Monday, March 17

Stories in Snow

Deer tracks across the back meadow.

One of the many things I love about snow is the way it records—if briefly—the stories that play out in the natural world around us. Stories of intrigue and adventure, of exploration and romance, of wanderers and residents. Every creature who sets foot, paw, hoof, talon, wing or tail on the ground leaves a mark in the snow, but it's up to us to decipher the tale behind the tracks.

Pair of squirrel tracks.
A snowshoe hike in our woods reveals all sorts of activity from numerous mammals and birds. The dense softwood section of the property is like Grand Central Station for rabbits and snowshoe hares with their tracks crisscrossing back and forth and down the trails.

Squirrels, chipmunks and mice tend to stay on the top of the snow, while the long-legged fox leaves deep, narrow depressions. Bird tracks are unmistakeable for their fine features. Grouse leave a track like a string of crosses, whereas turkey tracks are large and spaced apart. 

Wing swooshes in the snow are rarer to see but they look so elegant. Every now and then we see a mammal track end abruptly at a wing swoosh and we know the story behind it ended sadly for the mammal, but with a life-sustaining meal for the bird.

Turkey feet and wings.
The snow also tells us when we're sharing our property with larger animals. Deer and moose tracks are easy to spot in woods and meadows. Not only can we see the tracks from their wanderings, but we also see the depressions in the snow where they've laid down to sleep. This year we found two moose "nests" with many sleep depressions in the same area, plus piles of moose droppings (those aren't chocolate covered almonds!) and numerous sets of tracks radiating outward. It's so rare to see the actual animals that I take heart in seeing the evidence that they are here and sharing our space.

So next time you're out snowshoeing, don't just look up at the sky and trees or down at your feet. Keep your eyes open to the signs of activity that came before you. Read the stories written in snow—and maybe even write your own!

Moose tracks heading off in the woods.

Small mammal tracks heading... everywhere?

Story of survival: mammal trail ends in wing swoosh.
See more about Reading the Forest here.

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