From My WindowIssue Date: December 13, 2018
A Walk in the Snow
By Jane Thibodeau Martin,
Snow had been sifting down for a few hours when I put on my insulated boots, coveralls, headband and gloves to take the dogs for their early morning walk. The sun was not yet up like I was, but the fresh snow made it easy to see in the semi-darkness.
Normally the "purpose" of the dog walk is to give the dogs exercise. Most dogs benefit from long walks - not only the physical exercise, which their ancestors got naturally as they foraged for food, but also for their brains. Their ears, noses and eyes need the stimulation of the sounds, scents and sights of the outdoors - something not fully exercised lying inside on the couch or rug. So my normal walking choice is a brisk pace down our gravel road, with a successful outing marked by two panting dogs on arrival home.
But something about the fresh snow caused me to take a different walk, one fraught with difficulties, through a portion of our woods without any artificial trails. I cut from the house through the woods to the creek that drains Hank Lake. This drainage is a low-lying floodplain, and the shallow creek outlet is still running high with fall rains. Less than a foot deep, the fast-running water has not frozen in most spots.
There was no wind, so the woods were nearly silent except for the crashing that accompanied me with 140 total pounds of dogs on leashes, who seldom chose the same side of a tree that I did. This area is so densely vegetated that I hadn't entered it before, and I was happy to note several big "snags," dead tree trunks broken off 20 feet or more off the ground and riddled with the evidence of woodpeckers and other tree trunk feeders.
Ahead of us and off to the right, we heard the sound of a ruffled grouse exploding from its hiding place, unseen but unmistakable all the same.
The snow continued to fall, so when I saw the coyote tracks, I knew we hadn't missed it by much. It had been heading upstream on the same drainage we were following down. The coyote used its smarts and utilized the iced-over creek surface in those short sections that were frozen and would support its weight (normally, 15-44 pounds.) Where the creek was open, the tracks shifted to whichever side of the creek offered easier travel.
Wolfgang, our bigger dog, weighs 75 pounds and is a sight hound. He was following the coyote scent trail backwards with his head high, but he soon found out the ice that would support the little coyote wouldn't hold him up. He fell through two different times, and since he abhors water, he had an expression of both shock and total disgust each time. He's an Oklahoma dog, with no experience of iced-over waterways. (There was no danger to him; the creek is shoal and he was still on a leash.)
Ivy is a scent-driven breed, but she did not set foot on the ice, rather, she followed the scent trail along with her nose low, quickly picking up those places where the tracks crossed the creek and jumping across rather than trusting the ice where the coyote did.
I was very tempted to turn around and follow the coyote track back up toward Hank Lake to see if I could discern where it detected our presence - no doubt with the out-of-place racket the three of us made it was instantly aware of us when we entered the woods. But the horses had seen me leave the house and they were starting to make their own ruckus, unhappy about the delay in their breakfast. And I was hungry, too, so we cut to the roadway and went back home.
The coyote has a much harder time than the horses do getting breakfast. The woods look and sound so sterile on this windless snowy morning, I respect the wild combatants in the "survival of the fittest" battle they all face to stay alive through a long Wisconsin winter.
When we told our friends and coworkers in Oklahoma we were moving back to Wisconsin, they universally commented on the cold, the snow, or the long winter. It is easy to talk about the shoveling, the below zero wind chill days, or the ice that makes driving so challenging. It is harder to convey the beauty of a snowy landscape, the fun of standing outside on a "Christmas snow" day - when the huge flakes are falling so slowly it seems they will never touch ground, or waking to the beautiful sight of the sunrise, hitting a line of evergreens covered with sparkling frost.
I can't really explain how amazing I find the silent snowfall in the woods. But a few days like this one will carry me through the long winter even better than an afternoon with a seed catalog and tea on the couch in our cozy house.
A belated salute to former President H. W. Bush. He was a man of dignity, humility and quiet courage. I admire him for his life-long service to our country as a combat veteran, war hero, politician and leader. I admire him just as much for his devotion to his "life wife" Barbara and his children. Godspeed to one of the greatest generation, we are all the lesser for this loss.
You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.
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