Monday, January 10, 2011

Tracks in the Snow

Snow scene photos in Travelers Rest by L. Woodrow Ross

A snowfall in the south is a magical event. In spite of the problems with travel, the inner child delights in the chance to feel the delicate fall of a snowflake on the extended tongue. A winter wonderland awaits those willing to brave the cold.

One of the interesting things about the snow is that it records the passing of wildlife, domestic cats and dogs, and the human traffic that passes. A walk in the woods in a fresh snowfall is an education in the ways of wildlife.

Rabbits meander in an almost random pattern. When I was a youth, it was an adventure to track rabbits in the snow. The tracks would finally disappear under a brush pile. A little kicking would dislodge the rabbit and if the shot was successful, rabbit was added to the menu.

It is not unusual to see the tracks of foxes, coyotes or feral cats hunting in the snow. Evidence of their skill is often noted by a scrap of fur or feathers left at the scene. Rabbits, mice, squirrels and birds are the usual victims. The tracks and signs of a brief struggle tell the story.

Sometimes a line of tracks will end abruptly in the snow. A hawk or owl has descended on an unwary prey and it is almost as if the victim had vanished into thin air (in a way, they have).

Another interesting fact about snow is that it muffles sound. The first thing you notice upon going outside is the silence. It is an eerie and other-worldly sensation.

Tracks tell a story in the snow that is not obvious under normal circumstances. It reveals the prolific amount of wildlife that often goes unnoticed, even in urban areas. From the smallest mice and birds to the larger mammal like deer, they do not pass without leaving their calling cards.

Enjoy the falling flakes. They are rare in our area of upstate South Carolina. Our normal fate is freezing rain and sleet that causes travel problems and power outages.

I once heard a country minister say, "a trash pile looks like a gold mine after a fresh snowfall". It may not be the best sounding metaphor, but you get the idea.

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