The most recent major winter storm dumped over two feet of snow on most of us, effectively shutting down the state from Kittery to Fort Kent. Some areas even reported 36 inches of snow, which is more than enough to have to deal with, let alone after several other storms and more to come in the coming weeks. I guess the prophet ground hog was right!
With all that snow and wind-swept drifts to deal with, I did what any avid Maine outdoors fan would do. I strapped on my trusty snowshoes and got out there to see what was going on. The full moon was just past full which means the nights were bright and clear following the blizzard, which made my woodland trek all that more appealing.
Dressed in wool from head to toe I was toasty warm as I wandered the woods trails in the semi-darkness. I heard owls in the distance along with the occasional drone of plow trucks, but otherwise the only sound was that of the fine snow sifting down through my bindings.
I don’t know why but it seems that the woods are not only more serene and cozy on snowy nights but it felt warmer, even comfortable, despite the steady wind that quickly covered my tracks as I roamed high and low in search of unique formations, animal tracks and inspirational scenery.
It is interesting how the landscape can change so quickly merely by dumping two feet of snow on the ground. Familiar landmarks and trails seem to disappear while providing a new perspective on things. Rough, winding trails are turned into smooth byways and all the ups, downs and brook crossings are eliminated. Creating a new snowshoe trail takes a bit of work but once the snow is compacted the return trip is literally a walk in the park. The wind will continue to pack the snow making future hikes very enjoyable, and if I keep future storms tramped flat I’ll have an excellent winter highway I can use well into March and even April. Sunlight, rain and warm temperatures will eventually erode my winter pathways but for now I can traverse my woods with ease. If I had the energy and inclination I could easily run these paths on snowshoes without falling on my face, but these days I’m content to walk along and enjoy the clean, white scenery that seems to change with every storm.
As expected, there were few signs of critters immediately after the storm, but as the days wore on I saw more evidence of squirrels, rabbits, porcupines and birds in the snow along the trail. I keep continuous piles of cracked corn and sunflower seeds in the yard for the birds and animals that need them, and the night following the big blizzard there were deer tracks coming across the field and into the yard. The hungry whitetails cleaned up the corn but left the sunflower seeds behind, which is to be expected. I suspect that they get more nutritional value out of a belly full of corn than they would the seeds, but in any case the decision is their own. I had been using wildlife grains in my winter piles but for some reason the deer show little interest in the stuff, preferring the cracked corn instead. I actually put the corn out for the turkeys, but they will eat the grain that the deer ignore, and so it all works out in the end. Come morning the ground is bare and all the feed is gone, so apparently the free buffet is acceptable to my back yard patrons.
The squirrels, I discovered, have been cheating by digging tunnels under the snow along the ground from nearby trees. They manage to feed on the corn and sunflower seeds in relative peace because they are two feet below the harsh weather where, I know, it’s actually quite serene and quiet. Years ago I would build a snow shelter in the yard and, just for the heck of it, go out and spend a few hours enjoying the silence while having a cup of tea. It was amusing to me that I was so well protected from the storm by the very snow that it had dropped. It’s amazing what a little organizational construction can do. I’ve taken a few naps in my snow huts but never felt the urge to spend the night, though I am sure it would have been a comfortable experience. After all, three thousand Eskimos can’t be wrong!
What I find most interesting in my snowshoe excursions is how many animal tracks I’ll find in my trail on the way back home. It’s almost certain that I’ll find squirrel and porcupine tracks crossing my own, and often I’ll find fox and deer tracks as well. This tells me that these animals were not only busy nearby but most likely were watching me and likely waited for me to go by before crossing my trail.
I learned long ago that the chickadees, blue jays, nuthatches and woodpeckers are the eyes and ears of the woods. Their calls and movements are somehow read by other animals so that the “news” of my approach is known to one and all long before I make my appearance. I can fool them by stopping for a while, back-tracking or slowing down, which seems to catch them off guard. My greatest such event occurred one winter when I was snowshoeing along a wetland area and decided to turn around and head back. I came face to face with a very large moose that had been walking in my trail for about 100 yards. My guess is that he was using the snowshoe trail because the walking was easier for him. We were about 20 yards apart and he was obviously confused by my appearance. I stood still and let him consider his options for a moment. He decided to turn around and go back where he came from, which was perfectly fine with me!