It's been a long time since there was an old-fashined "winter white-out" around here, but it happened on Sunday. Large, fluffy flakes tumbled to the ground, pretty much steady, all day. When it stopped at mid-afternoon, there were four inches piled up. Shovelling this snow was almost like shoveling air—a full load didn't seem to have any weight at all. I have to admit that it felt good to get out and move some snow. Shoveling has always been something I do for exercise in the winter, and it still is (in moderation, of course.)
The landscape is white-washed with the new-fallen snow; it's covered every twig, every branch and blade of grass in a comforting blanket of white. It's nice to have a change in the color scheme, even if everything is all white. At night a bright quarter moon sets the snow aglow, and the twinkling stars seem to be draw in closer. The night sounds are few and far between. Even an owl's hoot or a coyote's call doesn't carry far over these snow-covered hills. It's dead quiet at times, except for the sound of a tree trunk snapping from the cold.
The moonlight casts long shadows behind the deer as they cross the driveway. There are four, two does and their yearlings. They all look quite clean and healthy, and they nibble on things as they pass through the garden—a twig here, a bud there, or the head of a dried flower. Winter has been kind to them, and a little snow won't make life difficult for them.
I've been curious about what other tracks there might be in the area, so I took a nice long walk in the snow. I always enjoy the tracks left in the fresh, new snow. I like to pause and try to figure out which way the animal was going and where the tracks came from. Bunny tracks seem to be everywhere, often leading to a tunnel-like path that goes under a large, snow-covered brush pile. From a hollow tree trunk, a Deer mouse emerges and hops across the snow to a nearby flower garden. He collects a mouthful of dried Zinnia seeds, and returns to the hollow tree, leaving his tiny tracks hopping across the snow. There were tiny paths left in the snow by the meadow voles, who scurry between the snow-covered clumps of canary grass. I was pleased to see so many vole trails in the snow, because when vole populations are up, it means food for many kinds of predators. Where there are voles to catch and eat, predators like the Red-tailed hawk, Kestrel, Rough-legged hawk, Great horned owl, Screech owls and Barred owls will not go hungry. The fox and coyote will also benefit from the abundance of voles, not to mention the raccoons, possums, skunks, weasels, mink and stray cats.
The tracks of four deer crossed my path throw the snow. This is the same group I've been seeing in the area for over a month—two adult does and two smaller yearlings. They spend a lot of time along the edge of these woods, staying close to cover while nibbling the ends of the young tender branches and buds of most any bush. Even without tracks to follow, you can tell that deer have been around because of their telltale browsing marks on the bushes.
I also saw a single set of coyote tracks coming down the valley from the west and making a beeline across to the east. Judging by the tracks, he must have been in a hurry, not stopping for anything and moving along at a steady trot.
Even though I didn't actually see any animals on my winter walk, all the tracks in the snow reminded me that I have many companions in the valley.
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