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I’ve always been a fan of winter and actually missed the wild snowstorms Mainers endured during the 1960s and ‘70s – and there’s nothing prettier than a winter ice storm, although it is beauty in its most destructive form. There are plenty of negatives when it comes to repeat storms with heavy snowfall but you have to admit: It’s so pretty!
I’ve noticed that in 2015 we’ve all become snow experts of sorts, starting with polar vortexes and other cool meteorological terms and ending with the sugary, powdery, granular, fluffy and dense varieties.
I must say that the recent spate (5 feet!) of powdery snow is a new one on me. For one thing, I cannot remember the last time we had a two-day storm in which none of the snow stuck to the trees. Power outages were minimal as a result, but for the third storm in a row the trees in my yard and across the pasture are bare – every inch of snow fell on the ground and swirled there for hours in the biting wind, but on the trees . . . not a flake.
I made the mistake of waiting till the snow stopped falling during the last big storm before venturing out on snowshoes, and I quickly learned the error of that decision. Even on old-school wooden “pickerel” style shoes I sunk in over a foot with each step, and because the snow had no real base to it I had to take half-steps in order to keep from tipping over. My other mistake was deciding to take the long route, which meant I spent the better part of two hours tip-toeing through the woods. I’ve been on snowshoes enough to know that the return trip would not be half as bad and thankfully that was the case. Coming out was a comparative breeze because I’d already laid a good trail and, with my short steps, had a nicely packed base to travel on.
The fun of that excursion lasted all of two days when the next storm filled my snowshoe trail to the brim with more light, powdery snow, so once again I had to go out and half-step my way to the ridge top and back – no easier than the first time and requiring all the snowshoeing expertise I had. I’m not one to use poles or walking sticks while snowshoeing but if the next “clipper” brings another foot of fluff I may have to consider it. Falling while skiing is bad enough, but when you take a flip on snowshoes the comedy quotient more than doubles!
While all this tight-wire action was going on I made sure I paid attention to what the wild things were up to and, judging from the tracks and trails I did not see, I have to assume that they simply holed up and are waiting for balmier times. In two hours of snowshoeing all I saw were squirrel tracks and very few of them. Normally I’ll see deer tracks, fox and bobcat tracks, rabbit tracks and the signs of small rodents poking in and out of the snow here and there, but lately the woods are covered in a smooth coat of pure white with nothing marring the fine, clean surface. I even made it a point to divert my trek to the area where porcupines are known to winter, a series of rock ledges and hollow dead trees, but not a single porky path could I find. Rare indeed, no matter how harsh the winter.
The usual contingent of chickadees was nowhere to be seen (or heard), which is even more unusual than porcupine absenteeism. I have noticed greater than normal numbers of chickadees and other small birds at the back-yard feeders lately so I’m thinking they’ve abandoned their wild ways in favor of free and easy living off the old hermit in the shack, who only bothers them when it’s time to restock the feeders with sunflower seeds.
I keep a large area shoveled out near my office window so I can watch the birds in action and I noticed the other day a series of small holes at the very bottom of the snow banks. I know that gray and red squirrels like to tunnel in from the nearby oaks to get their share of the bounty, so I made a mental note to try to keep those passageways open between storms.
Well, during one of my overnight checks of in-storm activity I flipped on the floodlights only to see a gang of flying squirrels scurry off the pile into one of the tunnels. Hmm . . . Why would a “flying” squirrel prefer to use the subway approach?
The next morning I went out and shoveled as usual but kept an eye on things closer to the wood shed, which is about 50 feet from the deck. Sure enough, there was a tunnel exit near the bottom of the shed, close enough so the squirrels could disappear into the woodpile in one jump from the snow bank. These cute little guys have established a home in the farthest, darkest corner of my wood pile. I can often hear them scurrying around in the wood as I fill my cart each Sunday, but for the most part they are nocturnal and most likely to be spotted near the feeders well after dark, their big, black eyes gleaming in the floodlights. For some reason I can get close to the birds, squirrels and even turkeys that pass by on their foraging routes, but the flying squirrels want no part of whatever it is that comes out on the deck and talks to them. When the lights come on they disappear, and in most cases they don’t come back that night.
Years ago when I lived deeper in the woods I had flying squirrels that would at least tolerate me from arm’s length, but this batch is none too trusting. They even feel the need to dig tunnels beneath the snow when they could just as easily soar from the wood shed to where the biggest oaks shelter the bird feeders.
All seems barren and desolate where the wind whips the snow into drifts, but it’s a lot busier out there than it appears!
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