nobody ever used it in my presence. (Think of Ray Bradbury’s October country, the idea as well as the book). There we sometimes saw one, usually crossing the dirt road below, often in a single bound if they were in a hurry.They are fearless and brook no trespass; a Maine  bowhunter I know fired an arrow idly at one and it came halfway up the tree to his stand, baring its teeth and hissing like a cat. Look at the way that thing just sucked up that hare. At the beginning, I wouldn’t have given it a chance. She  did it with almost frightening ease.

They are also one of the few carnivores who regularly prey on porcupines; they get under them somehow and attack through the belly. We had  a ead tree in the woods side of our yard that for some reason was a magnet for mating porcupines very early in the spring. As at the time one of us had an exceptionally dumb bird dog, a German shorthair, who constantly tried to kill porcupines in revenge for  the pain that the last one had caused him (try holding down a large pointer sedated only with a pill, with a broomstick in his jaws to give us access to his mouth and his jaws tied tight with a rag- and removing, often, over a hundred quills with needle nosed pliers, and you will guess how we felt about porcupines).

But then then the fisher found them. In a week they were all gone.We picked up three hollow carcasses, neatly emptied. We never saw a porcupine in that tree again.

That area is between Shutesbury and Franklin, where the road north dead-ends in a forgotten town so as not to drop off into the Swift river, and the tiny dirt-road towns on the east side of the hills were high enough to avoid drowning when Boston secured secure water by drowning seven (I think) towns in the valley.

It’s a beautiful place, full of wildlife. Seventy-five miles from Boston you can see many deer, occasional moose, a solitary mountain lion, the wolf-like coyotes that I don’t think are a new phenomenon. You can see them killing deer on the ice in Quabbin in the winter. Bald eagles nest there, and all small predators and game animals — it’s a great place for goshawks.

But there is something sort of creepy about it: it is full of old abandoned ghost settlements, deep in the woods. There are open stone wells that are as hazardous to you as to your dog when you are out grouse hunting. There are at least two inhabited houses dating back as far as the 1600’s, with that black Puritan architecture, and tiny leaded windows. This was one of the battlefields of King Phillip’s War, and there are even signs of that. Libby and I took directions to a stone underground structure about 5 miles up one of these dirt tracks. It was big enough for both of us to fit comfortably, and we peeked out through roots of a giant white pine.

“This too has been one of the world’s dark places..” (Writer? Bonus points for narrator and setting).

H P Lovecraft wrote about these brooks and hills, and peopled them with monsters. He also used his knowledge of the drowning of the towns to write his story “The Color Out of Space”. I think the only place more Lovecraftian is Providence at sunset. It used to be my home, and sometimes I miss it just a bit, though I was iving off clean roadkill and sometimes poached deer, shooting grouse with a 16 gauge Browning and a 20 bore LC, and running a successful wood business. I was also the acting editor of English Literary Renaissance, where Arthur, my boss, asked me to cold-call Phillip Larkin and ask him for a contribution to our Marvell issue, as they had both been librarians at Hull. Since I was so young and dumb I did not know I should be scared of him, and he was very nice, and contributed one. I also got one from my friend -to- be Gerry Cox, but it was 40 years before we actually met…

Update: here is a fine block print by the master of the medium, Francis Lee Jacques, for Victor Cahalane’s Mammals of North America .  Forgot I had it, which was not as weird as the incident of my copy of Birds of Tibet. Remind me…

16 thoughts on “The January Hills…”

  1. "This too has been one of the world's dark places": Thames estuary, but I'll say no more so others can play the game.

    Didn't realize martins inhabited the Quabbin Reservoir; the only one I've ever seen was on a solo canoe trip some 200 miles north of Thunder Bay.
    Gerry Cox

  2. The Quabbin is a little creepy, but so lovely. I've had the privilege these last few months to have complete access to one of its Connecticut counterparts (completely off limits to the public), three villages rather than seven. Where I have also seen a fisher and many a porcupine. I love those hills, but the price for water was high indeed.

  3. When it catches the hare, it looks a lot more like an American marten, Martes americana, than a fisher to me. Love both of these mustelids, though! It is interesting that fishers have fared much better in the East than the West.

  4. Great video. Thank you. Thanks also for the Jaques illustration. He was certainly in the top tier of American wildlife artists, maybe the best for style and composition. The best places I know of to see his work are the Museum of Natural History in NYC and the Bell Museum of Natural History in Minneapolis. I think the fisher illustration is a scratchboard work, and Jaques was a master of that medium. I don't think he did woodcuts though.

    When I was in high school I read Swiftwater by Paul Annixter As I recall, the character was trying to trap a fisher and the writer's description made it sound almost mystical.

    I used to live in northern Minnesota west of Duluth. At that time fishers were present but uncommon, at least where I lived. On one very memorable occasion I was sitting in a deer stand nest to a tamarack swamp after a heavy snow fall. A fisher came out of the brush and climbed a tipped over popple tree about 30 ft from me. When he saw me he knew I didn't belong there but couldn't identify me until I reached for my binoculars. Then he was gone.

    Interestingly, fishers are now found in the farm country of west central Minnesota, probably not many but still a residential population. Also, the NPS brochure for Cape Cod National Seashore identifies fishers as being present there, Amazing.

  5. Yeah, I think it is a marten, too–a fisher is as big as a fox! But maybe a small female fisher might overlap a large male pine marten? Regardless, a FANTASTIC video! What a chase! Incredible stamina from both, and neither seemed much perturbed by whatever the film maker was following in!….Okay, critter geek time–the name "Fisher" a corruption of the Dutch "fisse", which was their way of saying "fitch"–a term for a European Polecat they transferred to the New World mustelid. Although "fitch" usually designates the PELT of a polecat. And then "polecat" is NOT referring to a Polish origin, but the corruption of the French "poule chat", or "hen cat" because of the European Polecat's great liking for poultry(as anyone who has had one of their domesticated descendants–domestic ferrets–get loose in a chicken house well knows!)….And for Snowgoose–gosh, I LOVE Paul Annixter's books, and have an old copy of "Swiftwater"–I also love the old Disney movie made from it–"Those Calloways"–one of the BEST old Disney movies, in my opinion! The trap-raiding animal in both was not a fisher, but a WOLVERINE(they called it a "wood's devil" in the book)–Annixter had a fascination for wolverines(as I do, too!), as they featured in several of his books. Although fishers will raid traplines, too–a GREAT novel about a fisher doing just that(the ONLY novel about a fisher I know about!)–is the well written and realistic Cameron Langford's "Winter of The Fisher"–usually reasonably available on Amazon(I checked!)–I have an old copy that this post has inspired me to dig out of my musty mustelid section of my voluminous library, for a reread!…..L.B.

  6. Wow, that's pretty wild. I am used to blacktail jackrabbits, which are incredibly fast, but I assume those hares are pretty fast, too. That damn thing was hungry…

  7. The facebook group: Marshall GPS Users Group has become great collection of data of what our birds can really do in the field. One falconer, hunts a gyr on jacks with long dogs. It is a page you need to join, but a wonder source of information.

  8. ….and speaking of fishers on YouTube(of COURSE, there is plenty of stuff there!)–there is an AMAZING video that someone got when they blundered into a fisher in the process(interrupted) of killing a gray fox! Titled "vicious attack of fisher cat". The guy who took the video doesn't seem to have a clue, but he got an amazing bit of film there!….L. B.

  9. Gerard,
    It was nice of you to allow the puzzle to continue but I was surprised to see that no one else has taken the bait. I don't want to give it up either, except to say that it is a long way from the Thames Valley to the heart of Africa. –RB

  10. Francis Lee Jacques was a master Illustrator… he also illustrated WIlliam O. Douglas' [i]My Wilderness – the Pacific Northwest[/i]. I liked him before I went to art school and still liked him afterwards.



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