My favorite marten is the one I photographed yesterday. It was my second attempt. The last time I’d made an effort to chase down a reported American marten, I spent hours tromping around in subzero temperatures, in a stiff wind, seeing exactly none. Then came yesterday. All my troubles seemed not so far away as my daughter, Tasman, and I slogged around in the cold, warmed up inside a building, slogged around some more, warmed up inside the car, slogged around some more, and saw a good deal more of nothing at all. But perseverance has a way of eventually rewarding the nature photographer. Knowing that to be true, when Tasman retreated to the snug interior of the car for the last time, I made a final circuit through the snowy patch of forest generously dotted with marten tracks. Again, nothing. I was working hard to accept defeat stoically yet again as I turned back toward our Toyota. Just then, at the last possible moment, I saw something—-just a glimpse out of the corner of an eye. A rusty, fluffy tail, too long and long-haired to be a red-squirrel’s, was disappearing up a tree.
I knew what I’d seen. It had to be that cutest and most nimble of all mammals of the North Woods, the arboreal American marten. American martens are often called “pine martens,” the name of a European cousin, Martes martes. But Adirondack martens are not pine martens. Members of the weasel family, they belong to a North American species, Martes americana, known to those who care to tell one marten from the next as American martens. The selfish side of me wanted to charge into the woods and pursue the creature that had been eluding me, and in whose pursuit I had suffered chattering teeth and twenty cold fingers and toes. But my daughter had worked hard for this marten, too. So I ran and got her. Together, we plodded through deep snow to the bottom of the tree. We looked up. Nothing. We looked in surrounding trees. More nothing. Then we saw movement, and for the next hour, we exulted in the marten’s company. To our surprise, it seemed to have no fear of us. During that hour, the only thing that seemed to rattle it was a circling, squawking raven. Here are a few of the rakish poses the marten struck for us. What a face!