Of emails, fleas and odd things

JOHN HARRIGAN March 01. 2014 8:05PM

Herein are some housekeeping items and just plain strange stuff (this happens once or twice as a result of cleaning up my desk and my muddled mind).

I continue to get the occasional sly look whenever I mention snow fleas, as if I'm trying to put one over.

But I'm not, and anyone who's spent considerable time on snowshoes or cross-country skis and has bothered to look down on a sunny near-spring day will tell you that snow fleas are for real. Still, I'm amazed that so many people, even outdoors people, aren't in the know.

These tiny creatures, smaller than the head of a pin, are not fleas at all. Actually, they are members of the spring-tail family, so named because they fold theirs tails under their bodies and release them to spring hither and yon; just why, however, nobody seems to know.

Abiding to some mysterious signal, snow fleas wend their way up through the snow pack from the duff and detritus on the forest floor, where they eat and live. During a massive manifestation, they can appear by the thousands in and around your snowshoe or ski tracks, the surface of the snow looking as though a bomber has flown over and dumped tons of black pepper. They are truly one of nature's great mysteries and marvels.


I've received even more suspicious looks on the subject of snow spiders. These are real, too (as Casey Stengel would say, you could look it up), but to see one you have to be keen on looking at the ground a lot and adept at noticing anything moving.

My first, and so far only, sighting occurred on a late-winter trip to camp - well, actually on the way out. I was following my snowshoe tracks, frozen over from two days before, and stopped to look at a dead snag to see what might be living in or on it, and just about the slightest possible motion in front of the tip of my snowshoe, in sideways light, caught my attention.

I first knelt to see what was moving, and then had to get down flat on the snow to get a good look. It was a spider, almost clear in color and quite transparent, creaking along in slow motion to God knows where. If I averted my eye just a tad, I could see fluid coursing through its exo-skeleton.

Scientists say these and other creatures that live in super-cold climes manufacture a sort of antifreeze to keep moving. But I'm glad that they still don't quite know the how of it, as with many other mysteries of the wild.


Algae of all colors can erupt in the snow, usually late in winter, in a snow bank facing south into the sun. They can be pink, orange or red. If your cherished one comes home with stories of such sightings and you immediately figure that he's had his snoot in a jug of Old Skunk, he probably hasn't - but then, of course, maybe he has.


About emails:

I love to hear from readers, but please include your town and telephone number so I (a) can make sense of your message or experience in terms of geography, and (b) can contact you if there's a question. I never divulge such information in print without explicit permission.

Also, let's all remember that at rock bottom I'm in the news business. Ergo, I'm likely to use something from a missive that I think will interest readers. And so, an appeal: Please, if you do not want me to use something in print, say so. When you're communicating with a news guy, for Pete's sake, the assumption should be that it might wind up in the public domain. Columns, in a way, are news. Having said that, I'll always honor requests for confidentiality if the situation merits it.


I enjoy speaking, and over the years (39 writing this column, 45 years of newspapering) have done so all around the state. Typically, I do this at a library, historical society, service organization, hunting and fishing club or Grange gatherings.

I've changed my presentation and photos to place less emphasis on life in the North Country and more on species of wildlife we once had - species that might be edging back into their ancestral habitat - and species that we most definitely saved from the brink of extirpation (meaning as rare as hens' teeth).

My talk, which is definitely casual, runs a half hour to 45 minutes, with plenty of time afterward for a question and answer session on anything at all, the part I enjoy most. My contact information is always at the end of everything I write, and I don't mind telephone calls at all (237-4445). It's best to call well ahead of time, as plenty of advance publicity in your local and surrounding papers is a must, and I can help with that.

John Harrigan's address: Box 39, Colebrook NH 03576, or e-mail at campguyhooligan@gmail.com.

John Harrigan

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