Up here at the Homestead, the animals are our neighbors. The most common animals are the deer, wolves and beavers. When Will first arrived here at age nineteen, the timberwolves were close to extinction, but they were still thriving in the rugged areas around the Homestead.
Back then, there were long winters with deep snowdrifts; you could read the relationship between deer and wolf as it played out in their tracks. The wolves would use the deep snow to their advantage in hunting the deer; there were deer carcasses everywhere. But as the heavy snowfalls have disappeared, so has the evidence of the wolves' hunting.
Now the deer are more plentiful than ever; they are almost a nuisance. They thrive without the heavy snows and eat all the seedling trees, particularly white pine. When this area was virgin pine forest a hundred years ago, deer were rarely seen. But through a combination of logging (which has reduced the number of tall trees) and global warming, shrubby deciduous trees have moved into the area, providing ample cover and food for deer. At night you can hear them walking between the cabins—making crashing noises that would frighten a city person if they didn’t know what it was. The wolf population up here is holding on, however -- a pack of five wolves has been hanging around the homestead lately. And sometimes, if you're lucky, you can still hear them howling.
Beavers are the other animal commonly found around the Homestead. Having lived in one place for forty years, Will has come to know the habits of the animals. The beavers live in the headwaters of the creeks for five, six or seven years until they’ve eaten all the sapling trees. Then they move out into the lake. They are now making lodges in the lake and damming up the creek that flows out of the lake. The lake is now much higher than it used to be. They eat at night, so sometimes we’ll wake up and find birch trees down across the trail. Because we leave the animals alone and don’t try to hunt or feed them, they get used to us and become a part of our lives. In the summer when we are swimming in the lake, they swim around us.
There are not a lot of birds around in the winter—most of them migrate south. In the winter the chickadees, grosbeaks, Canadian jays and ravens are our neighbors that we see every day. In the summer we see more bald eagles than we have ever seen. When we first moved here, the bald eagle was almost extinct because of the pesticide DDT. But since the DDT ban, the eagles have slowly returned.
Every two years or so, a moose might walk through the Homestead, but the high rock ridges around here aren’t the best moose habitat. Moose live in large, flat swamps about seven miles north of here.
We always welcome foxes and pine martens when they are around because they eat mice and other rodents. They are not a threat to people, but like a wolverine, they can be really vicious if they get cornered. A pine marten got into Will's bedroom a few years ago—Will came in and surprised it and it hissed and tried to attack him.
Deer mice come inside in the fall. That is when they are a problem. We have a domestic cat named Midnight that hangs out in the buildings and eats the mice.
We enjoy living with the animals as neighbors.