Stories in the snow

9 Nov
Jade has had two great nights of sleep now and I’m trying to do everything I can to help make this a solid trend.  One of the things we have been doing is taking a walk every evening before dinner.  Although I sigh at the prospect of getting the baby and myself bundled up each evening, once I’m out, it’s great.  And Nanuq loves it.
 
I’ve been walking with a neighbourhood friend most days this week, but today I was alone, so I started paying more attention to the stories in the snow.  First, as I was walking along a ridge, I noticed a dog had used the path before me, but no accompanying human walked the same path.  I wonder if that was the dog in the coat and booties that wandered into our yard this afternoon?
 
There were some tracks that were just lines, something like a trail of slime left behind by a snail.  I guess this was probably mice, wading in what is, for them, deep snow.
 
Then I started looking at some tracks that looked to belong to rabbits (which, in the woodsier parts of the greenbelt, are ubiquitous) except that they were too small.  Michael had mentioned to me before that squirrels make the same kind of tracks, but they were too big to be squirrels.  After a few moments of thought, I decided that they must be ground squirrel tracks.  (What lots of you probably think of as prairie dogs.)
 
Nanuq loves chasing ground squirrels, so this summer he showed me where lots of their burrow entrances are.  I had a close look at them and confirmed that the tracks were coming in and out of there.  I had had the idea that ground squirrels hibernate, but perhaps it’s too early for that.
 
Near the burrow entrances there were tons of tracks.  I looked at the lines of them, going here and there, and then noticed that one individual had been meandering along, then had started running, changing direction.  Following along, there was a spot where it looked like he had started going in frantic circles, and then suddenly, the tracks stopped.  Looking closer, I saw the telltale marks of four parallel and slightly curving lines in the snow: wings.  They were just barely there.  Clearly, this bird had been pretty deft in catching its quarry.
 
Continuing my walk, I noticed two other spots where ground squirrels had panicked and been caught by a bird; the wing-prints were much clearer.  They were beautiful to look at, despite the tragedy of the story they told.  In another spot, the bird had walked for a few metres before flying off.  Looking at these footprints, I realized that this was no hawk.  In fact, it looked like ravens’ feet, but I had always thought of ravens as scavengers.  Tricksters, too, as I’ve seen them working together to get a dog’s meal away from him.  But I’d never thought of them as hunters.  Later, at home, Michael confirmed that these were probably ravens at work.
 
During the rest of my walk, I watched the ground and saw all the tracks left behind by the small citizens of the forest who are never on the paths when I’m out on them.  So many critters are going about their lives when I’m not around to disturb them, but in winter they leave their stories behind.
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