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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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First Snow!

Issue Date: December 17, 2020

From My Window

Since the end of rifle deer season, our woodland neighbors have been lying low. I've only seen two deer while driving on local roads, and our large flock of turkeys has been conspicuously absent. I see the vast patches of scratched up oak leaves where they have been foraging, but haven't sighted even one, or heard a single yelp. The trail camera reveals a pack of raccoons picking at deer carcass scraps, along with a magnificent hawk, and lots of other smaller birds. From the house, the only visible fur-bearing neighbors have been the squirrels and chipmunks, popping up and barking at the dogs, who are enraged by their lack of respect.

But under the ice on Hank Lake, an amazing sight met our eyes on a recent walk. While trying to locate a suitably pitiful specimen for our 2021 Christmas tree (although it will be hard to top the monstrosity we erected in the house this year,) something below the clear ice we were standing on caught my eye.

We were walking on the creek that feeds into Hank Lake, a very shallow channel that winds among large hummocks of marsh grasses and clumps of cattails. I would have expected that the four inches of ice present on most of Hank Lake would have frozen all the way to the bottom of this creek, but speeding away just ahead of us was a brown, torpedo-shaped body. It wove back and forth, apparently following a channel, without visible thrashing or other evidence of paddling. Mike was the first to realize this graceful creature had to be one of the muskrats that moved in this fall.

Our first reaction was astonishment that the air-breathing mammal could travel so far under what appeared to be solid ice cover. Our second was amazement that it could swim in an area we know is so shallow. All I can imagine is that it has rooted in the unfrozen mud under the ice to permit passage to one of its "hogans." (The proper name for the messy mounds muskrats build to live in is lodges. For some reason, I like the name hogans better.) Mike was back in this area a few days later putting up a trail camera on a new game trail we discovered during the same walk, and saw the animal again, darting away soundlessly under the ice like a nuclear submarine.

This area of the lake is too shallow for a kayak or my paddle boat, but normally way too wet to walk through, so the formation of safe ice without deep snow permits our forays into an area the wild ones find consistently safe from us and our meddling ways. But circumstances allowed us to visit this year, and be rewarded with a fascinating and delightful discovery.

This morning, with a fresh dusting of snow, I walked the woods trail and found some of the friends we've been missing are still around. There were lots of small rodent tracks along the tops of the fallen trees they use as runways. A single set of tracks told me the solitary coyote we see on the trail camera is still around. One morning last week, the dogs and I froze in fascination and listened as a small pack of coyotes traveled south to north perpendicular to our travel. The range of vocalizations was delightful, and all it took was a little jingle from dog collars as we resumed travel to put an abrupt halt to the concert.

Still more tracks in the snow assured me some deer escaped the hunting season, including at least one very large deer. The trails wend and wind through the woods, with the oak leaves they disturbed shedding the light burden of snow, clearly revealing the directions of travel. I wish the survivors a mild winter and a healthy spring.

We have no rabbits. I have not seen a single one since we moved in more than two years ago. Either there are too many predators, or something about the food supply is not optimal. They can hide easily, but the snow would "rat them out" and the lack of evidence is consistent.

The animals will all know the dogs and I have been in their woods. They have heard us, smelled us, and seen us too. I am sure the muskrats easily hear our footsteps on the ice. The wild ones are unlikely to welcome my presence in the way that I welcome and value theirs.

Note: I felt a deep emotional stirring as I watched the loading of the vaccines on trucks and aircraft on the news Monday morning. Technology will deliver the prevention we have been praying for in the foreseeable future. I will roll up my sleeve with great joy as soon as I get the chance to. Meanwhile, I will wait, and observe the safety rules with patience. The sight of that jet climbing into the sky will keep my resolve strong.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.


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