Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Following my winter tracks

Once one has embarked upon the journey of nature exploration and study, he or she is beginning a life long adventure of learning new things. Every time you visit wilderness you will be presented with new observations and fresh insights into how nature works.

This morning I went for a walk in the fields and woods that surround my house. I started westward into the very same snowy field that I walked over just a few days ago. Being disposed to economy of effort and maximizing comfort, I stepped gingerly into the footprints that I'd left in the snow on my hike from three days prior, thus avoiding the need to break through the scratchy frozen surface and submerge my feet under a foot of snow with each step.

When I'd made my way about a third of the way to the distant tree line which was my goal, I noticed something surprising. In the center of every single boot print from my earlier hike there was one very clear frozen deer hoof print! And, no other deer prints were to be seen near or around this single row of matched deer in man prints. It was very clear to me that the deer shared my preference of minimizing effort and maximizing comfort when presented with the necessity of crossing a frozen snow covered field.

As was my habit upon making the tree line I crossed to the other side of it and headed northward following a well worn deer trodden pathway. I had made my way about a quarter of a mile when I was presented with yet another novel observation. There in the snow on the deer track was a splash of blue, just a blue snow cone. There were no human track except my own behind me and no other animal tracks whatsoever, just numerous deer tracks and a sprinkle of frozen blue deer pee. Unless whatever caused this blue spot had dropped out of the sky there could be no other explanation. Later on that day I saw two other distinct blue snow cone markings on the deer tracks in the nearby woods. I also came upon a large bush covered with frozen dark blue berries. But not a single berry remained on the bush below 6 feet from the ground. Obviously the fruit within picking had been eagerly munched by the deer. Could this be the cause of the frozen blue snow cone markings?

From my youth I recall a line from a Frank Zappa said which said, "Don't eat the yellow snow, that's where the huskies go.". Now I need to add the following rephrase, "don't eat the blue snow here, that's from our friends the deer".

As I made my way past a frozen meadow and into another frozen field I heard the sharp, crisp tap, tap, tap of a wood pecker hammering on a dead tree trunk not too far off to the east. I left the field and moved into the woods and meandered in a generally eastern direction. I stopped in the middle of a frozen stream just at the elbow where the stream made a sharp turn in direction in order to follow a drop in elevation. I heard a strange gurgling echo which I first thought to be a flock of wild turkeys off somewhere in the field that I had recently left. But I soon realized the strange otherworldly sound was actually coming from under my feet and was the sound of the freezing stream water coursing along the shallow stream bed around the corner beneath me.

Eventually I decided to cross back over the stream and begin heading in the direction of home. But here the stream bed was steeper and so the water moved faster. This prevented the ice from completely freezing and in numerous spots the dancing, leaping stream waters could be seen darkly glistening in contrast to the dull white snow covered ice. I walked along the shore for a few yards looking for a safe place to cross and came upon another well worn, deer trampled highway in the woods which made it's way down the bank and onto the ice and right up the other side of the stream.

This was a spot the deer had determined to be hard and secure for crossing. As I followed the hoof print scarred deer bridge across the stream I noticed that just 6 feet to either side there were holes in the ice. As was there way the deer always found the place where the walking was easiest with the least effort or peril. This is something I've observed countless times before.

I had not walked another 30 yards when I noticed a sprinkling of light tan flecks on the snow at the base of a tree to the right side of the trail. I walked over and found it to be fresh wood chips scattered by the woodpecker that I heard not long ago on my hike. In the tree 12 feet above were 2 freshly drilled holes left by the feathered woodworker.

A few minutes later I emerged into the opposite end of the large field that I had begun my journey in a couple hours earlier. As I trudged through the snow following the hedgerow I noticed a single hole in the field about 10 feet away. There were no other holes or marks in the snow for yards in any direction. This meant it was not a footprint and could only have been excavated from below. Some small furry creature had obviously been burrowing along in a snowy tunnel and had made it's way to the surface to have a look around and decide in what direction to continue it's subterranean journey.

When I first gazed out my window this morning I saw mists rolling across the field. As I made my way about the frozen landscape they played hide and seek with me. As I looked back upon entering my own familiar backyard they seemed to becken me farewall, until next time...


Ursula said...

Beautiful entry Frank! Thank you for making it possible for us to virtually accompany you on your magical walk.

Looking forward to many more - your friend Ursula

sher said...

That was a great photo story....I love that the deer walked in your footprints and then YOU walked in the deer's hoof prints.

I wonder what the deer is telling you through your observation?

They always find the easy path to cross upon....