The Sunflower Hill Chronicles, Part 2: Landscape in Waiting
By Birgitta Jansen
The Campground Trail parking area is still thickly snow-covered when I arrive on March 11, 2022, so I gratefully park my vehicle in the campground’s office parking lot. It’s icy but plowed and accessible. After a bit of a struggle putting the traction devices on my boots—a winter ritual here in Kimberley—I trundle across the road to the trailhead. There are no other vehicles around. Yesterday’s soggy snow has frozen solid overnight, but now the temperature is just a few degrees below freezing. The trail is uneven but very walkable, although every step still requires attention.
A thin stratus layer covers blue sky, and a watery sun brightens a somewhat bleak springtime landscape. There is no wind; the air is motionless.
The only sound is the crunching of snow under my feet, each footstep audible. Except for my footfall, the rest of the world seems at peace.
I make my way up Campground Trail but something demands my attention: a strong scent permeates the air. It smells like… skunk. Skunk? What’s a skunk doing out when the world still looks like winter?
Skunks are native to our continent and often described as sensitive, intelligent and playful animals. From December until March, they snuggle in leaf-lined dens and enter a state of torpor, a type of rest not as deep as hibernation. Their breathing slows, and their temperature and metabolism go down. But on occasion, when the outside temperature is around or a little above freezing, they wake up and go looking around for a little food, usually at night because they are nocturnal. At least once during their winter rest, they need to leave their den to empty their scent glands.
Since it is March already, I suspect that this skunk might be foraging for food even though it’s daytime. They lose considerable weight over the winter. Skunks are omnivorous and happily munch on fruit and plants, insects, small mammals, fish, etc. I hope that this skunk finds something edible. All I see around me does not look promising.
When threatened, skunks can spray their musk from the two scent glands near the base of the tail and reach a distance of 10 to 12 feet. They aim for the eyes of the predator. It’s good to keep in mind that even at that distance, their aim tends to be fairly accurate! Afterwards, the scent can be detected more than a mile away. Yes, I can believe that. I’m pleased to report that the skunk and I did not meet up for a conversation.
When I reached Jimmy Russell Road I decided to turn left and go up Duck Pond Trail to reach the Sunflower Hill Trail. As many park visitors know, going up that hill is a bit of a slog. There are also icy sections, but traction devices are effective.
About halfway up I stopped to look around. Suddenly I am startled by a sound I can’t immediately identify. It’s loud! I look up and see two ravens flying not very high above me. What startled me was the sound of their wings flapping. Interesting. I can usually hear them calling, but it is not often that I hear the sound of their wings.
With the snow continuing to melt, there’s lots to see. One little patch of scraggly brush and random bits and pieces of wood catches my attention. When I really look at it, I see that it is a charming little winter garden. It’ll be interesting to watch it transform once spring has settled in.
As I walk the Sunflower Hill Trail, I am surprised by how many tracks I see in the snow. But I do not have the knowledge to identify what they are. I can tell the ungulates, of course, and I know there are many dog tracks, but others I can only guess at. I suspect I still have a learning curve ahead of me! It’ll be a pleasure.