Saturday night, by 9:30, a quarter inch of wet snow covered the ground. I made a wise decision to take a walk before bed, because by sun-up it had melted away. Oh, my shoes and pant legs got a little wet, but the moon was bright behind thick clouds, and the snow made it a beautiful night for a walk.
Old-timers say that a snowfall counts as official if it leaves enough snow on the ground to track a cat. Saturday night there was enough snow down to show the tracks of two deer who crossed the trail just ahead of me. I didn't see them, but they probably saw me. No doubt they heard me coming and caught my scent on the breeze. The deer's instinctive senses are keen, and they are even sharper now that gun hunting season is here. Their sleep has been sporadic since the shooting started, nearly two weeks ago. Fear keeps them alert at all times. It's a real fear, that doesn't turn to anger but promotes an animal's sense of caution.
I paused for a moment and listened for the deer as they ran ahead of me, but all I could hear was the wet snow hitting my hat. As if responding to the full moon, a coyote on the ridge above me burst out in song. Perhaps he was whelping to his family. He may have been searching for them if the deer hunters caused them to scatter earlier in the day. Or maybe, he was just singing to the moon.
Heading back to the house, I heard the cries of swans passing over in the darkness. I thought there might be enough moonlight to see them silhouetted against the sky, but it was too cloudy. It was a nice night for flying, with a favorable wind for heading further south. I sensed the freedom in their calls, and for a brief moment I wanted to join them. But the impulse faded as quickly as the calls of the swans themselves.
The walk in the snowy moonlight was refreshing but damp, and it doesn't take much these days for my old bones to get chilled. The heat from my old woodstove felt extra good. From my warm spot next to the stove I gazed out the window, watching the snow as it fell in the moonlight. Surely the wet snow was sticking to the fur of the deer and coyote, but I know it doesn't faze them. They have become acclimated to the cold weather, growing warm guard hairs over their coats and putting on insulating body fat. Their ways of keeping warm are quite different than ours, and more organic.
By the last week of November, winter has pretty much set in, but there's still a lingering reminder of summer here and there. This morning, for one, I saw a Great Blue heron set his wings and drop down along the creek. By now, most of the herons and cranes have moved further south. Their foods, the frogs and insects, have vanished with the warm air, so these birds head for milder climates. A few hardy Great Blue herons are very good at fish, so they will stay as long as there are fish to eat and open water—until Christmas or later.
Winter is an opportunity to slow down and pay closer attention to the simple things—like the pleasure of staying warm, and a snowy walk down nature's trail.
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