Winter Storm Harper left its mark in the form of snow and wind upon our little spot in the universe.
And I was certain that any tracks I might encounter in the woods would have been erased by dervishes that whirled across the field yesterday, overnight, and into today.
Consequently, it was a pleasant surprise to discover porcupine tracks leading to and fro our barn and woodlot in their typical pigeon-toed pattern.
As delighted as I was, I was equally dispirited as I noticed that the tips of my favorite hemlock had been nipped to oblivion.
But, the porcupine had moved on from that tree, crossed over a stonewall, and visited several other trees in our woodlot, as noted by the downed twigs that decorated the snow’s surface. Like the tracks, the twigs were freshly cut in the past twenty-four hours or less actually.
Of course, I couldn’t overlook the woody commas amid the debris, much as they break up a sentence such as this, that added to the list of evidence that a porcupine had been present. Some call them scat.
And then, as I continued onward, I followed the tracks of two others that frequent our yard. Even as I delighted in the winter structure of a Queen Anne’s Lace florescent, did I notice the red fox prints on the snow below.
The tracks led me to Stevens Brook, which has a journey of its own to trace.
I went to look because I felt the need to add a bit of color to this wintry day and knew that the local congregation of Mallards would contribute not only that, but sound as well.
And then, as I snowshoed beside the trail that follows the brook, I began to notice tracks made by another–this one a member of the weasel family with tear-drop shaped toes of five on each foot.
The more I followed it, the more I realized it had walked and then loped and appeared to drag something along the way.
Sometimes it chose to slide on the downhills.
And equally left an impression as it journeyed up and over a stonewall.
Meanwhile, within the wall, I surmised another of a different species quivered as silently as possible so as not to attract attention, with the hope of creating hoar frost for another day.
Wherever I went, the weasel had also trekked. And frequently I noticed signs of blood as if something had been dragged and the life dripped out of it.
In some places the frozen vital fluid bespoke a meal perhaps waiting to be cached–the perfect sacrifice of one to nurture another.
So few were the tracks of mankind on the virgin snow and so abundant the weasel.
Soon I found myself beside another brook, this one named Willet, and I glanced about expecting to see evidence of action, but instead found ice and snow and shadows disappearing into the bend.
And then . . . upon the edge of the brook’s high bank, a sudden turn my weasel had made, choosing to not slide downward.
A bit further along, I was following its tracks again when I spied fresh woody debris upon the snow’s surface and knew that a pileated had been at work this day.
Rounding the tree, I discovered a series of holes made over a series of days or weeks or years.
From the woodpecker tree, it took a few minutes, but again I found the tracks of one very busy fisher. I never did find any kill sites, but suspected that it had a cache somewhere and let its fresh groceries dangle from its mouth as it carried them back to the pantry.
Making my way toward home, I didn’t need to rest, but had I intended upon such, it wouldn’t have been at the bench for so deep was the snow.
That was okay, for my movement kept me warm and I knew that I’d soon be stripping off my winter layers once I reached our kitchen. But first, there was a pasture to pass through, and while I seemed to have left the fisher behind, I came upon the tracks of the two red foxes I’d met earlier.
In typical red fox behavior, one of them had paused at the tip of a downed tree and urinated. One of these days perhaps it will finally get lucky.
In the meantime, I felt lucky for I’d seen the prints and tracks of so many on this day when I wondered if I’d see any–including those of the Mallards beside Stevens Brook.
And of all the winter wild out my door, today the ducks were my favorite because I not only got to watch them for a while, but I also appreciated the colorful display they added to the landscape.