The village is surrounded by ptarmigan. They fascinate me.
We went on another short ride today into the mountains. The dogs bounded around us, tongues steaming in the air, legs pumping vigorously to keep up with us in the deep snow. Today it hit a very warm 0 degrees (warm in comparison to or normal temps here!). It was a perfect day for a ride.
They are such odd creatures. They perch in the willow bushes, furry heavily clawed feet gripping the swaying branches. They carefully nip the remaining willows buds from the skeletal remains of the plant. Their presence declares this land to be a rich land, as they are only found where food is abundant. And where they are abundant so are the predators.
I grew up in a place with a smaller amount of ptarmigan. They are there but not as numerous as they are here. I remember hiking in the mountains here and finding piles of ptarmigan feathers here and there, their gleaming white feathers high contrast to the earthy rich sod. Finally I thought to ask my other half what it was all about. He turned to me and in his "teaching" voice he declared...."they explode." And then he walked away. I sat there and blinked a few times. The image of a ptarmigan exploding in a burst of feathers and furry feet.
Later I got mad at him. But they REALLY look like they exploded. I would repeat this sage knowledge to children and they would always roll their eyes at me, not as gullible as I was.
He decided to get me a ptarmigan tonight. I had told him I always wanted to try to eat one. They were a huge staple in ancient diets, and I had never had the honor of actually trying them. He had a .22 pistol with him. He turned the snow-machine towards the willows, staying a good distance away from them. Some ravens huddled on the tundra noticed us and took flight, and soon we had a fan club high above us. They loved following humans as it almost always meant an easy meal.
It didn't take long to spot them. We saw a few white bobbing bodies high up in the brush. He parked the snow-machine, and turned it off. I clicked at the dogs to keep them from noticing our prey. In two shots he got one from 25 yards away. The other ptarmigan fled like hovercrafts across the icy ground. Of course they only went a few feet, they are not very smart birds and they cannot fly very far, so they rely on blending in with the snow for defense. It works well as long as they don't move. It took us a few minutes to find our fallen bird as he was very well camouflaged. The pups tried to steal the bird, more to play with it rather than to eat it I think. When they are hyper EVERYTHING looks like a toy.
We made it home and I started to pluck the bird. I learned something about them. They did not have the "normal" plumage. Actually they did but it was just for looks. Under the normal feathers were these incredibly dense and fluffy feathers, which acted a lot like fur. In a few minutes I had the fuzz in my eyes, up my nose and my shirt looked like it had sprouted mold. He laughed at my complaints of course, but to make me feel better he told me stories of growing up eating ptarmigans. They would have to pluck 20 at a time sometimes. He reached over and quickly removed the tail feathers in one handful. You always take those off first, he says. Why? No one told him why, but it was an ancient sign of respect that he always did.
We removed the sack on the chest that held all of the willow buds. The room filled with the smell of plants. He showed me how to clean and inflate it and hang it to dry. His mother would do that for them when they were kids, they used it as a balloon or if you left some of the willow buds to dry inside you could use it as a rattle.
He smiled a lot.
ptarmigan are such odd wonderful creatures.
It tasted like willows. An odd mix of plant and meat. I decided I liked it.
Their odd furry clawed feet