Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Trails in the snow lead to creatures taking shelter

Doesn’t it look like two little animals stopped by the creek for a drink? Maybe a bird (webbed feet) and some other creature? Incidentally, the shape of the creek reminded me of the South American land mass.

Mother Nature has bestowed a seasonal blanket of fresh snow upon the Earth, laying down an icy white swath clear from the Pacific Northwest across to New England. But the beauty of her decorative good tidings is lost on travelers anxious to get home for the holidays.

Havoc has been inflicted on transportation arteries. Cars are stranded beside roadways. Buses and trains aren’t leaving their stations. Airports are clogged with passengers clamoring to get home and be with loved ones. Even the blistering hot bayou had a snowy December. On the 11th, New Orleans had its first snow since Christmas 2004. Since 1850, snow has fallen in measurable amounts in the city just 17 times, and this was the earliest recorded snowfall in history.

In my corner of the woods, the normally lush and green Washington State is frosted with wet and fluffy flakes. Everything outdoors looks just like a Christmas card. Here, snow is an infrequent event coming just a handful of times per winter. Usually it’s burned off before the layers have a chance to form. Lately, as storm has followed storm, the base hasn’t melted away.

I am thanking my lucky stars that I’m not one of those road-weary passengers on the way to getting somewhere else. Instead, I’ve spent the past couple of days tramping through the peace of the snowfall to take photographs and inspect the landscape. It’s fascinating to see the changes to my property in its rare snow-covered condition.

I live in a rural area that is developing quickly. Acreage is being snatched up one house at a time. Wild animals must find new places to make their homes, and I welcome them to my place. This piece of land sings with life. It's like being in Disney's Magic Kingdom, sitting in the audience of the Country Bear Jamboree show when the stage comes alive.

The trees are nesting places for a variety of birds such as hawks, owls and eagles. Deer and coyotes wander past the windows. Rabbits and squirrels scamper across the private road and bridges. And every November, I have the privilege of hosting precious salmon as they fight their way, torn and bloodied, up two trickling creeks to their spawning destination, instinctively continuing the cycle of life at the peril of their own.

Today was different. Under the weight of the snowfall, the property lay nearly silent. As I walked, all I could hear was my feet crunching on snow. When I stopped, it was only the sound of snowflakes fizzling as they hit their delicate targets of leaves and tree branches. It felt as if I was in a recording studio built by nature – the snow baffled and muffled the sounds, sucking extraneous noise into the insulation of the frozen blanket.

I wondered. Where did all the animals go? With the exception of the odd bird pecking at the herb gardens poking out, I didn’t see any. Some bushes rustled and dropped snow as I came nearby, so that told me animals were nestling in the warmest places they could find.

Then it hit me: Look down!

I was pleasantly surprised to find animal tracks. The trails of wildlife were all over the property. At first, it frightened me. Hunters exploit the tracks to find and shoot their helpless prey.

But then I relaxed and enjoyed the exploration. The animals are safe here. The only shooting I was doing was with my camera. And I had physical evidence of the animals, evidence that I don't usually get to study.

Check out the marks made by their little feet.

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