Thursday, March 5, 2015

Tracking in the Snow


It is hard to say winter has come in late when it is still February. But with the winter being mostly mild, and the snow and below freezing temperatures setting in now, it seems that way. Still, there is plenty to see if bundled and brave.

Snow always was a highlight of our youth. We did not see the white stuff enough to get used to it. When it came through though, we knew exactly what to do. Our mothers would pile on layer over layer of clothing to keep us warm. With all that extra padding, the first order of business was a neighborhood game of tackle football.

We were not fast as we resembled sumo wrestlers wobbling across the fresh fallen snow. We had fun though. After an hour or so of more ‘kill the man with the ball’ and less anything resembling football, it was time to get dried out and warmed up for the next phase of snow fun.

Behind the house and beside the lake was a patch of woods totaling a couple of acres of space at best. It was the perfect spot to build snow fortresses and have snow ball fights without tearing up the yard or being too far from home in order to warm back up.

It was also a really neat place to learn about nature and her inhabitants.

Without a doubt, we would spot all kinds of animal tracks in the snow in the brush of those woods. It was how we first learned how the front foot prints of a rabbit would show up behind the long hind foot print by the way the feet land when the rabbit is running. For a bunch of kids, that was a huge revelation.

Occasionally we would have the pure life startled out of us by way of a flurry of quail launching from their protective covey circle. Once we got our heart beats back to normal we would search the brush pile as diligently as any crime scene investigator. We could see how the birds would nestle and swap places by the way the snow was embedded. Their three pronged footprints (four if you count the part in the back) may show a single file march if the snow had stopped falling.

We imagined the footprints of some wolf, coyote, or even dingo leading here and there. Yes, I know dingos are in Australia and not the United States and North Carolina, but we were kids after all. In fact, the only canine prints were more likely the result of a wandering pet rather than a snarling predator searching for small animals and little boys to eat. Of course, decades later, a wolf or coyote is not a fairy tale any longer and depending on the place you find tracks may be the most likely candidate.

It was not uncommon to scare up a red fox as well. It seems we did not have as many grey foxes back then, at least near home. The beautiful amber fur would show up nicely against the white background of snow covered thickets and fields. And the tracks were about the same as a house cat.

So, as we continue to get a few blasts of winter coming through, seize the moment. Go look and see what has been left behind from the creatures around us. It is an open world that we do not always notice.

2 comments:

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