Bushwhacking through the Adirondack backcountry can produce a myriad of environmental impacts. Examples include crushing vegetation underfoot, squishing amphibians and other small creatures hiding in the leaf litter and adversely affecting wildlife behavior simply by your presence. These impacts are typically incidental and accidental, usually going unnoticed and/or unobserved.
Unfortunately, my lack of forethought at Evergreen Lake creates a deadly situation that is neither incidental nor unnoticed.
After a noisy night of bird calls and rustling leaves, I finally wake to a rising sun. However, staying awake proves difficult, as I drift off to sleep repeatedly before finally wiping the slumber from my eyes at about seven-thirty in the morning. Some weird dreams unfold deeply within my brain during my transition from the world of dreams to that of the waking one. Just another typical morning in the backcountry, at least, so far.
Finally, I haul my lazy butt out of my sleeping bag and begin my day at Evergreen Lake. The black flies must be sleeping still, as I notice their absence immediately upon exiting from underneath my tarp. Unfortunately, the mosquitoes have not done the same; they are out and consumed with a voracious hunger for an early breakfast. On the pesky insects’ menu, my warm and flowing blood.
Date: May 31, 2014
Length: 0.0 miles (0.0 total daily miles; 7.6 total trip miles)
Unlike late yesterday, the sky is mostly clear and blue now, complete with a bright early morning sunshine. A steady breeze blows off the lake, causing the surrounding trees to sway back and forth like a zealot in the throes of an ecstatic seizure. Unfortunately, it does little to sway the hunger of the surrounding mosquito, as they must be equipped with wind guards or similar technology.
As I start my morning routine of preparing for breakfast, my mind turns toward matters of personal hygiene. My body soon follows my mind, turning my attention toward the plastic collapsible water bucket where I left it near the edge of the clearing that acts as my campsite. As usual, it is still half-full of water from the night before, just for washing my hands this morning. Why waste more water when I can just reuse what I used the night before?
As I move closer, the opaque plastic reveals something inside the bucket. What could it be? Did I leave my pack towel in there last night? Moving closer and peering in, I make a disturbing discovery. Floating on the surface, apparently victims of drowning are two dead jumping mice.
All the leaf rustling from the previous night instantly rushes back into mind. During their late night activity, a pursuit spawned by either desire or antagonism, may have blinded these two to the danger of jumping into a container of water without knowing how to swim. Then again, even if they did know how, it would not matter, as the water was a few inches below the lip of the bowl, making it near impossible to climb out.
Despair and guilt wash over me as I attempt to retrieve them from the water using a stick. The attempt’s ridiculousness dawns on me quickly, as I am not about to wash my hands or anything else in water that contained two dead mice for hours. Using my foot, I tip the bucket over and the water rushes out, following by the two unfortunate occupants.
I contemplate burying them but decide against it, hoping that some scavenger comes along and has an early breakfast. In nature, even death can have a silver living – or at least a pewter one.
Going about my morning camping chores, the thought of those two poor mice is never far from my mind. Their memory lives on during breakfast, campsite dismantling and the ever-tedious packing. Even the activity of the two loons out on the lake just does not shake the burgeoning backcountry guilt.
Of all the times I practiced the habit of leaving my water out overnight, this was the first time any living creature has met their demise from it. Fixating on this thought while going about my chores, I make what should be an obvious conclusion: do not leave water out at night. Or if I do, leave a stick or two in it, so that anything that jumps in can climb out again.
Lesson learned, though, unfortunately, at the expense of two poor jumping mice. Rest in peace, my friends, you will be missed, even though I hardly knew you.
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