The big, white winter creature in French Creek
I had heard the stories long before moving to the east side of the valley. Freddy Vegas, a cook at the restaurant where I worked, was the first to mention it. “Saw him again last night. Huge, he has to be as big as my TV. Sprinted so fast across the road, two big leaps and he was gone.”Over the years, my French Creek friends occasionally bring up their latest encounter; it usually occurs during their drive home from work late at night, and everyone always talks about his size – “a freak of nature,” “too big to be true,” “he must be one of the oldest in the county.”OK, so our neighborhood pet might not be as cool as your friendly fox, nor as impressive as my friend with a moose visiting her back yard almost daily. No, here in French Creek we have a giant – and currently very white – snowshoe hare. As a four-year resident, I too now have seen him a dozen times or so, and like everyone else it is usually later in the evening. Twice I’ve intersected him (too large to be female) on that empty stretch of Wellington Road close to the horse stables, which is where I like to imagine is his home. Just the other night, my headlights caught his eyes on top of the snow bank; he froze as I drove by, remaining perfectly still, and then flew across the road as soon as I had passed.I have an affinity for rabbits and hares. Maybe it’s from too many Chinese astrological placemats where I’m reminded over and over that my sign is “The Rabbit,” or maybe it has something to do with my two exotic, black rabbit pets as a kid. Or it could be that my favorite book in my teens was “Watership Down,” a riveting story about a rabbit community. Regardless, I love rabbits and hares and I seem to run into them often, especially while skiing. This winter, I was thrilled to see that the French Creek Hare had discovered my garden – or, more precisely, what’s left showing in my garden after our amazing early season snow. I’ve worked hard the past few summers to be a purist and plant only native flowers and bushes. I must admit that this has been a bit of a disappointment due to the lack of colors, but this winter, my efforts to stay native might have paid off. Our hare loves our natural garden. His tracks are everywhere, chomping on my willow bushes, even munching on the dead flowers peaking from the top of our outdoor toilet planter. Plus, Robby, our dog, scores on a free meal, chowing on all his little poop pellets.When that last storm cycle buried everything but the tips of our trees, I worried that the hare wouldn’t return so I brought home the leftovers from the juice machine at the health food store, scattering carrot and beet pulp all over our snowpacked yard. The next day it was gone. I also just found out that the folks up the street feed it as well. They have seen it up close and swear it’s a rabbit on steroids.It seems like whenever I ski through untracked snow, I’m in hare country. I see their tracks everywhere. The other day, I felt guilty tromping around in the virgin snow because I worry that their habitat is diminishing, and here I am causing more impact. But it was the middle of the day, an d I knew they weren’t eating. In some places they had packed down a hard path between the same two trees I was trying to ski through; their path saved me because my skis actually stayed on top and I was able to avoid sinking into the tree well.Hares are a favorite meal for our newest arrival in Summit County – the endangered Canadian Lynx. In November 2004 there were a few radio signals received from a collared lynx in the forests below the Breckenridge Ski Resort. This is a good sign. Our hare population needs to remain strong to support the appetite of a lynx, and of course our local Peak 7 mountain lion. Nature is a circle. Sometimes the cutest get eaten by the strongest. I guess I’m OK with that. But all you lynx, lions and foxes out there, do me a favor and don’t mess with the French Creek Hare. After all, he could win.Breckenridge resident Ellen Hollinshead writes a biweekly Monday column on the outdoors. Contact her at email@example.com.
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