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A lot of folks were none too pleased about the recent snowy weather, but my first reaction was, “Great! Now I can get out on my snowshoes and see what’s going on in the woods.”
Being admittedly “old school” (the term reserved for people who have lived long enough to know better and now must deal with younger folks who think their ways are better), I still use my wood-and-rawhide snowshoes that have been serving me well since the 1960s. Even the bindings are still serviceable, though I will likely have to buy some new ones one of these days. Last time I checked replacement bindings were going to run about $50, which is more than I paid for the snowshoes 45 years ago. I’ll wait on that, being old school and all!
It’s always a pleasure to strap on the bindings and head off into the drifts. It reminds me of that first thrust of the paddle when shoving off downstream in a canoe or kayak – that initial sense of adventure and freedom is a big part of the thrill for people who are addicted to the outdoors.
Fortunately, snowshoeing is nowhere near as difficult as skiing. If you can walk you can snowshoe, and even after a year’s hiatus I was surprised at how quickly I returned to the rhythm and cadence that allowed me to float over the snow with surprising speed and fluidity.
The snow cushions each footfall, reducing wear and tear on aging joints, and the long, slim snowshoes prevent me from sinking down into the surface powder more than an inch or two. By the time I left the field and entered the woods I was back on track and trekking like Lewis & Clark, able to look around and observe my surroundings without worrying about stepping on my own shoes or becoming entangled in fallen trees and limbs.
As always, the first and most tracks I found were those of squirrels. Their “!!” tracks led from tree to tree, over blow downs and across the high drifts, often disappearing into holes in the snow where, I knew, they’d dug a tunnel down to a hidden acorn, hickory nut or stash of sunflower seeds they’d stolen from my feeder.
The ubiquitous field mice left sign everywhere in the woods; trails and tunnels, strings of “:::::::::::::” tracks that all too often ended in a swish of hawk or owl wing imprints. Life is harsh in the forest, and every day is a struggle for survival. A mouse’s life ends so the hawk’s life may continue, and so it has gone for eons. We’re all in it, we just don’t know it – more old school thinking, I suppose!
It wasn’t till I reached the edge of the swamp that I found my first deer tracks. Whitetails aren’t fond of moving around or leaving the safety of the softwoods at this time of year, and when they must feed they’ll stay close to the sheltering evergreens. Should the rains come and create a crust on the snow the deer will suffer from cut feet (at the very least) and from marauding coyotes and dogs, which easily find them by following the scent of blood left in the deer’s tracks. In past years I have found the carcasses of deer that were hunted down and eaten by canines of some sort – always a sorry sight. I suppose if we had to kill and eat deer using only our hands and teeth the scene would be equally grisly. How fortunate that we are more cultured than that!
My snowshoe trail always bypasses several large, hollow trees and rocky dens where porcupines spend the winter. Their trails in the snow are hard to miss as they travel from their dens to a nearby grove of hemlocks. Nearly all of their activity occurs at night, but on warm, sunny days it’s possible to catch them nibbling on hemlock bark high up in a tree that, in time, will die as a result of their incessant gnawings.
I am always enthused when I see a set of rabbit tracks in the fresh snow. It’s a rarity to see just one such track. Overnight a couple of hares can leave myriad footprints behind along with deeply-packed trails and evidence of their gnawing on poplar and maple saplings. With so much sign around one would think that there would be a rabbit behind every tree, but even where tracks are everywhere it’s often difficult to spot the hoppers that made them. When I want to see hares in action I will snowshoe into the cedars after sunset, which is when the night critters come to life. With hunting seasons long over they don’t expect to see humans in their midst. On a good night I might see deer, hares, foxes, mink and even bobcats, all doing their best to stay alive during this endless season of hunger.
When I get to a place that’s especially dark with cedars, spruces and hemlocks, I start looking for the “++++++++” tracks of a meandering grouse. Occasionally, and when the snow is deep enough, I’ll find a tell-tale hole in the snow where a partridge has burrowed in for the night. One of the few birds known to do so, the clever grouse stays warm and out of sight throughout the dark hours when predators are most active. The only glitch in the plan is when a warm spell causes the snow to freeze and create a crust, effectively trapping the bird within its bed. Some grouse manage to escape their icy prison, but not all. Later in winter I’ll find such holes dug out with a ring of feathers around them, mute evidence that a passing predator benefitted from the bird’s misfortune. Ain’t nature grand?
I usually plan my snowshoeing forays for early or late in the day, and just before coming out of the woods I’ll pause and do my best impression of a great horned owl. I’ll often hear them calling just at sunrise or sunset, and if I hoot back to them they may come swooping in for a look. Perhaps they think I’m intruding on their territory (rarely tolerated by any wild thing) or maybe they think there’s a free, easy meal nearby. In any case, it’s fun to leave the woods knowing that all the players are there and life continues unabated despite the snow and cold.
It’s always nice to get back to “reality,” but it does take a few minutes to adjust!All Outdoors Steve Carpenteri
A lot of folks were none too pleased about the recent snowy weather, but my first reaction was, “Great! Now I can get out on my snowshoes and see what’s going on in the woods.”
Being admittedly “old school” (the term reserved for people who have lived long enough to know better and now must deal with younger folks who think their ways are better), I still use my wood-and-rawhide snowshoes that have been serving me well since the 1960s. Even the bindings are still serviceable, though I will likely have to buy some new ones one of these days. Last time I checked replacement bindings were going to run about $50, which is more than I paid for the snowshoes 45 years ago. I’ll wait on that, being old school and all!
It’s always a pleasure to strap on the bindings and head off into the drifts. It reminds me of that first thrust of the paddle when shoving off downstream in a canoe or kayak – that initial sense of adventure and freedom is a big part of the thrill for people who are addicted to the outdoors.
Fortunately, snowshoeing is nowhere near as difficult as skiing. If you can walk you can snowshoe, and even after a year’s hiatus I was surprised at how quickly I returned to the rhythm and cadence that allowed me to float over the snow with surprising speed and fluidity.
The snow cushions each footfall, reducing wear and tear on aging joints, and the long, slim snowshoes prevent me from sinking down into the surface powder more than an inch or two. By the time I left the field and entered the woods I was back on track and trekking like Lewis & Clark, able to look around and observe my surroundings without worrying about stepping on my own shoes or becoming entangled in fallen trees and limbs.
As always, the first and most tracks I found were those of squirrels. Their “!!” tracks led from tree to tree, over blow downs and across the high drifts, often disappearing into holes in the snow where, I knew, they’d dug a tunnel down to a hidden acorn, hickory nut or stash of sunflower seeds they’d stolen from my feeder.
The ubiquitous field mice left sign everywhere in the woods; trails and tunnels, strings of “:::::::::::::” tracks that all too often ended in a swish of hawk or owl wing imprints. Life is harsh in the forest, and every day is a struggle for survival. A mouse’s life ends so the hawk’s life may continue, and so it has gone for eons. We’re all in it, we just don’t know it – more old school thinking, I suppose!
It wasn’t till I reached the edge of the swamp that I found my first deer tracks. Whitetails aren’t fond of moving around or leaving the safety of the softwoods at this time of year, and when they must feed they’ll stay close to the sheltering evergreens. Should the rains come and create a crust on the snow the deer will suffer from cut feet (at the very least) and from marauding coyotes and dogs, which easily find them by following the scent of blood left in the deer’s tracks. In past years I have found the carcasses of deer that were hunted down and eaten by canines of some sort – always a sorry sight. I suppose if we had to kill and eat deer using only our hands and teeth the scene would be equally grisly. How fortunate that we are more cultured than that!
My snowshoe trail always bypasses several large, hollow trees and rocky dens where porcupines spend the winter. Their trails in the snow are hard to miss as they travel from their dens to a nearby grove of hemlocks. Nearly all of their activity occurs at night, but on warm, sunny days it’s possible to catch them nibbling on hemlock bark high up in a tree that, in time, will die as a result of their incessant gnawings.
I am always enthused when I see a set of rabbit tracks in the fresh snow. It’s a rarity to see just one such track. Overnight a couple of hares can leave myriad footprints behind along with deeply-packed trails and evidence of their gnawing on poplar and maple saplings. With so much sign around one would think that there would be a rabbit behind every tree, but even where tracks are everywhere it’s often difficult to spot the hoppers that made them. When I want to see hares in action I will snowshoe into the cedars after sunset, which is when the night critters come to life. With hunting seasons long over they don’t expect to see humans in their midst. On a good night I might see deer, hares, foxes, mink and even bobcats, all doing their best to stay alive during this endless season of hunger.
When I get to a place that’s especially dark with cedars, spruces and hemlocks, I start looking for the “++++++++” tracks of a meandering grouse. Occasionally, and when the snow is deep enough, I’ll find a tell-tale hole in the snow where a partridge has burrowed in for the night. One of the few birds known to do so, the clever grouse stays warm and out of sight throughout the dark hours when predators are most active. The only glitch in the plan is when a warm spell causes the snow to freeze and create a crust, effectively trapping the bird within its bed. Some grouse manage to escape their icy prison, but not all. Later in winter I’ll find such holes dug out with a ring of feathers around them, mute evidence that a passing predator benefitted from the bird’s misfortune. Ain’t nature grand?
I usually plan my snowshoeing forays for early or late in the day, and just before coming out of the woods I’ll pause and do my best impression of a great horned owl. I’ll often hear them calling just at sunrise or sunset, and if I hoot back to them they may come swooping in for a look. Perhaps they think I’m intruding on their territory (rarely tolerated by any wild thing) or maybe they think there’s a free, easy meal nearby. In any case, it’s fun to leave the woods knowing that all the players are there and life continues unabated despite the snow and cold.
It’s always nice to get back to “reality,” but it does take a few minutes to adjust!
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